This is it. A totally healthy, refreshing and easy end-of-the-summer meal.
Here's why: It's a crisp, clean and substantial salad; it involves one of those sweet-spicy-umami dressings that are a trademark of Vietnamese cooking; and it involves one super-simple cooking step (poaching some chicken), and a little chopping. And, technically, you could make it even easier by using purchased rotisserie chicken, or cooking yours ahead of time.
Whenever we want something different like this, one of our favorite sources of inspiration is a Williams Sonoma Southeast Asian cookbook. Sometimes we simplify the recipes or substitute for hard-to-find ingredients, but this one was pretty much good to go as is. You can't really ask for anything simpler than a big plate of crunchy salad to dig into with your chopsticks. Credit goes to Mike for picking it and doing all the cooking. I poured the sake--also a very important job.
Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad
Adapted from Williams Sonoma Savoring Southeast Asia by Joyce Jue
Most Serrano chiles aren't very hot, so we used the seeds and all. If you can get Thai chiles (or bird's eye chiles) and like heat, use those; jalapenos work too. You can chop an extra chile and pass at the table for the real heat lovers.
Serves 2 as a main course with leftovers (may be doubled)
2 Serrano chiles, minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 Tbs. lime juice
2 Tbs. fish sauce
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached and chopped
1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, julienned
3 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir until sugar dissolves.
In a large bowl, combine chicken, cabbage, carrot, mint and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper (you shouldn't need more than a pinch of salt). Add about two-thirds of the dressing and toss. Add additional dressing as needed. Transfer salad to plates, sprinkle with peanuts and serve.