Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Canada Weekend One-Dish wonder of Cold Rice Noodles with Chicken and Peanut-Lime Sauce

SmartCooks here.

It's summer in Ottawa and the Sparks Street Mall just below my office window is hopping, a great place to people watch.  Teachers are shepherding gaggles of kids who are being schooled in Parliament Hill history.  I remember it well.  My Grade 8 visit here is one of the reasons I decided to move to Ottawa after high school.  I was always intrigued by the intricacies of the Westminster model and the workings of Parliament and Senate. Boring, wasn't I?

To counterbalance the heavy aura of tradition, there's also a less formal scene in full swing, with stage crews BUSY setting up the main stage for Canada Day activities.  

In the days leading up to July 1, I and those working around the Hill get to hear impromptu sound checks and mini-concerts from many of the singers and groups who will be on the Hill on Canada Day.... like Feist, Marie Mai (check out her video, left), Jully Black, Roch Voisine.  

Add to that the "Changing of the Guard" ceremonies with the 'all-playing, all-marching' band every day at 10:00 a.m.  A little surreal (oops I just heard a lot of sirens ... it seems one of the guardsmen slipped and impaled himself on a bayonet, lost a lot of blood and is in serious condition in hospital... good grief... that's a first)

I can't forget the yoga class on the Hill at noon today (Wednesday).  So the eclectic hodge-podge is complete. Ottawa in the summer at its very best. Ohmmm...  

All to say that no one, especially me, feels much like spending a lot of time in the kitchen every day cooking so.... I tried a recipe that is best served cold, is scrumptious, has a deligtful mixture of cool lime, lemongrass and herbs, mixed in with a bit of heat from chilies and smoothed out with peanut sauce.  It can last a few days and meets all the nutritional and caloric requirements I want these days. 

Cold Rice Noodles with Chicken (or Tofu) and Peanut-Lime Sauce) is one of the best dishes I've made. 

I was inspired to try this by reading two posts -- one at Smitten Kitchen and the other was David Tanis in the New York Times Kitchen City Column who has a blog and recipes that always seem to be just at the right moment (picture left is from there). 

Be Warned:  Be Prepared!

Two words to the wise before doing this dish -- advance preparation'.  Carve out a chunk of time to prepare this and assemble all ingredients on the counter.  This is not a hard recipe, but having all the ingredients nearby is essential with this lengthy list. 

Making it results in a lot of dishes, up to a dozen as my photo at right from my session can attest.  I kept the leftovers in their containers to pop in the fridge and pull out again for the next one-dish meal. 

I started and stayed with the New York Times version of the recipe and didn't collapse the number of sauces (as Smitten Kitchen did).  I used Smitten Kitchen ideas for additional vegetables and added julienned red pepper (top left) that worked for me.  Additional vegetables could have been lightly cooked green breans or julienned zucchini.  

The recipe can be eaten cold or warmed up.  Tofu can be substituted for chicken.  I used boneless, skinless, organic chicken thighs (instead of my usual breasts) and spent quite a bit of time cutting off any fat but the end result was worth it. 

The number of Thai (left) or serrano (right) chilies is entirely up to your heat tolerance.  Smitten Kitchen cuts back on the number quite a bit, given that the author (Deb) has a toddler in the house.  I went with the amount suggested by the NYT and I did not find it too hot; the lime juice and herbs helped with the coolness.
My biggest surprise was using Asian fish sauce, which I tend to avoid and instead substitute low-sodium soy sauce.  This time I mixed so if the recipe said 3 T of Asian fish sauce, I used 1 T of fish sauce and the other 2 low-sodium soy sauce.  The taste worked for me; depends on preference.  Strict vegetarians would use soy sauce. 

Final note.

I plan to cook this ahead of the Canada Day weekend festivities, sit with my one-bowl meal on the back deck to watch the Snowbirds flying overhead at noon, and maybe even enjoy it on a rooftop watching the Canada Day fireworks on Parliament Hill!  

Happy July 1 Canada Day!


Cold Rice Noodles with Chicken (or Tofu) and Peanut-Lime Sauce 
(4 people)

(Assembly photos are Smitten Kitchen)

For the Chicken Marinade:

6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breasts), about 1 1/4 lbs
4 large garlic cloves, halved
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 4-inch length of lemon grass, tender centre only, thinly sliced
2 T Asian fish sauce
1 T low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
3 T brown sugar
1/8 tsp cayenne

For the Dipping Sauce:

3 T Asian fish sauce (substitute low-sodium or gluten-free soy sauce)
3 T brown sugar
6 T lime juice
1 garlic clove, finely grated
6-8 small Thai chilies, thinly sliced, or 1 or 2 serrano chilies

For the Peanut Dressing:

2 T Asian fish sauce
2 T unseasoned rice vinegar
6 T lime juice
2 T low-sodium soy sauce
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
4 T natural peanut butter, unsalted if possible
2 tsp sesame oil
Pinch of cayenne

Other Ingredients:

8 ounces dried rice vermicelli (or other noodles like soba)
2 small cucumbers, seedless, cut in 1/4 inch half moons
1 medium carrot, cut in thin julienne slices
1 red pepper, cut in thin julienne slices
3/4 cup mung bean sprouts or other sprouts (e.g., radish)
Any additional vegetables (your choice, julienned)
4 T slivered scallions
1/4 cup crushed or chopped roasted peanuts
Handfuls of herbs:  basil, mint, cilantro (ideal), torn or roughly chopped or whole if small
Lime wedges (for serving)


Make the Chicken marinade:  Put the chicken thighs (or breasts) in a low-sided bowl.  Purée the garlic, ginger, lemon grass, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar and cayenne in a blender or small food processor.  Pour the marinade over the chicken and toss to coat.  Let it marinate at least 15 minutes in fridge. 

Make the Dipping Sauce:  Combine the ingredients in a small serving bowl, whisking to dissolve the sugar.  Leave for 15 minutes.  Keep any extra sauce refrigerated for a few days only.  

Make the Peanut Dressing:  In a blender or small food processor, purée all ingredients to a smooth sauce.  Pour into a serving bowl.

For the rest of the ingredients, do the following:

1) Noodles:  Bring a large pot of water to boil, then turn off the heat.  Add the rice vermicelli and soak for 7-8 minutes (or according to package direrctions).  Drain when noodles are still al dente, and cool under running water.  Fluff and leave in strainer to drain well before transferring to bowls.

2) Chicken:  Remove chicken from the marinade and grill on the BBQ, an indoor grill pan, or under the broiler until nicely browned (3-4 minutes per side but check).  Let cool slightly, then chop into 3/4 inch pieces and put in a bowl.

3) Vegetables:  In a small bowl, mix 2 T of the dipping sauce with the cucumbers, carrots, red pepper, and mung bean (or other) sprouts. Use additional dipping sauce if additional vegetables are used.     

Assembing your one-dish wonder!

Divide the cooked, cooled, drained noodles among 4 bowls. 
Top each bowl with the cucumber/carrot/sprout/red pepper/other vegetables mixture and chopped chicken. 
Spoon 2 tsp dipping sauce and 2 T peanut dressing over each portion.
Add the herbs. 
Sprinkle with scallions and crushed peanuts.
Serve with lime wedges and pass small bowls of the two sauces around. 

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