vietnamese chicken salad

True confession: I don’t really love rau ram — also known as Vietnamese coriander. When I go out for pho, I tend to favor the basil, cilantro, mint, limes, and bean sprouts and leave the rau rau more or less untouched. I tried growing some once, in a lovely little corner planter with a mix of yellow and orange Asian lilies. It looked beautiful, and has a gorgeous trailing growth pattern.

But, the taste. There’s a relatively hardcore contingent of folks who can’t stomach cilantro, which I’ve never quite understood. However, I once tried that selfsame Vietnamese coriander plant that I had grown, and, wow. WOW. It tasted almost exactly like gnawing on the end of a freshly unwrapped bar of Ivory soap, and it sucked every last molecule of moisture out of my mouth. So, if that’s what the people who hate cilantro taste when they even get a whiff of the stuff, I can get the avoidance factor.

But a delightful rau ram-free chicken salad hits all the right notes. Plus, it’s basically temple-food, given that it contains no added fat or oil. And it was a damn good use for the leftover grilled chicken that the pimento cheese derailed us from eating the night it was made.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Best Recipes in the World and Jefferey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet.

1 Tbsp. nam pla (fish sauce)

1 tsp. coarse black pepper

1 tsp. agave or sugar

1 small minced chile OR 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp. minced ginger

1 tsp minced lemongrass

2 shallots, sliced (I didn’t have these, but it’s better with them)

1 cup rinsed bean sprouts (same deal, also good with snap peas)

1/2 cup chopped rau ram OR equal parts mint, cilantro, and basil (to taste)

2 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken

Mix together the first nine ingredients, then toss with the chicken, sprouts, and herbs. Eat like this, in lettuce leaves, or wrapped up in rice paper skins.

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