I guess I should start today’s post with a confession: I’ve never been much of a fan of “salads”. I think it’s because so seldom is the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Either the ingredients just don’t pull together naturally in a way that asserts convincingly that they belong together, or the dressing fails to unify everything to create a salad unique enough to deserve a “name”. On the other hand, let me add in my defense that I frequently eat a salad (arugula, cucumber, tomato and avocado, bound with my favorite shallot vinaigrette) with my dinner. I just don’t feel the need to name it, or to otherwise drag the rest of the eating world into its orbit.
So when I say I have a couple of exceptional salads to share with you, it’s serious business, trust me!
The first two salads are from The Frog Commissary Cookbook, one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. In my opinion this book is well worth every penny it costs (it is long since out of print, so any copy will be used and cheap anyway) for the salads alone. Every one I have made (and I have barely made a dent in the recipes in its extensive salads category) has been an unparalleled success. Wherever I have plunked one down on a table, at family parties, a shower, or at a potluck, people are just wowed by their visual appeal and the complexity of flavors and textures they bring into play.
The Oriental Chicken Salad couldn’t be easier, or more beautiful on a large round platter. Bite-sized pieces of perfectly cooked chicken are tossed with bok choy, sprouts, scallions, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, tossed with a fragrant sesame-flavored dressing, then arranged on a wheel of romaine and garnished with crisp, thinly sliced red cabbage and toasted almonds. Try it. You won’t regret it.
Note: The variations the book frequently offers at the end of a salad recipe are not throwaways. They are as carefully devised as the original, so be sure to check them out.
ORIENTAL CHICKEN SALAD
The Frog Commissary Cookbook
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
3/4 cup corn oil
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 T vinegar (unseasoned rice vinegar, if you have it)
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
3 T Dijon mustard
2 T soy sauce
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (for 3 1/2 to 4 cups cooked and cubed meat) (recipe follows)
2 cups bok choy, in 1/4” slices
1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
2/3 cup scallions, in 1/4” slices
Snow peas (amount left out of recipe)
1/3 cup sliced bamboo shoots
1/2 cup sliced water chestnuts
2 cups finely sliced red cabbage
3/4 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted
Whiz the egg in a food processor or blender or whisk by hand until light-colored. Gradually add the sesame and corn oils until well-homogenized. Add the remaining ingredients.
Bake and cool the chicken (method follows). Cut into bite-sized pieces and combine with the sprouts, bok choy, scallions, snow peas, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts. Toss with the dressing and arrange on romaine. Garnish with the red cabbage and almonds
COOKED CHICKEN FOR SALADS
As many boneless, skinless chicken breasts as you need for a recipe
Preheat oven to 350º F.
Lay chicken breasts on a rimmed baking sheet and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cooked through but still moist and juicy. Cool to room temperature and cut or shred it according to your recipe’s instructions.
Substitute cashews or 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds for the almonds.
Shrimp and/or scallops are nice in place of the chicken.
For extra color and interest, add fresh pineapple or blanched broccoli or carrots.
The Commissary’s Thai Beef Salad calls for pre-cooked rare roast beef. There are many ways to get your hands on some, including just buying some pre-sliced at your favorite deli. I personally like to plan on making this after first enjoying a roast beef dinner the day before, using a favorite recipe for eye of the round that cooks the meat for only 7 minutes per pound in a screaming hot oven, then has it sit there with the door closed and the heat off for a couple of hours. It gives me 3 pounds of perfectly cooked roast beef, which takes care of dinner with plenty left over for the salad for dinner the next day, and sandwiches during the week. It’s really efficient for those of us who live in smaller households.
The salad features a delightful spicy peanut dressing, and is a particularly colorful mélange of pink beef, scallions, snow peas, bean sprouts, sliced red cabbage and cucumbers laid out on a bed of romaine and sprinkled with chopped toasted peanuts. Another four-square winner from Philly.
Serves 5 to 6
THAI BEEF SALAD WITH SPICY PEANUT DRESSING
The Frog Commissary Cookbook
SPICY PEANUT DRESSING:
1/2 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup corn oil
1 tsp. salt
1 T sugar
3/4 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 tsp. soy sauce
1 1/4 tsp. sriracha or Tabasco
1 1/4 tsp. minced fresh ginger
2 T lime juice
1/3 cup coarsely chopped salted roasted peanuts
1 1/2 pounds cooked, rare roast sirloin or fillet of beef, cut into 1 1/2” x 1/4’ strips (about 4 cups)
2 medium-large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/4” crescents (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/4 pound snow peas, stemmed, blanched 20 seconds
1/2 pound bean sprouts
1 3/4 cups julienned red peppers (about 2 medium)
2 cups finely sliced red cabbage
2 cup thinly sliced scallions (about 2 bunches)
1/2 cup chopped salted roasted peanuts
Whisk together all the ingredients (except the peanuts). Refrigerate. Stir in the peanuts just before serving.
Just before serving, combine the beef, cucumbers, snow peas, bean sprouts, peppers, cabbage, and scallions with the dressing. Serve on romaine or other greens and sprinkle with the peanuts.
My last salad is a creation of Madeliene Kamman, whose kitchen prowess constantly amazes me. Her ability to evoke the “OMG response” from this jaded old gal is surely one for the record books. This salad is a perfect example of that power. Four simple main ingredients, broccoli, brown rice, almonds and shrimp, are pulled together to deliver a salad that is astoundingly tasty, easy to prepare, and healthy to boot! I never make this to take to a potluck that people aren’t hunting me down for the recipe.
SHRIMP, BROWN RICE AND BROCCOLI SALAD
2 cups broccoli florets
1 pound peeled, deveined large shrimp
2 cups brown rice (I prefer short-grained, both for the texture, and because they hold up so well in the salad)
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup whole almonds
Parboil the broccoli florets in rapidly boiling water in a large pan, 2-3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Cook shrimp for 1-2 minutes, just until cooked. Drain and put aside
Parboil brown rice for 2-3 minutes in a large pot of boiling water, then drain.
Bring chicken broth to a boil, add rice, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes. Remove from heat and cool with cover on. If all the broth hasn’t been absorbed, drain the rice in a colander before proceeding.
Toast almonds in a 350º F. oven, then roughly chop
When rice is cool, toss it with the broccoli, shrimp and almonds.
6 T chopped shallots
2 T chopped parsley
2 T chopped scallions or chives
6 T sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
½ cup plus 2 T good olive oil
½ tsp. salt
Toss with rice mixture. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.