With warm weather finally here, it seemed like a good time to take a cookbook devoted to salads for a test drive. When I began to look through “Big Salads,” I remembered that salads – main-course salads – are not just warm-weather food. That got me thinking: What exactly is a salad? Merrian-Webster defines a salad (and I summarize) as a usually cold dish comprised of vegetables, possibly with small pieces of food such as meat or pasta and a dressing.

Photo courtesy of Hardie Grant

In the introduction, author Kat Mead, a British food stylist writer, writes that she wants to change the salad from a drab side dish, an afterthought, to “put the previously modest salad firmly centre-stage and challenge the idea of just what a salad has to be.” The result is a collection of 60 salads, divided seasonally, that can serve as dinner (or lunch), even if you are a meat-eater.

Several recipes caught my eye: Shredded Duck, Roast Root Veg, Kale & Spiced Orange in the winter section; a vegan Korean Glass Noodles dish for fall; and a vegetarian Baked Rhubarb, Feta, Beetroot & Flatbread salad for spring. The cookbook includes many vegetarian offerings and a number of vegan salads, as well as ones with meat and seafood. Vegan and vegetarian dishes are clearly marked, and all of the recipes serve four.

“Big Salads” is a pleasure to cook from. It is a comfortable size, well-designed and with many photographs of dishes that inspire the browsing reader. That said, I had to quickly skip over one photograph of what looks like a whole octopus mounded on a plate.

Peanut & Sticky Chili Chicken Rice Noodles is slotted in the summer section but after testing it, I think it would suit year-round. The flavors are Asian and the dish was full of flavor and a well-rounded mix of chicken, vegetables and rice noodles. I balked at two things: I omitted the kaffir lime leaves (lazy! parsimonious!), and I was scared of the amount of chili flakes called for so I added only a fraction. Also, the chicken thighs took a lot longer to cook than called for in the recipe. I ended up finishing the second panful in the oven.

This dish tastes best, by far, on the day you make it. That said, I happily ate leftovers for two subsequent lunches. This is a cookbook that I will definitely keep and cook from year-round.

Julia McCue can be contacted at 791-6389 or:

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Peanut & Sticky Chili Chicken Rice Noodles

Recipe from Kat Mead’s “Big Salads: The Ultimate Fresh, Satisfying Meal on One Plate.”

Serves 4

8 chicken thighs, skinless and bone-in

250 g (9 oz) rice noodles

1 cucumber, peeled, deseeded and sliced

2 carrots, peeled and julienned

150 g (5 1/2 oz) bean sprouts

100 g (3 1/2 oz) edamame beans

60 g (2 1/4 oz / generous 1/3 cup) peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped

FOR THE MARINADE

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

3 cm (1 inch) ginger root, peeled and roughly chopped

1 lemongrass stalk, outer layer removed, roughly chopped

2 kaffir lime leaves, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon palm sugar

2 tablespoons chills flakes (crushed chili), less if you don’t want it too fiery

FOR THE PEANUT SAUCE

4 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter

2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Juice of 2 limes

TO SERVE

Small handful of mint leaves

Small handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves

Lime wedges

Trim any excess fat off the chicken thighs and place them in a shallow dish. Set aside while you make the marinade.

Add all the ingredients for the marinade into a small food processor and blitz until smooth. Tip the marinade over the chicken thighs and turn them all around to coat and cover them. Cover the dish and place in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour – this could easily be left to marinate overnight if you like a stronger taste.

In the meantime, add all the ingredients for the peanut sauce into a small bowl and whisk well together. Set to one side.

Cook the rice noodles according to the packet instructions (usually simmering or soaking in boiling water for 3 or 4 minutes). Drain into a colander and run under cold water for a few minutes to stop them cooking further.

Remove the chicken from the fridge and heat a large non-stick frying pan (skillet) on high heat. Place the thighs in the pan (you may need to do this in two batches if you can’t fit them all in), along with the marinade. Try not to move the thighs for a few minutes – you want them to start to caramelise and char, and for the sauce to reduce and coat the chicken. After about 5-6 minutes, flip them over to the other side. After another 5 minutes, they should be cooked through, but make sure there is no pink flesh left before removing them from the heat. Transfer thighs to a chopping board and reserve the pan juices.

Tip the noodles into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts and edamame beans, along with the reserved pan juices. Slice all the meat from the thigh bones and add half to the bowl. Add all the peanut sauce and half of the roasted peanuts, then mix everything together well.

Transfer to a big serving platter. Pile the rest of the sliced thigh meat up high in the middle. Sprinkle over the remaining chopped peanuts and the herbs. Serve with lime wedges.


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