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I love ginger, in all its forms. It’s such an interesting flavor, fresh and clean while at the same time warm, rich and spicy, with applications both savory and sweet, a truly unique combination in the herb and spice world.
Its powdered form brings the zing to ginger snaps, hermit bars, pumpkin pie and gingerbread, but also curries, chutneys and braised meat dishes with a Moroccan or Middle Eastern flare.
Fresh, it provides a heady, spicy, floral dimension with a peppery finish. I love it in salad dressings and stir-fries and soups, but like its powdered cousin, it also has sweet applications – think ginger ale and ginger ice cream. In its crystallized or candied form, it’s almost like another variety of mint.
What we call ginger root is actually a rhizome of the ginger plant, sort of an underground, horizontal stem from which both shoots and roots grow. Also in its plant family are turmeric, cardamom and galangal (also known as Thai ginger). Through the years and all over the world, it has had many medicinal applications, frequently as a way to prevent nausea, particularly from motion sickness and morning sickness.
Even though I cook with fresh ginger quite frequently, a hand of ginger (the length of rhizome that you buy in the grocery store) is sometimes difficult to keep fresh. When stored in the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator, it can become spongy and wrinkly, and once you cut into it, the cut ends can mold.
A few years ago, I learned a great tip from a now forgotten source, and ever since I have stored my fresh ginger in a plastic, zip-top bag in the freezer. You can peel it and grate it while it’s frozen (I think it might even be easier that way), then just throw it back in the freezer where it will keep for a long time, certainly eight weeks or more.
This recipe caught my eye for two reasons. First, just reading ingredients for the Sweet Thai Chili Dressing – coconut milk, peanut butter, garlic, ginger, sweet chili sauce – made my mouth water. Second, it uses napa (sometimes nappa) cabbage as its main ingredient.
Napa cabbage isn’t named for the wine region of California. Its name comes from a Japanese word that refers to the leaves of a vegetable that you intend to eat. Like fresh green cabbage, it has a subtle peppery finish, but it’s super crispy and crunchy, like celery.
I spotted the recipe on Pinterest, which led me to a food blog called “Smells Like Home.” This blog’s author came up with the napa cabbage variation, but the original recipe is from another blog, “How Sweet It Is,” whose author used this dressing to braise chicken wings that she had first seared to create a good crust (I’d do them on the grill first, then bake them in the sauce). She finished the sticky wings with chopped peanuts, cilantro and scallions.
Once you taste this sauce, you’ll dream up many other ways to use it (beyond just sneaking a spoonful every time you walk by the refrigerator).
As for this salad, I’d add some grated carrot and perhaps some pasta of some kind. If you added some cold rice noodles, you’d end up with a kind of Pad Thai salad, which I think would be delicious indeed.
Thai Crunch Chicken Salad
Yield: 2 large servings
½ batch of Sweet Chili Thai Dressing
6 to 8 ounces boneless skinless chicken breasts (1 or 2 smallish breast halves)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small head napa cabbage, shredded (Use more if you want a large salad, less if you want a small salad.)
½ red pepper, thinly sliced
¼ cup shelled edamame (I bought a bag of frozen shelled edamame and thawed only what I needed.)
2 tablespoons dry roasted (or dry honey roasted) peanuts, roughly chopped
1 whole scallion, sliced (I used 1 scallion per salad.)
To make the chicken: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pour half of the dressing into an 8-inch square baking dish. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the dish, coating both sides well with the dressing. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until cooked through. (Internal temperature should reach 180 degrees.)
Once cooked, transfer the chicken to a cutting board; allow the chicken to cool for 5 minutes then shred it or slice it thinly on the diagonal. (After I sliced the chicken, I actually put it back into the baking dish to let it soak up some more of the sauce. Then I removed the chicken, refrigerated it, and discarded the remaining sauce.)
To assemble the salad: Load up two plates with the shredded cabbage. (I used big bowls.) Top each with the chicken, red peppers, edamame, peanuts, and scallions (and anything else you’d like to add). Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve while the chicken is still warm. (I actually used the chicken cold, and tossed each salad with the dressing then, in the serving bowl, drizzled a little bit more dressing on top.
Sweet Chili Thai Dressing
Yield: About 2 cups
1 cup Thai sweet chili sauce (I used the Iron Chef brand.)
½ cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup coconut milk
6 tablespoons light brown sugar
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce (I used regular soy sauce and it worked fine.)
2 limes, juiced
Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small saucepan over medium heat until smooth. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until thickened.
Remove the pan from the heat and let the dressing cool for 10 minutes. Pour the dressing into a resealable container and refrigerate for up to 2 week.
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments or recipes with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.