As we ring in the new year (and new decade), I’m sure a lot of you out there are looking for fresh starts. It’s always my resolution every year to eat better so I can have more energy to keep up with my kids. But being a chef for a living can complicate my goals, because I like to eat delicious food and I know how to cook it. And that delicious food doesn’t always boost my health.
But this year, I’m going to keep this banh mi chicken salad on a weekly rotation. Banh mi ― a Vietnamese baguette sandwich that blends meat and pickled vegetables ― is one of my guilty pleasures. It reminds me of many late nights in kitchens, when the only thing open was a tiny shop offering Vietnamese sandwiches. To make it 2020-friendly, I’m going to use all the healthy parts of the sandwich that burst with flavor and cut out the carb-heavy bread in favor of a bed of bibb lettuce.
Many of the elements of this salad can be made ahead of time and some, like the pickles, taste even better and develop a deeper flavor after spending an extra day or two in the fridge. The lemongrass dressing is so delicious, you’re going to put it on everything. It’s bright, zesty, has sweet and sour notes and works double duty serving as both a marinade for the chicken and a dressing for the salad. I use skin-on, boneless chicken thighs because I like the texture of crispy chicken skin but don’t want the hassle of removing the bone. Lastly, I like to throw in healthy fats like avocado to keep me full longer and toasted cashews to add crunch.
If a healthy diet is in your 2020 plans but bland flavors aren’t, this salad is right up your alley. Your taste buds will thank you.
Banh Mi Salad
1 tablespoon lemongrass paste
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 skin-on, boneless chicken thighs
1 head bibb lettuce leaves, chopped
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup toasted cashews, chopped
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
4 radishes, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons Sriracha
1/2 cup mayo
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1. Make marinade/dressing: Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a high-powered blender. Blend until smooth. Reserve 3/4 cup of the mixture to use as salad dressing later.
2. Marinate chicken: Generously season chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Place chicken thighs in a zipper-seal baggie and pour remaining dressing over them. Marinate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
3. Make pickles: In a small saucepan add water, vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, then pour over vegetables in a heat-proof bowl. Let sit for 30 minutes.
4. Cook chicken: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove chicken thighs from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Add, skin side down, in hot pan and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, undisturbed, until skin is crispy and easily releases from pan. Flip and cook an additional 5 to 7 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit with a meat thermometer.
5. Make Sriracha mayo: Whisk ingredients in small bowl and set aside.
6. Assemble salad: Assemble lettuce on a large platter. Top with cooked chicken, pickled veggies, mint leaves, cashews and avocado. Drizzle chicken with sriracha mayo, then serve with reserved lemongrass dressing.
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