Super Sneaky Salads: My spicy chicken salad with crushed cucumbers, glass noodles and grilled chilli.
There are days where I just crave a bit of a kick. Not a full-blown hit, but the kind of increased intensity and roughness that makes the pleasures of life all the better. My spicy chicken salad with crushed cucumbers, glass noodles and grilled chilli is just the dish for an undecidedly gray spring morning in an unforgiving city like Groningen.
I have to come clean here: I am a total wimp. I don’t like pain, like at all (I mean who does, really…), I point out logical and conceptual flaws while watching scary movies because I would be too scared if I didn’t and I can barely tolerate any heat to my food. I’m the guy in your favourite Indian restaurant who is constantly ordering lassis to tame the spicy dragon. And when the guy at a Döner-place puts on some extra spice, because apparently “these are the mild chillis”, I might laugh to bond with him, but really I am crying inside.
Well maybe that’s not exactly true. I mean the pain and horror part clearly are, there is no denying that, but sometimes I like some heat to my food. I don’t care for the brutal burn that some people seem to enjoy so much. But a bit of mild heat, really can lift your mood and a great dish.
The key for me, though, lies in the balance a spicy dish requires. In my spicy chicken salad the subtle heat of grilled chillis is counterbalanced by soft glass noodles and crushed cucumbers. A spoon of of honey or brown sugar will add a sweetness to the heat that supports the chilli and the juice of half a lime brings about the freshness of spring.
I have a thing for burning peppers (as can be seen here and here), chillis make no exception. The grilling takes away the up-front heat and the tanginess, that chillis sometimes have, and make them all the more sweet, warm and comforting. Crushed cucumbers are a new passion of mine: I prefer my cucumbers as small as I can get them. The advantage of snoepkomkommertjes, at they are called in Dutch, is their relative “dryness”. If you can’t manage to get a hold of a box of the finger-long kind, a plain cucumber will do just as well. You might want to carve out quite a bit of the seed-segments, to take out some of the extra moisture. Needless to say, you can turn this vegetarian by just omitting the chicken and vegan by using organic brown sugar instead of honey.
Roasting the chillis
Roast the chilli over a high flame or under an equally hot grill, until it is charred. Don’t worry, it will crack, spit and smell. But it is for its own good.
Take a spoon or knife and remove the charred skin of the chilli. Watch your fingers. Try to avoid scratching your eyes for the next couple or minutes or you might be in for a “spicy-eye” experience
How to fight the bite
The capsaicin contained in chilli peppers, which is responsible for the burning sensation, is hydrophobic (how dare it!). This means that all the water in the world will not get it off your fingers. While it hates water, capsaicin is lipophilic, it’s just crazy over fats. So, before or after handling a chilli rub a bit of cheap oil (or even butter, dare I say it) on your fingers, the capsaicin will bond with the fat, which is can easily be washed off with a bit of soap, there you go. This is how you handle a spice-situation.
Cut off the base of the chilli and then open it with the swift move of a knife. Use yet another spoon (or just the one you used before) and remove all seed (If you like it very spicy, leave them in).
My spicy chicken salad with crushed cucumbers, glass noodles and grilled chilli
Crushed cucumbers (about four to five for one person) Glass noodles Soy sauce Sesame oil Peanuts Coriander Grilled chilli Spring onion Garlic Lime Chicken breast (one per person, roughly) Honey or brown sugar
- The dressing: Mix the juice off about half a lime (per person) with one tablespoon of honey (or brown sugar). Add half a tablespoon of sesame oil (or less, add only little by little and check for taste), about four tablespoons of light soy sauce (again, adjust the seasoning yourself, you might need more or less depending on the tanginess of the lime). Add about a tablespoon of finely chopped coriander and a teaspoon of finely chopped grilled chilli and about a third of a teaspoon of finely minced garlic. Adjust the seasoning and leave to steep for about 5-10 minutes. The dressing will be countered by the noodles and the crushed cucumbers, so make sure to make it quite strong, it will not be as hot, sweet, sour and salty when you assemble the salad later.
- The chopping: I like to use left-over chicken breasts for this dish (from making soup or grilling in the oven). If you don’t happen to have some pre-cooked meat, just take one breast per person and cut into smaller parts (about four),brown all sides in a pan with a bit of olive oil (add a bit of sesame oil if you like). Reduce the heat and cook through for about 10 minutes. Let cool down and slice into stripes. Chop the whole spring onion in fine rings (about one per person). Carefully chop the Coriander coarsely (I use about one to two hands full per person). Chop about half a grilled chilli per person in fine stripes, this is all a matter taste and size. If you have a particularly strong chilli less might be more.
- Crushing the Cucumbers: Wash the cucumbers and cut of the tips and ends. Place the palm of your hand on top of a cucumber and press until the cucumber crushes. Cut the crushed cucumber into pieces twice the width of your thumb. If you are using plain cucumbers, half first and use a spoon to carve out quite a bit of the seeds, to remove the extra moisture. Cut into smaller pieces and crush. You might need a plate or pan to crack them up properly.
- Cooking the noodles: Prepare about 100 to 150 grams of glass noodles (have a look at the packages for instructions). Make sure to drain them properly and press out as much water as you can. Leave to cool if necessary.
- Mixing everything: Add all ingredients to a larger bowl. Add about a hand full of peanuts. Add the seasoning and mix through thoroughly. Plate up and enjoy.