crunchy vietnamese salad

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Sometimes for dinner you eat steamed vegetables and grilled proteins and brothy soups. Sometimes you eat roasted sweet potatoes and a handful of legumes. Sometimes you eat an egg white omelet and sautéed spinach. But sometimes you eat French fries or a chocolate bar or manicotti swimming in a full-on, no-cutting-it-down-with-milk, gob-up-the-spoon cream sauce. I’ll admit. The manicotti happened last night. C’mon, though. It was Andy’s birthday and my metabolism can totally tell the difference in special occasion days and regular days.

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…and then you realize the Calories Don’t Count During Celebrations/On the Weekends/Outside of Your Zip Code theories are actually myths and the next day you’re left reaching for something that doesn’t make your toes feel like a thousand pounds by the time you leave the table.

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Andy has a very foodie (foodie is now an adjective?) aunt who always takes us on food adventures when we visit her in Atlanta. My first dim sum experience was with her. My first authentic Cuban meal was with her. Our last visit consisted of a relaxing visit to a (distinctively comforting) local Vietnamese restaurant, where we were quickly prompted to order the recommended green papaya salad. And, of course, I ordered pho to go along because, whoa. Spiced broth and noodles? Cant’ get enough of that stuff. The salad was very characteristic of traditional Vietnamese cuisine, famous for using fresh herbs and vegetables. It was bright, sweet, and crunchy, accompanied with an almost thirst-quenching quality.

This salad on HTF differs slightly from the restaurant salad I had (Let’s be honest. I was too lazy to hunt Columbia for green papaya. Also, this salad is a bit spicy), but it still stays true to the fresh brightness of its inspiration. So, if you feel like you’ve been eating too many chili cheese burgers or potato chips or handfuls of hamster feed, this may help perk you up a bit.

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crunchy vietnamese salad
adapted from Food and Wine’s Crunchy Vietnamese Chicken Salad
yield: 4 servings total time: 15 minutes

ingredients
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp Asian fish sauce
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp water
1 serrano chile with seeds, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
4 cups finely shredded green cabbage (from 1/2 small head)
2 carrots, finely shredded
1 daikon radish, finely shredded
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp coarsely chopped unsalted roasted peanuts

create
In a small bowl, combine the sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, water, chile and garlic and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Let the dressing stand for 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, toss the cabbage, carrots, radish, red onion, cilantro, and mint. Add the olive oil and the dressing and toss. Sprinkle with the peanuts and serve.

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After Andy and I had had our fill, we rolled the leftover salad up with some rice paper wrappers, served it alongside some homemade peanut sauce, and BAM! we had a whole other meal going on. And afterward, we didn’t feel like someone had pumped us full of greasy air, waiting in the wings to paint us with shortness of breath, all the while trying to plop a baby elephant on our vulnerable, slouching-down-in-the-chair stomachs. Whoa. I’m dramatic. But sometimes, in the midst of that, we just need a Vietnamese salad to come along and lift us up a little bit.

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rocco’s pesto genovese

The first time I remember having pesto was at this fabulous place in Little Italy in NYC. I don’t think I knew what I was ordering, but basil and pine nuts didn’t sound repulsing, so I trusted the menu (c’mon. I was 19 and just realizing that I enjoyed food and didn’t have to simply ingest it). When the penne arrived lightly tossed in, not really a sauce, but more of a crushed combination of simple ingredients, I remember being hit with the smell of fresh basil and garlic. It was so delicate, yet so chock-full of flavor at the same time. Rather than being mushed together to paste-like consistency, it was prepared in a way where you could almost taste each ingredient separately. There’s the parmesan. There’s the olive oil. There’s the garlic. It was addicting.

The husband and I were watching the Cooking Channel several weeks ago when David Rocco’s Dolce Vita was on. First of all, can I just say how I love that he walks around outside and makes things on random benches and tree stumps? A little unrealistic for me right now, but it’s still beautiful. Also a little unrealistic for me right now: that I can pronounce Genovese. Big whoop. I pretend I’m saying it right by giving it a little Italian accent. But that doesn’t matter. The word Genovese comes from a city in Italy called Genoa, which is where pesto originated. And David Rocco creates this pesto with its tradition in mind. I will never use a food processor to make pesto again. He hand chops each ingredient, leaving a rustic, chunky, flavorful accompaniment to pasta, etc. This pesto reminds me of my NYC pasta (and, oh my, how that’s a good thing).

rocco’s pesto genovese
ingredients
bunch fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup pine nuts, crushed
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
generous pinch of salt
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

create
Using a sharp knife, finely chop basil, garlic, and nuts (pine nuts are traditional, but you really can use any type of nut and make a great pesto) on a cutting board. Put chopped ingredients in a jar. Add the parmigiano cheese, salt, and 1/2 cup olive oil and mix well. Top it off with the remaining extra-virgin olive oil. Taste and adjust it to your liking.
Pesto is traditionally served with pasta, bruschetta, or fish.

So, people, put down the food processors and get to choppin’. It really is easier (the husband will have less dishes to wash, heh…) and makes for a much simpler, more traditional Italian pesto. Thank you, Little Italy chef in NYC, thank you, David Rocco, and thank you, Italians for sticking to what you know and doing it beautifully and timelessly.