August 24, 2016

Dear friends,

On one of those sweltering evenings last week I wanted to serve something refreshing for dinner. Ice cream came to mind, of course, but Tony doesn’t consider it a meal. It’s a flaw but I love him anyway.

The meal I ultimately made served four. Tony ate three portions, so I think he liked it. It was a luscious noodle salad with lacquered chicken strips, cilantro, green onions and red pepper strips in a lime-fish sauce-peanut dressing. Garlic and mint were in there somewhere, too.

This was a case where I started with a recipe, changed some of the major ingredients and revised the cooking or prep methods of others. My version goes into my permanent recipe file.

Despite the number of ingredients, the salad was not hard to make. It goes together quickly after everything is chopped and/or cooked and lined up.

The next time I make it I’ll do my mise en place (prepping the ingredients) a little at a time throughout the day, making the final preparation practically painless. If you want to cut the prep time, you could use rotisserie chicken, but you’ll sacrifice some flavor.

The dressing may taste too fish sauce-y when you taste it by itself, but don’t tinker. The strong flavor blends and mellows when mixed with the bowlful of noodles and vegetables.

This meal is the opposite of those boxed “Suddenly Salad” things (the name is hilarious). Think of it as “Gradually Salad” but with actual flavor.” Now on to the ice cream.

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ASIAN LIME-PEANUT NOODLE SALAD
Dressing:

2 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes

Salad:

1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
8 oz. angel hair pasta
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, loosely packed
2 green onions, green parts only, sliced thin
1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, pulsed to a fine meal in food processor
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 of a large red bell pepper, cut in thin strips and halved lengthwise
1 tsp. chopped garlic
12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in 1/4-inch-wide strips
1 tbsp. soy sauce
Whole peanuts, whole cilantro leaves and lime wedges for garnish

Mix together dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Bring 3 to 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Measure bean sprouts into a long-handled strainer.

Dip into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then dip back out and refresh under cold water. Set aside.

Add a tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and refresh under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well.

Transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the bean sprouts, chopped cilantro, green onions and peanut meal and toss well.

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add red pepper strips and stir fry for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to salad. Pour dressing over noodles and toss well.

In the same skillet, sauté garlic for a few seconds, then add chicken and stir fry about two minutes or until exterior of chicken pieces turn white. Add soy sauce and continue to stir fry until chicken is cooked through and glazed a dark brown.

Toss salad thoroughly again to distribute ingredients and dressing. Arrange chicken over noodles and scatter whole peanuts and coriander leaves on top.

Serve with lime wedges. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBIT
My husband will have a hard time keeping me away from Norton on Wednesday evenings for the foreseeable future. That’s where I found some of the best meatloaf I’ve ever had. On Wednesdays at the Wolf Creek Tavern chef Joe Wingate cuts thick slabs of his already-great meatloaf, wraps the edges in bacon, grills them over wood and serves them with upscale sides for just $12.
Wow.

The big pile of mashed potatoes was buttery and creamy and I loved the well-seasoned broccoli rabe, but the meatloaf was just awesome. Joe said he got the recipe from another cook’s grandmother. It was moist, tender, and smoky from the fire. Joe confirmed he used fresh bread crumbs soaked in milk as the binder.

Wolf Creek is at 3044 Wadsworth Rd. in Norton. The phone is 234-571-4531. See you on meatloaf night.
THE MAILBAG
From Geoff:
Amy F. asked about pine nuts. I happened to see them at C.J. Dannemiller’s (800-624-8671). Not sure of their origin but I’m sure a call to them would help. This is a great place to buy many varieties of nuts as long as you can handle slightly larger than normal quantities.

Dear Geoff: Thanks for telling us about Dannemiller, a vending supplier on Hametown Road in Norton.
I doubt many home cooks would want a 55-pound case for $71 (about $13 a pound), but as you point out, smaller quantities are available. The surcharge for partial cases is 30 cents per pound. Unfortunately for Amy, the pine nuts are from China, a rep says. Check out the company’s other products at http://www.cjdannemiller.com.

From Marilyn:
I buy my pine nuts at Gallucci’s on the eastside of Cleveland. Think they come
from Italy and are good!

Dear Marilyn: The pine nuts at Gallucci’s are from Italy, a rep says, and are $19.99 a pound. They are scooped and weighed when you order, so any amount may be purchased. The store’s website is http://www.tasteitaly.com.

From Kay B.:
We moved from Akron to Santa Fe in 2000. Fall has two amazing harvests: New Mexico chilies and New Mexico pinons (pine nuts) — better by far than imports.

Piñon Nuts: Euell Gibbons, the famous naturalist from the 1970s (seen on Grape Nuts commercials), described the New Mexico piñon nut as the best-tasting wild food in the world. He did not say all pine nuts, just the New Mexico piñon nut (Pinus Edulis). If you have ever tried one, you would remember the flavor… no pine resin taste, just creamy toasted goodness. There is only one number one wild food in the world and this is it.

Nevada Pine nuts, are very “resinous” and have a strong pine taste. You can tell instantly that it is a pine nut or could guess even if you never tried one before. Nevada Pine nuts (Pinus Monophelia) are sold in the Southwest when New Mexico piñon nuts run out.

Asian Imports: Pine nuts from Korea have a slightly less resinous taste than Nevada Pine nuts, but one could still know they are from a pine tree. China has the blandest pine nuts, unfortunately. Because of improper handling, or possibly an inherent characteristic of the species, they tend not to store well, and go rancid within 12 months.

Italian pignolia Most similar in taste to New Mexico pinons — very creamy, buttery toasted flavor with the slightest hint of pine taste… but many have blamed over cultivation to the blanding of the flavor of this variety.

Dear Kay: Thank you for the wonderful information. Your email reminded me of a trip I took to New Mexico once. I bought a sack of unshelled pinon nuts at a Navajo trading post and spent the next few days painstakingly cracking and eating them. It was tedious but when food is involved, I’m persistent.

From Brad P.:
Do you always put butter into your pesto?

Dear Brad: No, but I often do when I serve it over pasta. It gives the sauce a more luxurious texture and flavor. Plus, Marcella Hazan says to add butter, so who am I to argue?

 

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