Saturday, February 28, 2009

One kick right after another

Okay, we all need to eat lunch every day, don't we?

Of course we do, but if you're anything like me, you could quickly get into a rut of having a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with strawberry jam and lettuce EVERY single day for months on end.  Not that there's anything wrong with said sandwich, but even people who like repetition can get bored after 3 solid months of the same lunch.  Believe me, I know. 

I lived the above scenario when I was working for a summer in New York City a few years ago at a business magazine.  As a lowly intern, I obviously couldn't afford to eat out every day, and with all of the work I had to do, I wouldn't have had time anyway, so packing my own lunch was the only option I saw.

With this recipe, I hope to introduce some variety into your workweek, or at the very least a delicious lunch or dinner to put together when you're not eating greasy hash browns on the weekend or have gotten home really late after work and want something quick and healthy.

Chicken laap (I've also heard it referred to as larp, but that makes me think of lard and that doesn't really conjure up the healthy delicious salad as well as I'd like) is a dish I first encountered on my SE Asia trip.  As I previously noted, I fell immediately in love with the strong flavors and crunchy textures on my trip, and have since made it for family and friends to critical (okay, maybe a stretch here) acclaim.

I first developed a crush on the fish laap that was available all over Laos, but once I headed to my cooking class in Luang Prabang and tried chicken laap...well, it blossomed into a long-term love affair.

It's quick (depending on the speed of your chopping skills), easy, healthy as all get out, incredibly delicious (the flavors take turns giving your taste buds one kick right after another) oh, and did I mention easy?  It's also easily adaptable to whatever spices you've got on hand, so no excuses about having to run to the grocery store allowed!

All you do is mince up some chicken and throw it in a skillet with a bit of water.  While that's cooking, you mince up some shallots, garlic, lemongrass, arugula, etc., then toss the whole thing together with a bit of fish sauce and chili.  Dump it out onto a plate, add some big crinkly lettuce leaves and/or cucumber slices and top them with your salad mixture, then eat away.  

Just remember to bring some napkins, oh, and to eat this at least a few feet away from your computer.  I'm not sure I want to know what fish sauce does to a keyboard.

Chicken Laap
Adapted from Tamnak Lao Cooking School

2 large skinless boneless chicken breasts (about 400 gms), minced*
2 medium limes or lemons
4 Tbs. hot water
2 green onions, thinly sliced
4 shallots, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch cilantro/coriander, finely chopped
4 lemongrass stalks, white part only, thinly sliced
2 handfuls arugula leaves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. rice powder, optional**
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. fish sauce

Juice the lemons or limes.

Place a large saute pan over medium heat and add half of the lemon/lime juice and the minced chicken. Stir frequently until the chicken is cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed, adding a bit of water if necessary.
Remove from heat and place in a large mixing bowl.
Add the green onions, shallot, garlic, cilantro, lemongrass and arugula to the bowl and mix well.
Add the salt, rice powder (if using), chili powder and fish sauce and stir to combine thoroughly.
Taste for seasoning. I often add a bit more fish sauce and lime juice at this point. Keep in mind "hot, sour, salty, sweet" when tasting, and add a bit more as necessary.

Serves 2 as a main dish.

*Place the chicken breasts on a large cutting board, then start chopping away with a chef's knife in each hand. Not only is this fun (just be careful not to get too overzealous!), but you'll find the chicken minced before you know it.

**Rice powder can be purchased at Asian supermarkets or easily made at home. To be honest, I just leave it out, and can't tell that much of a difference, but you're welcome to try it if you're not as lazy as I am: Toast raw rice until golden in a saute pan. Throw it into a blender/food processor and process until you get a fine powder. Store in an airtight glass jar.

Note: I have made this without many of the ingredients, such as arugula and lemongrass, thrown ginger into the mix, and never been disappointed. Play around with it: it's hard to go wrong.

P.S.  I am currently staying in Rennes with a good friend for a few days until I head to Louviers to begin working on Monday.  I had a lovely time in Paris last week, full of drop dead gorgeous food, and I promise to tell you a bit more about it soon--once I get settled!

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