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.

no recipe post

Hello, friends. Heh…heh. I’m walking away slowly as I picture you all chasing me with flaming brooms and red-hot pokers and small boulders.

Where have I been?

Heh, well, you see, I’ve, well…it’s this way. AGAIN. My sister got married! Whoop whoop. And, y’all, I made seven cakes for the event. Yep! She wanted lots of different kinds. It took several days and, actually, not a lot of stress, but very little sleep. It was REALLY fun, baking for hours and hours and rushing the cakes around to random refrigerators in Columbia, and having my husband carry me around in the back of his parents’ SUV while I pretended to be Duff, carefully carrying cakes for someone more important than the president, listening to Christmas music and getting arm cramps. No, seriously, it WAS SUPER fun. I’ll have to post recipes and pictures later after I upload them all.

In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of my husband and me making Saturday morning breakfast.

dried cranberries

Autumn in South Carolina is a little bit of a tease. And also a bit humorous. As soon as the temperature drops below 70 degrees, people find it necessary to pull out the coats and big socks. Hey, I’m not doggin’ ya. I’m just as guilty. Last night, the husband and I slept with five blankets and a puppy. With the radiator on. And fleece pants. And wool socks. And I love it. Even if SC is teasing us with little spurts of cold, I’m okay with that. I can be patient. And I’ll continue wearing my scarves and boots in 65 degree weather.

So! Since it’s getting cooler (eh, here and there), I like to think of foods that remind me of this glorious time of year. Heck, I think of those foods all year long. My friends make fun of me because I have Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” on my running playlist. It’s a good song, people.

Off topic.

I really like cranberries. No, not the kind shaped like a can. I like their tartness, the tiny bit of sweetness you have to search for, and their beautiful color. And they fall perfectly into this time of cooler weather and holiday menu planning! Dried cranberries are great because you can throw them into lots of recipes for a little pucker and raisin-like chewiness. Now, please don’t hate me. The process of drying cranberries (without a dehydrator) is a little time consuming. It requires very little hands-on work, but drying fruits takes time. It’s worth it. You know your result is fresh and you know what ingredients are in it. No guessing!

dried cranberries
ingredients
12 oz fresh cranberries
2 quarts boiling water
1 tbsp natural cane sugar (optional)

create
Preheat oven to 170º. Gently rinse the cranberries and place in a heat-proof bowl or saucepan (this bowl is not over heat). Pour the boiling water over the cranberries. Let the cranberries sit until their skins pop. Some of my cranberry skins popped instantly, but some took a little longer. It should altogether only take a few minutes. You can see that the skins almost look split down the middle.

Drain the water and toss with the sugar. You can certainly leave the sugar out if you’d like. Lay the cranberries in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the oven and leave them there for at least 8 hours.

I’m going to be honest. I dried my cranberries in shifts. If you’re brave enough to leave your oven on all night, an overnight drying should do the trick. I tried to dry mine on my day off so I could be awake and available (not that you have to do anything to them while they’re in the oven, but, you know, safety and junk). Of course, I realized there were things I had to do, so I ended up drying mine at random times of the day and and at different intervals each time. Not the best method, but it worked. You can store them frozen to last longer and they don’t need to be thawed before baking or cooking with them.

Mmm.

I love you, Autumn.

And I love you, SC. Thank you for busting your pride a little bit and bending over to the cool nights and having to see your natives carve pumpkins and wear sweatshirts with palmetto trees on them. I’m sure you’ll get us back next summer.