I’m a little sheepish about admitting that I spent hours working to recreate a salad that I ate at a massive, chain restaurant. Next time, I’ll let them do the work again.
Some weeks ago, I took a half day off for an excursion to the Chicago suburbs. A good friend and I took our toddlers to the Picture People to get some portraits of the kids. In this digital age, I am finding that I never take the time to print photos of my daughter. I always loved flipping through the album my mom made of me that included an annual 8 x 10 inch photo starting from age 1 going through my decade of school pictures. So, we planned to hit the suburban mall for some photos, shopping and lunch.
The ninety degree day and the fun but busy photo sessions drove is straight through the doors of the first restaurant we could find – The California Pizza kitchen. We shared a pizza and the Thai Crunch Salad. A few days later, I was surprised to find that I couldn’t stop thinking about the peanuty, cilantro, crunchy salad!
I decided I would try to recreate the Thai Crunch Salad at home. A quick web search turned up many variations of the California Pizza Kitchen favorite. Chopping, using my julienne slicer and two dressings later… I was wishing I had a few of the prep chefs from the California Pizza Kitchen! I even skipped the wontons and rice sticks because I couldn’t handle another step! The result was very tasty but I find after an overly laborious process, it is sometimes hard to fully enjoy a meal.
Next time I have a hankering, I will head for the ‘burbs and let them do the work. What I would make again is the peanut dressing – great for dipping spring rolls or on shredded cabbage and carrots. If you are feeling like you need a long, meditative hour of chopping and mixing, here is the recipe:
California Pizza Kitchen’s Thai Crunch Salad
1 head Napa cabbage, cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 small head red cabbage, cored and chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
2 bunches scallions (green onions), thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)
1 large English (hothouse) cucumber, peeled, cored and julienned
1 large bunch cilantro, chopped
2 cups cooked shelled edamame (soybeans)
2 cups roasted peanuts
4 breasts grilled garlic chicken
1 cup lime-cilantro dressing
4 cups fried wonton strips
2 cups crisp rice sticks
2 ripe Hass avocados, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch dice (optional)
1/2 cup Thai peanut dressing
Place cabbages, carrots, scallions, cucumber, cilantro, edamame and peanuts in very large mixing bowl and toss to mix.
Cut chicken into ½-inch cubes and add to mixing bowl.
Pour lime-cilantro dressing into bowl and toss to mix thoroughly. Gently toss in fried wonton strips. Divide salad among four, very large, chilled serving plates and top with crisp rice sticks.
Sprinkle crisp rice sticks over top of each salad, then use a squeeze bottle or syrup dispenser to drizzle Thai peanut dressing over rice sticks.
If serving the salads with avocado, distribute over the salads. Serve immediately.
Lime Cilantro Dressing
Makes 1 cup
1/4 small red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small bunch cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place bell pepper and cilantro leaves in the work bowl of a food processor, then add remaining ingredients except for olive oil. Process until smooth, 30 to 60 seconds.
With food processor on, add olive oil in a thin stream and continue processing for 1 minute after all the oil has been added; there should be no oil on the surface. Store covered in refrigerator for up to 1 week (whisk before using).
Thai Peanut Dressing
Makes ½ cup
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon (scant) cayenne pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon canola oil
Whisk together peanut butter, vinegar, honey, water and soy sauce. Stir in sugar, salt, cayenne and red pepper flakes. Add oil and continue whisking until smooth. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to five days. Bring to room temperature and whisk before using.
Grilled Garlic Chicken
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Place chicken breasts between sheets of waxed or parchment paper, and gently pound to a thickness of ½ inch. Do not pound them too thin; this is just to ensure they will cook evenly.
Combine olive oil and seasonings in a large mixing bowl. Stir to mix. Add chicken breasts to bowl, one by one, turning each in the marinade. Place chicken in refrigerator for 10 to 20 minutes.
If you have a hot grill available, grill chicken for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Do not overcook. If no grill is available, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake chicken in a pan, for about 30 minutes. The internal temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.Use chicken immediately, as desired; or let it cool and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Crisp Rice Sticks and Friend Wonton Strips
Makes 2 cups rice sticks or 3 cups wonton strips
1 quart canola oil
2 ounces (1 bundle) rice sticks (fine)
1 package wonton wrappers
Heat oil to 400 degrees Fahrenheit in a large, deep pot.
While oil is heating, gently unfold bundle of rice sticks and spread them apart. (Don’t worry if some of the pieces break; they can still be fried.) Cut wonton wrappers into ¼-inch strips and toss to separate the pieces.
When oil is hot, place all of rice sticks in the pan, pressing down gently with wire skimmer (if they won’t all fit, then fry half at a time). They will puff immediately. Fry for about 5 seconds. Fry wonton strips for about 30 seconds, or until golden.
Remove immediately with wire skimmer, and drain on several layers of paper towels. Allow rice sticks or wonton strips to cool.
Gently crush fried rice sticks with your hands. Store either topping at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.