Disorientation, re-orientation; or, Welcome back Asian chicken salad (& Mary Gauthier)

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This is where I was.


Travelling poses some of the brightest pleasures and keenest difficulties there is in this life. Whether it’s a short trip, longer vacation, or complete uprooting, the act of moving often brings us to moments of insight about the nature of our present selves, and what habits, routines, foods, comforts, and stillnesses we love, rely on, or dread. Where it can be felt the most, perhaps unsurprisingly, is upon returning home: the reinhabitation of city streets; opening the door and smelling one’s place anew; the relief of dropping bags and yet slow creep of tension as one faces the prospect of resuming work the next day. It’s looking in the fridge and noting you still have eggs (good) and a few wilted scallions (okay) but not much else worth noting. It’s sitting down at your kitchen table, feeling a bit lost as to how exactly you’re going to feed yourself for the next week.

Then it picks up. Your stomach starts to settle on what it wants to eat: something crunchy and bright, but also savory and full of flavor. It hasn’t come into shape quite yet. The eggs are still good; perhaps a sweet potato bacon hash in the morning will vault me back into the thick of things. As for tonight, I want to make something with my hands but not invest too much. Something mindless and welcoming, something that will keep for a few days. Oh, remember that Asian (insert groan here) chicken salad with the cabbage, peanuts, and cilantro from Dinner: A Love Story? That was really good. Plus rotisserie chicken sounds dreamy. This is exactly what I want.

Power shop, then power chop. The recipe looks like a lot but it’s really not. Methodical slicing and dicing of vegetables, herbs, and peanuts feels really good right now, instant satisfaction as it piles high in the bowl. The dressing is fantastic and so fast to throw together, especially with a can of fresh minced ginger. I learned from last time that the salad wilts quickly, so I omit the spinach leaves and up the carrots, which I grate two sizes for kicks. Plus, Terry Gross is interviewing Mary Gauthier on Fresh Air tonight. I dig her deep voice. I’m into her thoughts on connection, drag queens’ cooking lessons, and being adopted. I ache as she describes the experience of calling her birthmother, though I’m not sure I want to listen to her album The Foundling. It’s confusing. It makes sense.

Make yourself welcome, here. (Which is to say: Welcome home.)

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Asian Chicken Salad (lightly adapted from Dinner: A Love Story)

For dressing:

  • 1 Red Jalapeño Or Fresno Chile With Some Seeds, chopped (I used 1/2)
  • ¼ cup Oil (I used a mix of olive and grapeseed)
  • ¼ cup Fresh Lime Juice
  • 2 Tbsp Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce
  • 2 tsp Brown Sugar (or palm sugar)
  • 1 tsp Fish Sauce 
  • 1 tsp Grated Peeled Ginger

For salad:

  • ½ small Head Of Red Cabbage, thinly sliced (about 5 cups)
  • 3 medium Carrots, peeled, shredded
  • Scallions, whites and pale greens only, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups Shredded Rotisserie Chicken
  • ⅓ cup Chopped Fresh Cilantro
  • ¼ cup Chopped Dry-Roasted Peanuts

Put chile, oil, lime juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, fish sauce, and ginger in a small lidded jar; shake it up to mix. Put cabbage, carrots, scallions, chicken, and cilantro in large bowl; toss with dressing to coat. Top with peanuts.


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