Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eye-catching colors: Vietnamese Chicken and Green Papaya Salad

My approach to reading a cookbook for the first time is to just flip through to see what catches my eye.  No brainer here. The Vietnamese Chicken and Green Papaya Salad was 'THE one.' The colors were eye-catchingly vibrant. Not to mention, my personal cooking style often nods toward Asia.  This leads to a sidebar comment on the book's beautiful images. The photographer, Jeff Kauck used natural light when possible and the salads were  arranged on handmade Provençal pottery. Not every recipe is illustrated, but I appreciate the freedom to construct a dish as I envision it to look. But this recipe was  not one of them. I hoped my Vietnamese Chicken would turn out exactly like the photo... a pile of shredded yumminess that one can almost taste just from the picture. Given an unfortunate forced substitution of a few ingredients, I hoped for at least a close resemblance. 

It's been a while since I've cooked with papaya, but I adore the juicy melon flavor it lends to meat. I could find neither a green papaya (which lacks the carotene that those with orange flesh have) nor the specified peppers. Hell-bent on making this recipe, I  purchased a regular papaya and hot little fresno peppers. Just decided to go for it, knowing these two different ingredients will produce different results.  Eating half of the papaya while prepping the other half, I realized the salad is going to be a CINCH to make. The base of the salad consists of four ingredients, mixed with a light fish sauce and a couple toppings. Easy peasy! 
The most daunting aspect of this recipe? Having to consider digging out my food processor just to crush peanuts. Then it dawned on me... My brother-in-law included a Slap Chop as part of a playful gift bag for my birthday. If you've never seen the "Slap Chop Rap" (click here!), it's a laugh.  And as Slap Chop Vince says, "You're gonna love my nuts!"  So, I slapped my worries away and 30 seconds later had a bowl full of chopped peanuts.  My husband jumped in on the action, helping with some of the prep. Overall, the recipe took about 30 minutes from start to finish. (That included cooking the chicken and a few wine breaks).  

The colors drew me in, but the traditional flavor combination will keep me coming back to this recipe. Maybe even use the proper ingredients. Green papaya chicken is a staple of Thai (and Laotiancuisine. Some might even consider it their national dish, which is sold everywhere from restaurants to food carts. Given the French colonial Indochine connection, it's not surprising a Vietnamese salad turns up in the cookbook. Americans might just be discovering Vietnamese cuisine, but the food of 'Nam has been long appreciated in France. So of course, we followed the meal with a lovely cup of French roast coffee.

Bean sprouts are to Vietnamese salads what lettuce is to American. If you've never used bean sprouts as your salad base, try it. They are more substantial than they look and even though they are very juicy, sprouts also have a slight crunch. That's what the sprouts bring to the  Chicken and Green Papaya Salad. A crunch. The (albeit wrong) papaya brings sweetness and the cilantro... well... cilantro makes everything better. That's about it. Mix it up and plate.  Throw in a little dipping sauce and nutty topping. Voila!  This Salad as a Meal is my favorite yet. 

Click here to purchase: 

Salad as a Meal: Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season [Hardcover]


  1. Love bean sprouts and anything asian...I think this will be a favorite for us too.

  2. How did I miss this one? Looks scrumptious.

  3. Funny how we catch different pictures & recipes as we flip through the book. This was the very first one to catch my eye.

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