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ginger & sesame chicken salad

In salads, summer on 10 January, 2012 at 1:03 am

I’m one of those people who doesn’t do a big weekly shop but rather picks up bits and pieces almost every day. I like it because I’m indecisive; I like to plan what I’m eating based on my mood that day, the weather outside, that sort of thing. Granted, sometimes I’ll get all ambitious and plan out a week’s worth of meals. but I change my mind. All the time. So for the most part I’m the person who can’t go from work to home without stopping along the way to pick up some tomatoes, or meat, or fresh fruit or greens.

But living like this has its downsides: I don’t always eat everything I buy. And then, because I haven’t had the foresight to think about what I’ll do with that other head of baby cos languishing in the fridge, or the other half of the cucumber I didn’t eat the night before, I forget about them. They sink to the bottom of the vegetable crisper in the fridge. And they stay there.

In light of the fact that my flightiness is responsible for some serious wastage of food (not to mention money) I’ve been challenging myself to use up what I’ve got and buy only what I really need. I know, I know, it’s common sense for most people, right?

Back to that poor forgotten head of baby cos. I had actually bought a couple right before going away for Christmas. Rather predictably, I didn’t end up using it before I went away. By the time I rediscovered it (several days into 2012) it looked like it was beyond saving, all wilted and limp on the outside. But I peeled back a few outer layers of leaves, and underneath? Crisp-as-new, vibrant-green baby cos leaves. Magic!

So there was one thing to use up. Among the others? One of about six or seven pieces of ginger I had hanging around (I honestly don’t know why I keep buying them, I mean really, is ginger-hoarding normal? No.), half a cucumber, some scraps of red onion, other assorted greens. Everything was pointing towards salad, perhaps something with gingery Asian flavours. I cheated a little bit and bought a couple of chicken thighs, but aside from that I was pretty proud of the fact that I was using up stuff that would’ve otherwise gone to waste.

For this salad I wanted something light yet substantial, with the sort of fresh, clean flavours you get in Asian food. This was perfect: light and crunchy greens, silky-soft steamed chicken. It’s perfect for a hot summer day but would work just as equally well for a winter lunch, served with a piping hot bowl of miso soup. And you could change up the green bit depending on what you have wilting in your vegetable crisper.

So. Next time you have a languishing head of lettuce in the fridge, take a look inside before throwing the whole thing out – you might be missing the best part. The inside bit, anyway – as the leaves get smaller and smaller until you reach the heart – is the best part, I reckon: all tender-sweet crunch, juicy and fresh and earnest, untainted by its tired exterior. Treat it kindly. Don’t let it go to waste.

GINGER & SESAME CHICKEN SALAD
(makes enough for 2 people as a side dish)

200g(ish) chicken breast or thigh
30g piece of ginger
1 or 2 spring onions
25g kaiware sprouts
25g mizuna
50g baby cos (romaine) leaves, torn into small pieces
50g cucumber, sliced on the diagonal
1/4 of a red onion, sliced thinly 

First, prepare the chicken: trim off any excess fat, then season on both sides with salt. Place on a plate or small bowl inside a steamer. Peel the ginger and cut off the green tops of the spring onions; add these to the chicken like this:

Steam, with the lid on, over a pot of boiling water until the chicken is cooked through (I used some smallish thighs and they cooked in about 20-25 minutes). Let cool, and shred by pulling the meat apart with your fingers (or a couple of forks if you prefer).

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the salad: slice up the cucumber and onion (I like to let the red onion soak in a bit of water so it doesn’t overpower the rest of the salad) and rinse the greens. Slice the bottom bits of the spring onions on the diagonal:

Place all the salad ingredients in a bowl and prepare the dressing.

for the dressing:
1 tbsp grated ginger (this will be approximately what’s left of the piece you peeled earlier)
1 clove crushed garlic
2 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp peanut oil
2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp palm sugar
1 tbsp toasted, coarsely ground sesame seeds*

Mix the ingredients together so that the sugar dissolves completely. Taste and adjust amount of vinegar, sugar or soy sauce if needed.

Set aside a tablespoon or so of the dressing to pour over the chicken.

Once everything’s ready, toss the salad ingredients in the dressing. Top with the shredded chicken and pour the rest of the reserved dressing over the top.

*toast the sesame seeds in a hot, dry frying pan or skillet, then loosely crush in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.

  1. Being kind to lettuce makes total sense! Love that you were able to use it still, days later. And that dressing contains all the good things I love. Oh and ginger hoarding is very normal, I always end up with at least three different bits of it.

  2. This sounds like me! Sadly I have to be a bit more organised around meal planning as I live in the country but I still never usually decide what to have until late afternoon. The chicken and salad look lovely and refreshing.

    • Thanks! Ah yeah, I sometimes wish there was something to force me to be a bit more organised, but alas, it’s too easy to stop by Moore Wilson’s on my way home ;)

  3. I’m a real waste freak these days and it really hurts to throw food away. The chickens are happy beneficiaries though if and when it does happen! This sounds light and fresh and the perfect way to do justice to that languishing lettuce!

    • At least you have chickens to feed it to, I get pretty sad when I have to throw things in the bin (hmm, may need to look into one of those apartment compost buckets…) :)

  4. I made a very similar salad last week. I used to make sesame based salads a lot when I was a teenager but I forgot how much I enjoyed it until last week. Glad to have it back in my repertoire. It’s a nice change from all the creamy salads I seem to reach for. I poached my chicken instead of steaming it but yours looks much more authentic.

    I shop like you – often. Mostly for exercise – I walk to the market so I need to be able to carry anything I buy. It keeps my precisely to 1 shopping bag and I also buy based on my mood that day.

    I hoard ginger too. It’s so cheap though, it’s not really much of a problem. I have one piece at home that looks like it is about to turn into a nice pot plant. If that works out, maybe we’ll both end up with a fine collection of potted ginger plants?

    • Exercise! That’s a good reason to shop often, methinks! I’m usually on foot or on my bike, too, so I can only buy what I can carry. Yes, I wonder what’d happen if you planted that ginger?

  5. Dericious! This looks so light too – I have not managed to get off the Christmas merry-go-round of heavy food, mainly because it’s been SO DAMN COLD. I am definitely anally retentive and don’t waste food because of my insane planning but the idea of being an every day shopper really appeals to me, mainly because of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries.

    • Ahh the Kitchen Diaries, such a huge influence in my life… and definitely romanticises the notion of just going to the butcher or the shop and picking up a thing or two.

  6. This looks like summer perfection! I like the look of this salad very much.

    I change my mind with food so often too, it makes it hard to do a weekly shop or much planning… le sigh! Makes it more fun, though, and the upside is that everything is always really fresh when you make it.

    • Yes, freshness is an upside of frequent shopping, though I often find stuff I’ve forgotten about (nearly-wilted spinach is a common offender) and feel too guilty not to use up!

  7. I am like you with shopping, my attempt at watching the dollars and being a bit more organised is freezing meals (mostly for my 4 year old son!).
    The salad looks fresh, healthy and beautiful – salads are now more appealing as a bit of sunshine is finally coming… (fingers crossed)

    • What a great idea :) I really need to get onto freezing more things, I freeze homemade chicken stock (and vegetable scraps for making stock) but not much else. Time to clean out all the old bits and pieces in the freezer I think.

  8. I SO know what you mean about shopping everyday! These days I just walk home past MW’s as a matter of course – I always need chickpeas / bunch of coriander / lemons / meat / some random oil or spice. It’s quite common for me to put a recipe book in my handbag, so I can decide what to cook on the way home. Embarrasing.

    • Hehe, I’d so do that too, if I could read and bike at the same time! But yeah, I usually decide what to cook at the last minute. And Moore’s is on the way home… sounds like you know what it’s like ;)

  9. Mmm. This chicken salad looks scrumptious. Im loving the flavors in it.

  10. Love this salad! And no you’re most definitely not alone on hoarding! I see beautiful veg & can’t resist the urge to buy them with little thought of what I eventually will do with them! must, must be less wasteful….maybe that should be a belated New Year’s resolution for myself :)

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