"Cooking" requires a degree of heat that isn't appealing at the height of summer. Without air-conditioning. Little wonder then that Mother Nature made it so that the food emerging from the soil and pops up in markets Farmer and Super particularly good. The point being, you don't really need to do anything to it.
My sort of summer cooking is more assembly than anything. Despite the allure of pies, I try to keep baking to a minimum. The less time with heat the better for me — and the food.
In that list of assembly-friendly food, of course, is the salad. Its attained an iconic status, synonymous (with bottled water) with the ascetically healthy, the Sizzlers of the world and their buffets. The salad is almost regarded as a punishment for past gluttony which is a shame considering how it's best suited to the bountiful part of the year.
So why the hell am I using cabbage? Simple. Ever heard of coleslaw?
The cabbage is severely misunderstood. Always the butt of olfactorous jokes and the ridicule of sauerkraut-, corned beef and cabbage-, kim chi-haters of the world, I find that I defend it by eating quite a bit of it. On top of my tacos (sorry kids, iceberg is nothing more than crunchy water and cannot last 30 seconds with carne asada or chunks of fish) and in salads.
Admittedly, the minty chicken slaw is different than the slaws most people know. It's a stretch from my first taste of slighty sweet and watery diced cabbage in the styrofoam KFC cup. For this, I am glad for personal development and progress.
The key here is texture. Shredded cabbage, thinly sliced onion and shredded chicken are the bulk of the salad offering a reliable crunch and vigor I long for when I come across the sad, soggy Spring Mix.
All the flavor comes from the sauce that is blatantly devoid of anything creamy. It's more vinaigrette than creamy dressing. Ginger and chili punches through the lime, fish sauce and rice vinegar that when combined is an invigorating flavor in the heat of summer.
For anyone who's experiencing an over-abundance of mint (or should I say "plague?"), this recipe is fantastic in that it uses quite a bit of the plant you haven't used yet for mojitos and caiprinhas. It is the deep emerald green intertwined with the shredded cabbage, doing double duty as herb and as an actual green.
To get it thinly sliced, there's a technique called "chiffonade" which basically entails stacking a few leaves together, rolling it as if you were rolling a cigar or a pencil shape and slicing this into thin, thin slices. When you separate the rolled leaves, it's like a gorgeously-scented confetti. The same technique works quite well with basil, too.
I thought I'd never hear myself say this, but Chicken-wise, breast works best. Slice it up and shred it with your fingers. Certainly, though, leftovers are great in this recipe, too. Poached or roasted lends a distinctly different flavor than grilled. Vegetarians can omit it entirely.
I eat things like minty chicken slaw regularly in spite of the risk of seeming like a healthy person. There is something wonderfully light and cleansing about this. The defiant act of shunning spring mix and arugula for a more humble, albeit more nutritionally beneficial, vegetable is strangely satisfying. Above all, though, the flavors appeal to me just the same way a whole lobster with corn on the cob and obscene amounts of butter would.
It's just that time of year.
MINTY CHICKEN SLAW
The ready made coleslaw kits (with shredded cabbage, carrots) is a good shortcut. But I find a certain satisfaction from shaving the cabbage with my knife and separating it gently with my fingers into the bowl.
1 medium OR 1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced * juice and zest of 2 limes * 1 tablespoon rice vinegar * 2 tablespoons fish sauce * 1 teaspoon sugar * pinch of salt * 1 teaspoon grated ginger root * 1 small red chili, de-seeded and minced * 1 to 2 chicken breast, cooked (poached just for this or leftovers are good) and shredded * 1 carrot, grated (optional) * 1 bunch of fresh mint (leaves only), thinly sliced * 1/4 head of green cabbage
Place the thinly sliced onion into a large mixing bowl. Pour over the lime juice and zest, rice vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, salt, grated ginger and red chili. Stir it a bit and let sit. You can do this overnight or the morning of to be efficient.
When ready to assemble/serve, add the shredded chicken to the onion vinaigrette mixture. Use your fingers to coat the chicken thoroughly. Let sit while you prepare the cabbage.
Remove any weak or wilted leaves from the outer part of the cabbage. If the cabbage quarter has the dense heart (located toward the stem or cut end of the whole cabbage head) use a sharp knife to remove this tough bit. Make 2 diagonal cuts around the dense bit and wiggle it out. Then with the knife or the slicer attachment of the food processor, thinly slice the cabbage. The thinner, the better. The crunch will be more delicate and guests with weak jaws will thank you.
Add the cabbage to the mixing bowl and toss thoroughly. I prefer my hands for this part, but the uber-hygenic can use two wooden spoons, if desired. Serve immediately or keep cold in the fridge for up to two days.