My half-hearted new year’s resolution to “eat more salad” was admittedly in direct response to the weeks of gluttony that preceded it, but was also a personal challenge to explore beyond the bounds of my weeknight dinner mainstays (I’m lookin’ at you, pesto pasta).
It began just as soon as the holiday remorse set in, on my cross-country red-eye that topped off a rather indulgent Manhattan day. We’re talking Russ & Daughters, Eataly and $1 pizza slices over the course of eight hours. Yeah, I’m impressed with me too.
As I sat on the plane, loopily searching for inspo on my favorite food blogs, I began to compile a Pinterest board: Salad For Dinner. On it, you’ll find hearty, seasonal, droothworthy photos that make (mostly) raw stuff look pretty damn good.
I’ve been working my way through the recipes, picking out my favorite elements of a few and throwing them together for dinner and next-day lunches. The rules are simple:
The fewer the leaves the better. For a girl whose former salad expertise topped out at Kale Caesar, this one is tough.
It’s gotta have protein. What are we, bunnies?! This is dinner we’re talking about! Beans, nuts or quinoa do the trick for vegetarians, but juicy shredded chicken adds an unparalleled texture to an otherwise crunchy pile of goodness.
Cut wisely! An interesting salad means lots of fresh ingredients so what you see is what you get. Pay extra special attention to the way you cut everything for maximum prettiness.
Dress to impress. Pick a theme, and run with it. Here, I was going for sweet and nutty. Creamy and herbaceous is another good one. I like to make dressings that are light in color, so the ingredients don’t all turn brown.
The rest is up to you! But, if you’re like me, you are a creature of habit, and by habit I mean comfort. Eating salad for dinner is already a little….progressive, so I’m totally on board with finding a go-to and sticking to it.
This Crunchy Asian Salad is just about perfect in every way a salad can be perfect. It’s hearty (you won’t be hungry again in an hour), it’s healthy (cabbage! green stuff! chicken breast! oh my!) and it’s even better the next day (hellooooo lunch). Plus, these ingredients are pretty much available year round and are the perfect vehicle for practicing your knife skills.
Shout out to rule #1 – this salad is leaf-free, making it more of a slaw without the “side dish” reputation. Finely shredded cabbage is crinkly, sweet and crunchy but is totally ready to share the stage with scallions, celery and jalapeño. The juicy shredded chicken adds a different texture, giving the salad some heft that makes it feel dinner-y. The dressing is sweet and nutty, but not too intrusive. It just provides a slick coating for the salad and gives it a discernibly Asian flavor. Salty peanuts and toasted sesame seeds finish it off, adding earthy, salty and a different kind of crunch.
The result: a full meal that’s easy, healthy, fridge-friendly and ready to make you forget that you ever dismissed salad as a main dish.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons vinegar
½ inch ginger, skinned and finely grated
1 tablespoon Sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 ½ pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (or cooked chewy grain!)
Kosher salt & pepper
½ head green cabbage
¼ head purple cabbage
2 stalks celery
½ large jalapeno
10-ish mint leaves
Handful salted, roasted peanuts
Toasted sesame seeds
Combine ingredients in a small, sealable container and shake it up!
Salad & Assembly
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a small baking dish by lining with tinfoil with excess on either end.
Heat some canola oil in a cast iron skillet until shimmering hot. While it’s heating up, season chicken breast with salt and pepper. Sear chicken breast for 2-ish minutes on each side, until a nice brown crust has formed on each side. Transfer to baking dish and wrap the tinfoil around the chicken to seal in moisture. Bake at 375 degrees until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, unwrap, and let cool.
Cut the half green cabbage into two quarters. Slice the cabbage very very thinly, with the base of the cabbage facing you. Discard any overly large, chunky pieces. Repeat with purple cabbage.
Slice both the celery and the scallions very thinly, on the bias. You’re trying to make the slices as long and thin as possible.
Remove jalapeno seeds, and chop into small pieces. Taste it first to gague spiciness!
Chop the mint.
Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, pull it apart with your fingers to create shreds.
Add vegetables, herbs, chicken and peanuts to a serving bowl. Give the mixture a toss to combine before adding dressing. Add half the dressing and toss to coat. Taste it! If it needs more, you know what to do.
Serve immediately or store in the fridge for a less crunchy, but even more juicy version that will last up to two days.