Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thai Ground Chicken Salad

I love Thai food.  I love going to Thai restaurants and reading Thai cookbooks.  Mostly I love to make Thai food at home.  I think it's because the flavors are SO FRESH and SO VIBRANT, that making it at home seems brighter and fresher in flavor. Plus there is a real satisfaction that comes from creating something authentic.

Now don't get me wrong, I will NEVER turn down an offer to go out for Thai food!  But as good as the restaurant is, there is something very exciting about learning a bit of the flavor profile of that region.  This way if I crave Thai food, I can throw something together in less than a half hour that totally satisfies.  On top of that I can CONTROL, Fat, Calories, Etc.....without having to spend 50 bucks or more on dinner!

And yes, if your wondering - I DO KNOW I AM A CONTROL FREAK. 

But when it comes to food, taking CONTROL is a good thing.  I am exercising like crazy, keeping on a healthy food plan, and drinking my water.  It's paying off.   A couple weeks ago I was whining about being on a plateau...remember?  Well, it's broken and this week (with EASTER mind you) I lost another 1.2 pounds....WHEW.  I feel so much better now. But it didn't happen by osmosis.  It's about eating what you want in a controlled manner (I HATE THAT!) 

TRUST ME!  I have tried eating on the "what I wanted, when I wanted plan" and the result was not good!! 

This is why I love to learn a little bit about other world cuisines.  Thai, Italian, Moroccan, Persian, Chinese, Indian, French, Spanish, Mexican, and the like.  If I can control it, therefore I can eat it.  SIMPLE.

But in order to create real Thai food, you need real Thai ingredients.  And, in my opinion, faking it or substituting will not render the results you want.  So lets talk about the pantry/freezer.  I like to go to the Asian markets and stock up on important ingredients.  For the most part you can get a lot of it at a good, well stocked market.  But the experience of going to a place like 99 Ranch ( or another Asian market is very cool.  There is stuff  I just  cannot buy anywhere.  Ingredients such as Kaffir lime leaves, fresh galangal, Thai basil, fresh baby ginger, Asian peppers, fresh and dried and an array of specialty rices, sauces....another benefit? The prices are AMAZING.

I keep lots of ingredients in the freezer - in a shoe box!  It's filled with baggies of various citrus zest and juice, fresh keffir lime leaves, fresh baby ginger, fresh galangal, Thai Basil (very different), Asian Mint (also known as Indian mint), chopped cilantro and prepared (peeled and trimmed) lemon grass stalks. Everytime I use a lemon, lime or orange, I quickly zest it and add it to a baggy I have in the freezer.  If there is extra juice, I squeeze it and put into the juice baggies in the freezer. ( why?  because in the winter citrus is terribly expensive and I don't always want to zest to juice citrus when I am starving to death)  I also stock up on coconut milk (now using LIGHT), chicken broth, Thai fish sauce, and lots of other Asian sauces (Plum, Hoisan, and black bean sauces, red-curry paste, etc...and Voila! I am ready for any Asian food we can create in minutes. 
This salad is the culmination of many attempts to copy a dish we have in a popular restaurant.  I'd printed and made TONS of recipes for Chicken Larb (that's KIND OF what this is) and ground chicken salads.  SAD.  They all fell flat in flavor.  So I came up with my own.   My poor husband - the kitchen looked like a nightmare (but it was a necessity).  I had scratched out tons of  stuff on papers because as I was creating, adding and testing the dressing (it's all about the dressing). I had to figure out how much of this and that I had put in!  That's because once it was "right" I wanted to be able to create a recipe to share with my daughters and others AND to be able to recreate it the same way over and over, FAST.

There is no way around it, you will need a food processor or blender for this dressing - sorry it's unavoidable.

The result is a fresh, vibrant, spicy dressing, that is authentic and ROCKS the ground chicken and salad greens of your choice.

Thai Ground Chicken  Salad
Salad serves 4 - (but I have been known to eat HALF)
About 10 WW points per serving less if you don't use Peanuts

3 tablespoons  Thai Fish Sauce
1 tablespoon or so MAGGI or SOY sauce
Zest of one whole lime
3  whole limes - juiced
1-2 TBSP  brown sugar (I use palm sugar, use it if you have it)
2 dry red chilies chopped
2 teaspoons minced ginger - fresh or from the jar
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar or more to taste
1/3 stock of Lemon Grass very thinly sliced and sort of chopped (easier out of the freezer) Almost all markets now carry this in the fresh herb section.
1 Teaspoon or less Sambal olek (Chile paste )  available at ANY market. 
(I use the garlic and Chile one - add less depending on your tolerance for spice)
A dash of sesame oil 
fresh ground pepper, just a few grinds 

Put all ingredients in the small bowl of your food processor and process for a minute to two until as smooth as possible - taste.  You may need more pepper, brown sugar, MAGGI/soy sauce, sesame oil (small amount), lime juice, etc...depending on your taste. If you add anything process again, taste (be careful not to drink it all!) and set aside.

1 pound ground chicken
(if using all white meat ground chicken, watch how long you can get dry)
sesame oil
sesame seeds (optional)
Sambal Olek (Chile paste)

Brown chicken  in a bit of olive oil…..add MAGGI/SOY, sesame seeds, sesame oil, and Chile pasted to taste. Stir through and when cooked and flavorful, set aside.

Construct your salad on a large platter.   

1/2 head Romaine or iceberg lettuce (or both), chopped
Thinly sliced cabbage, about two cups shredded ( optional)
Salad peppers or bell peppers, thinly sliced or chopped
Water chestnuts (optional) chopped
Fresh Cilantro (about 1/4 cup of cilantro)  (or preferably a bit of Thai Basil, if using start out with 2's strong)
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped
Bean sprouts (optional)
Sliced limes
** Be creative....add anything else to your salad, spinach, apples, mandarin's, other interesting spouts (I love Kamut sprouts)

Chop everything up and mix lettuce and cabbage mixture.  Layer on the platter.  

Add the rest of the ingredients, one on top of the other:


Layer all chicken over the lettuce, put bean sprouts around the platter and add extra limes.
Re-process dressing for a second and pour over the top of the salad...Lightly work dressing in and top with peanuts!

Serve in bowls and squeeze extra lime juice over the top!

This, by far, is our favorite salad, Healthy, delicious and refreshing - definately not a foo-foo girlie salad. 

PERFECT for a very hot day.

From my home to yours, ENJOY!

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