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Vietnamese spicy cabbage and chicken (or tofu) salad (Goi bap cai ga)

While we think of Vietnamese cuisine in terms of soups (pho), satay and grilled meats, it is also loaded with delicious salads. The marketplaces in Vietnam are piled high with numerous greens, brassicas and herbs, most of which are local. These greens are an important part of the Vietnamese diet adding healthy micronutrients and minerals.

This is a lovely and light salad with either shredded chicken or tofu as a vegetarian variation. All the flavour is in the dressing so make sure that you make it pungent and bold. Tossing the salad in the dressing is essential, it coats the cabbage and makes it pop with spice and crunch. The chicken, or tofu, is light and lovely. This is one of those salads that is perfect for those of us on a diet and want a filling and delicious salad meal.

This cookbook is one of many Vietnamese cookbooks on my shelf. I have been pulling it out ever so often to read and have cooked very little from it. However, the recipes that I have tried are simple but amazing. Andrea Nguyen fled Vietnam with her family and her mother's recipe cookbook and settled in Southern California. She started her career in banking but her obsession with great Vietnamese cooking transformed her to an author, restaurant reviewer, chef and cookbook writer. This book is part of a collection of recipes and part of culinary history entwined with culture. This book has won numerous awards, but most of all is a fun book to have and to cook from.

For more recipes from this cookbook click here.


For the chicken or tofu:

1/2 lb chicken breast or 3-4 slices soft tofu

8 cups water

1 pod star anise

3 cloves

2 green cardamom

1/2-inch cinnamon stick

2-inches lemongrass

1 teaspoon salt

1 red onion, thinly sliced

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 small Napa cabbage, shredded

2-3 carrots, shredded

Cilantro, roughly chopped

For the dressing:

2 Thai red chillies, minced, or to taste

2 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon fish sauce, omit for the vegetarian version

6-7 tablespoons teaspoons rice vinegar

Salt, to taste

Add the chicken (or tofu) and spices to the water and bring to a boil. Scoop off any scum and simmer for 45 minutes till the chicken is very tender and shreds easily between your fingers. Drain keeping the stock for another use. Store the shredded chicken with 3-4 tablespoons of the stock so that it remains moist.

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing and allow the flavours to come together for 1 hour at room temperature. Taste for salt and spice. It should be lightly acidic with heat and a mild sweetness to the dressing.

Soak the onion in the vinegar for 30 minutes. It will reduce the sharpness of the onion and quickly pickle it.

To serve, mix the onion, cabbage, carrots, and cilantro well. Toss with 1/2 the dressing. Serve a small portion in a salad bowl or salad plate. Top with the shredded chicken or tofu. Top with more dressing. Serve immediately.

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