Firstly let me just own up: I have never been to any country in South East Asia. But I do know that their cuisine – huge on flavour yet low on calories/guilt – is often the first port of call to any foodie who has to exercise a modicum of dietary restraint. I am a bit of a greedy pig, which I know is not news (and certainly not fake news), but even I have to reel in my desires. My low-carb diet took a hiatus to accommodate Easter, and lately I’ve decided to relax it more at weekends (especially if copious alcohol consumption is planned).
I don’t know whether to call this a salad or not as the kale is steamed, but isn’t served hot. It was yet another result of a fridge raid today when I needed a low carb but filling lunch and some cooked chicken breast to use up. It is a mutation of Nigella Lawson’s gingery hot duck salad from Bites, which in turn was a spin off from Cambodian beef salad so, I guess you can call this recipe the next stage. This is the beauty of cooking – evolution.
I am not naturally a salad person so if I do make one, it has to deliver on taste and not feel like a punishment. My salads usually have heat in there somewhere, maybe fruit, herbs, and certainly something sharp and pickled. Vinegar or citrus juices tend to be my choice of dressing, I loathe those claggy bottled ones.
Kale I genuinely enjoy eating (don’t convince me a kale smoothie does not taste absolutely vile though. Just cook it and eat it as a veg, stop inflicting such horror on your soul) as it is beefy and meaty for a leafy green and still fairly cheap to buy and is always grown in the UK all year round, and I had half a bag to use up and no salad leaves in the fridge.
I nearly always have a bought roast chicken in the fridge (because sadly I don’t roast birds nearly as often as I would like to these days which is madness as it would work out SO much cheaper) but I tend to prefer the dark meat (think a drumstick torn off the bird like an island savage when post-work hunger pangs hit) whereas my ex partner/good friend favours the breast. But on those occasions when I do have cooked chicken breast laying about, I have to anoint it with some seriously spiky, punchy flavouring. But I do tend to leave the skin on as it’s a small sacrifice of virtue in order to up the flavour stakes.
The dressing is hot, salty, sour and even a little sweet – if the idea of sugar appalls you, then just use granulated sweetener or agave syrup instead. You do need balance here. I have done it with half lime, half sweet orange before, but this time I wanted the full acerbic hit of the lime. The ginger is to taste, don’t get your ruler out. In truth, I find it easier to just grate the whole root and go by eye. And I don’t bother to peel because I’m lazy.
This is a fiercely hot salad, not for the faint hearted (and if, as I often do, you go for full geographical authenticity and use those fiendish Thai birds-eye chillies or go EVEN hotter up the Scoville scale, then it’s strictly professionals only time) but if you do like the food that bites back, it’s an easy summer lunch or light supper. If you’re as much of a heat junkie as I am, you will love it.
Serves 1 but can be doubled.
Southeast Asian Chicken and Kale Salad
125-150g (about half a 250g bag) curly kale, tough stems removed
1 cold cooked chicken breast, skin on (either from a leftover roast, bought packet or rotisserie chicken)
2 tbsp fish sauce
Juice of 1 and a half limes
1 tsp sugar or any sweetener you desire
Few drops toasted sesame oil
1-2cm piece ginger, grated.
1 green chilli, chopped (de-seed if you’re of a more timorous bent, or use 1-2 birds-eyes if you think you’re hard enough)
- Place kale in a steamer, either electric or one set over boiling water, sprinkle with salt and steam until tender. Alternatively you can boil in salted water.
- Slice chicken breast on the diagonal, going for that 80s Chinese takeaway fan-style carving but if some of the meat crumbles, spoiling the perfect slices, don’t get het up. Please leave on the skin. You’ll thank me.
- In a bowl, mix together fish sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, chopped chilli and grated ginger before tumbling in the sliced chicken. Stir to coat thoroughly. Think of this as a quasi-marinade as well as a dressing.
- This can be served with the kale hot or at room temperature, so don’t fret about timing – when kale is tender, (and drained if you boiled it), decant it onto a plate before topping with the chicken, making sure to scrape out any remnants of the dressing with a spatula and dive in.