I love salads. Period. But I’m not talking about romaine and cherry tomatoes here – I want them to be complex and colorful, and full of contrasting textures and flavors. And I want them to be nutrient-dense powerhouses. Around the holidays when I put in an epic day of shopping at the mall, I usually end up at California Pizza Kitchen and I always order the Thai Crunch salad. It has everything I want in a salad but it’s also full of unhealthy oils and sugar. And the worst part is that I go home craving that salad for days! While it’s definitely a better choice over pizza when you’ve already overdone it on Christmas cookies and eggnog or are trying to stick to a clean eating plan/elimination diet. But I’m not looking for the “better” choice here, and the abundance of cancer-fighting, body-detoxifying cabbage at my farmer’s market right now has had me craving this salad. So here it is – my version, sans soy (a no-no on elimination diets), sugar, GMO oils, peanuts (a common allergen & source of mold toxins), and deep-fried wonton chips (I know, I have to take ALL the fun away!)
Here’s the run-down on the ingredients in the dressing:
- Coconut milk – always buy full-fat coconut milk for 2 reasons:
- It’s full of healthy medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) which your body does not store as fat but rather uses for a quick energy source
- Reduced-fat coconut milk is often extracted using chemical processes. Just like with olive oil, you want the first-cold press of the coconuts.
- Chickpea miso – traditional miso is made with fermented soybeans which are most-often GMO and an allergen to many people. But it’s also quite healthy since the fermentation promotes healthy gut bacteria. In comes chickpea miso to the rescue! It has all the flavor and health benefits of traditional miso but is made from fermented chickpeas instead of soy. The salty-sweet flavor adds depth & sweetness to the dressing. Find it in the refrigerated section of health-food stores.
- Fish sauce – a golden liquid extracted from the fermentation of fish & sea salt. It sounds (and smells) pretty gross but it’s the secret ingredient in many of the great Southeast Asian dishes. It adds salt & umami to the dressing. It’s found in most grocery stores – my favorite brand is Red Boat sold at Trader Joes & specialty markets.
- Toasted sesame oil – imparts a really intense sesame flavor. Find it at Asian markets and most grocery stores, but make sure it’s 100% sesame oil as some are a blend of vegetable oil & sesame oil.
- Thai red curry paste – not just for curry! Adds heat and spice notes to the dressing. Also found at Asian markets and most grocery stores.
Recipe: Crunchy Cabbage, Cashew & Chicken Salad with Coconut-Curry Dressing
Say that 5 times fast!
For the Coconut-Red Curry Dressing
Makes appx. 2 1/2 cups
1, 14 oz can full-fat coconut milk
1/4 c chickpea miso
1/4 c water
1/4 c toasted sesame oil
1/4 c red curry paste
1/4 c fresh lime juice
2 TBSP fish sauce
In a medium bowl or glass measuring cup, wisk together the miso and water until smooth. Wisk in half of the coconut milk and remaining ingredients. Once smooth, wisk in the remaining coconut milk. The dressing will be pungent tasting, but that’s what you want as it’s going to coat a lot of vegetables and chicken thus the flavor will be diluted. If not using immediately, transfer to a glass jar and store in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. It may get too thick as the coconut milk solidifies – if so, thin with water as needed.
For the Chicken:
2, bone-in split chicken breasts (roughly 2 pounds) – using this cut yields really tender & flavorful chicken, but boneless-skinless breasts work just fine.
Olive oil, salt & pepper
Heat oven to 400° and line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Drizzle both sides of chicken with olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Place skin-side up on parchment-lined tray and roast for 25-35 minutes (depending on the size). The skin should be golden and crispy, and the meat should feel firm when pushed on. To double check doneness, you can insert a thermometer near the bone to check that the chicken is at 160° (it will continue to cook once out of the oven) or stick a knife in it and see that the juices run clear.
Let chicken cool, cut meat away from the bone, cut into roughly 2″ chunks, then pull into bite-sized pieces. Reserve all the chicken juices and then toss with the shredded chicken if desired.
Salad Components & Assembly:
Serves 6 as a main course
1 medium head napa cabbage, quartered and thinly sliced
1 small head purple cabbage, thinly sliced
1 bunch bok choy, thinly sliced
4 large carrots, shredded
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 c roasted & salted cashews, coarsely chopped
Coconut-red curry dressing
Combine the cabbage, bok choy, half of the carrots, chicken, 3/4 c of the cashews & scallions. Add dressing in 1/2 cup increments and toss all together. Continue adding dressing until the veggies & chicken are all coated. Taste the salad and see if it needs more salt, lime juice or hot sauce like sriracha. Divide into salad bowls and garnish with remaining carrots & cashews.
As always, I want you to be the chef of your own kitchen. So use this recipe as a guideline, and get in there and make it your own! Experiment with different types of cabbage, sweet elements (julienned mango or papaya instead of carrot), herbs (cilantro, thai basil or mint) and adjust the ratios in the dressing until it suits your taste buds. Sub shrimp or salmon for the chicken, or make it vegetarian and add chickpeas. And for all you heat-lovers out there, don’t be afraid to add fresh jalapenos or sriracha to the dressing. I’m excited to hear your spin on this!
Bonus: Make extra dressing and use it as a topping for salmon later in the week!