Thai chicken salad with sesame vinaigrette

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This was my absolute favorite thing to sneak bites of when I worked at the catering company. It was also one of the few dishes that I was fully in charge of making, from start to finish. The soba noodles had to be cooked, bell peppers blanched, vegetables julienned just-so… I remember making vats of vinaigrette, chopping heads and heads of iceberg lettuce, being extremely concentrated while slicing my blanched peppers and constantly worrying about ripping my hands open with the ultra-sharp mandolin. And yet the first time I recreated this salad at home it was pure, nostalgic pleasure. It brought back both good and bad memories (17 hour work days!), but mostly it was delicious and just as good as I remembered. Plus, when you’re only making enough for two people, it comes together really quickly!

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This dish is mostly about mise en place. The chicken is super easy to make, and anyone can boil pasta. If you have a mandolin, julienning your veggies will be a breeze, and if you don’t (like me), then chop them up as best you can. You’ll be so impressed with the flavors that you won’t care if your carrots aren’t all the same size (mine definitely weren’t). This salad is full of Asian flavors and packs a big punch. The mix between the soft noodles and crunchy cucumbers is divine, and this salad is just as good cold the next day as it is at room temperature when you first make it. If you’re planning on leftovers, try to store the iceberg and cucumbers separately as they do tend to get a bit soggy.

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Thai chicken salad with sesame vinaigrette

Ingredients (serves 4):
2-3 chicken breasts, cut into cubes
2 + 2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Salt and pepper
1 package soba noodles (buckwheat noodles)
1 large cucumber, seeds removed
4-6 carrots, peeled
1 green bell pepper, seeds removed
1/2 small head of iceberg lettuce
1/3 cup sesame oil
1 tablespoon nuoc mam or other fish sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Fresh herbs (chives and cilantro work perfectly here!)

Generously salt a pot of water and put it to boil. Prepare your mise en place : julienne or finely chop the carrots and cucumber and set aside. Julienne the bell pepper, then blanch in the boiling water for about one minute. Remove and set aside. Change the water and bring it back to a boil. In a large bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and fish sauce. Place the soba noodles into the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat a neutral oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the chicken, seasoning with salt and Pepper. Let the chicken cook through, about 8-10 minutes, before adding the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and the sesame seeds just before removing it from the heat. Add to the bowl with the vinaigrette, then toss with the noodles once they’re cooked. Add your julienned vegetables, and top with thickly julienned iceberg lettuce and fresh herbs. Eat immediately, or better yet, let cool to room temperature before serving.

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