QUICK & EASY: Vietnamese Chicken Salad
QUICK & EASY: Vietnamese Chicken Salad Ben Dearnley

RECIPE: Delicious Vietnamese chicken salad

IT IS not just working people who feel too tired to cook something inspiring on week nights.

Retirees and seniors who work part-time sometimes find it just as difficult to come up with something new, tasty and healthy for a week night dinner.

The Dinner Ladies cook book is your go-to if you find you've run out of dinner ideas or just want to plan ahead and have something tasty always at the ready in your freezer.

The Dinner Ladies is a cookbook full of family-friendly favourites: spiced slow-cooked lamb shanks; pastas and sauces; warming curries; veggie-focussed 'thinner dinners' and easy desserts such as chocolate mint pots and seasonal crumbles.

All the recipes can be prepared ahead.

It might be on the weekend, it could be late at night or in the morning, but if 30 minutes a couple of times a week can be found, you can prepare a few dishes and stick them in the fridge or freezer.

The Dinner Ladies are Sophie Gilliatt and Katherine Westwood and there is not much they don't know about pleasing a palate.

They first met at a school gate in 2007 and came up with the idea of preparing dinner for time-poor friends so they would always have something home-made in the fridge or freezer.

What started as a back shed project has grown to a fleet of delivery trucks dropping off thousands of delicious home-cooked meals every week to appreciative households.

Now you can cook their recipes at home.

(The Dinner Ladies, Murdock - $39.99.)

The Dinner Ladies' Vietnamese Chicken Salad

This is the definitive Asian salad: healthy, low-fat, low-carb and packed with flavour, crunch and other positive, go-getting qualities.

If you poach the chicken breasts and prep the vegetables and dressing earlier, the whole thing comes together in moments - perfect for a midweek summer dinner.

Make ahead: The chicken can be poached up to 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container in the fridge. Alternatively, poach a few breasts at the same time and, when cool, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or put them in a zip-lock bag and freeze for up to 3 months - pull one out to defrost whenever you need some for a salad or sandwiches. The dressing may be made up to 1 week ahead and stored in an airtight jar in the fridge. The salad, minus the dressing and the nuts, can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept, refrigerated, in an airtight container.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

500g chicken breast fillets

1 kg Chinese cabbage, end removed, quartered lengthways and thinly sliced

300 g carrots, coarsely grated or cut into very thin matchsticks

6 spring onions, ends removed, thinly sliced

1 large handful mint, leaves only, coarsely chopped

2 large handfuls coriander, leaves only, coarsely chopped

50 g unsalted roasted peanuts, lightly crushed

2 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Vietnamese dressing:

2 long red chillies, seeded and coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

100 g light brown sugar

2 tablespoons white rice vinegar (or substitute cider vinegar)

100 ml lime juice

100 ml fish sauce

To serve: prawn crackers (optional)

Method:

Trim any visible fat or sinew off the chicken breasts. In a wide saucepan, bring 1.5 litres of well-salted water to the boil over high heat and then add the chicken breast fillets. Turn the heat down to a low simmer and gently poach the chicken for 10 minutes.

Turn the heat off, cover with the saucepan lid and let the chicken continue cooking for a further 10 minutes. Remove with tongs and allow to cool until it's stopped steaming, then cover and refrigerate.

For the Vietnamese dressing, mix all the ingredients in a small food processor bowl or a stick blender container and blitz for a couple of minutes, until well blended. Taste for sweet/sour/salty balance and adjust to your liking.

When ready to serve, shred the chicken breasts with your fingers into rough, bite-sized pieces.

Mix the Chinese cabbage, carrots, spring onions, mint and coriander in a large bowl. Add half the dressing, half the chicken and half the nuts and seeds and toss it all together. Arrange on a platter and scatter with the remaining chicken, nuts and seeds, drizzled with the rest of the dressing.

Serve the salad on its own or with prawn crackers.


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