What we decide to eat can be influenced by many factors. Probably the most important factors impacting the foods we eat and the recipes we use are where we are born and what culture we are raised in. However, with time, these factors have become less influential. Over the last few centuries, we humans have become much more mobile. Our quest for a better life, or relocations required by our occupations, have exposed us to a wider variety of new foods and recipes. The introduction of newspapers and, later, TV also provided new ways to expand culinary knowledge and choices. With the advent of the internet, the sky is now the limit on discovering new recipes to try!
However, with the advancement of the medical profession over the last couple of generations, we have learned that not all foods are created equal. Some are good for us and some are bad for us. This knowledge can challenge those of us who are responsible for preparing meals for our family. What a dilemma! What we love to eat may not be good for us. We are constantly caught between the tug of war of preparing meals that our families like, and preparing meals that won't undermine their good health. What's a cook to do?!
We should all strive to give our families better food choices. But changes can't be made overnight. A quick move to upgrade the quality of meals can be met with open rebellion by some family members. So healthier choices should be introduced gradually. I know at my house I've been introducing more fruits and vegetables over the past several years. At first there was some resistance, but with time the barriers have slowly come down! Today, all my family eat salad with mixed greens and a variety of other vegetables, such as carrots, cucumbers, peppers, onions, etc.
This week I am introducing one of the first recipes I used to get my family to begin liking raw vegetables: Asian Chicken Salad. I realize that this was a modest step forward in the quest to get family members to be more daring with vegetables, but it proved to be successful.
This recipe is a combination of two recipes given to me years ago by two old friends, Melanie Reynolds and Judy Lee (formerly Judy Bothmer). Shortly after I arrived on Guam in 1976 to teach biology at John F. Kennedy High School, I convinced Melanie, my former Northern Arizona University classmate, to move to Guam to teach elementary school at Finagayan. She left the island in 1979 to pursue her master's degree at the University of Hawaii. Judy and her former husband, Richard Bothmer, were both long-time teachers on Guam. Judy retired from the Guam Department of Education several years ago and currently lives on the Big Island of Hawaii. Several years back, in my quest to find healthier recipe options, both gave me a similar recipe. I've blended the two together.
This is a great recipe to serve when you have a big gathering. If you want to make a smaller salad, simply cut all the ingredient amounts by half.
Week 17: Asian Chicken Salad
1 head green cabbage, shredded
10 to 15 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
8 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
2 to 3 cooked chicken breasts, shredded (around 2 pounds)*
2 packages chicken Top Ramen-type noodles, crushed
2 seasoning packets (from the ramen noodles)
1 cup olive oil (garlic flavored is nice!)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon black pepper
3 tablespoons sesame oil
6 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1. Toast the almonds and sesame seeds**
2. Mix the cabbage and green onions in a large bowl.
3. Mix all the dressing ingredients together in a medium bowl.
4. Mix in almonds, sesame seeds, crushed noodles, chicken and dressing just before serving. This will preserve the crispiness of the noodles. (But if you don't mind soft noodles, the flavors will improve if you let the salad sit for a few hours or overnight).
* To cook the chicken breasts, lightly salt and pepper each side. Place them in boiling water and cook from 15 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. Chicken should be at 165 degrees. Shred them with a fork after they cool.
** Toasting the slivered almonds and the sesame seeds intensifies their flavor. Toast them separately. To toast, heat oven (I use my toaster oven) to 350 degrees. For the slivered almonds, spread them in a single layer on the toaster oven pan, or a cookie sheet if using the regular oven. Bake for 3-4 minutes. Timing is critical as the nuts will burn quickly. After two minutes, stir the almonds and continue baking. Watching the almonds carefully, remove them from the oven when they reach a golden brown. If using the toaster oven, you can turn on the toaster to finish browning the almonds, but keep a close eye on them!
Immediately pour the almonds onto a plate or platter where they can cool in a single layer.
For the sesame seeds, follow the same process, but they may take a minute or so longer.