As you would expect, there is a story about this Chinese Chicken Salad.
My friend Mei-Ling came over for dinner not long ago and even though we hadn’t seen each other in years we were able to “pick it right up” as if it had only been days. I always love it when that happens with the people in my life as i think it is a litmus test for choosing”family” from among friends. I get such joy when someone passes the test as not even all in my real family can pass it.When Mei-Ling and I get together we laugh and make lots of politically-incorrect fun of each other. The kind that we alone are allowed with each other as sort of a secret handshake for admittance into our club of two. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t feel good every now and then have some fun at your own expense with someone you trust and the other night was certainly no exception.
Mei-Ling and I met when we were 10 years old. Her family had emigrated here from the People’s Republic of China and our teacher, Miss Loomis, “assigned” me to be her “class buddy” and to show her the ropes, if you will. I would show her around the school, make sure she knew which milk line to get in, and when it was time to come back in from recess. I would have to pantomime my instructions to her as Mei-Ling did not know English yet and my Mandarin was still quite rusty. (This should also explain to friends my preternatural talent for charades.)
Miss Loomis could not have known it (or could she?) but our mutual ‘outsider status’ would end up bonding us for life. I would teach Mei-Ling the basic elementary school survival strategies she would need in our culturally homogenous burg and in exchange she would be my lifetime friend and foil. Seeing how well she coped with being ‘different’ would eventually give me the courage to embrace it as well.
Mei-Ling was first introduced to me as “Mindy” because her mother decided to give her an “American name” so that she might fit in easier. Evidently by becoming a “Mindy” this little brown skinned girl with narrow eyes, jet black-straight hair, and no ability to speak English would suddenly blend in with the other kids in our predominately white, upscale beach community — as if by magic. I always found the whole idea oddly hysterical and so did she for as soon as Mei-Ling could speak English she instructed everyone around her to stop using it.When it came to blending in I had it a lot easier than Mei-Ling even though I felt just as much an outsider to those around me. Unlike Mei-Ling, however, my “individuality” wasn’t so immediatly obvious, even to me. She would eventually figure it all out before I did and wait for me to share it with her; it would take a few more years before that would happen and she was patient.
And then the real fun began!
Today she still teases me about about how slow I was to realize what should have been obvious to everyone around me the night in 5th grade I had to beg my parents to let me stay up and watch the “Liza With a Z” TV special on television. Didn’t all 10 year old boys want to see Liza Minnelli? (It was choreographed by Fosse dammit.)
She also enjoys teasing me about my cooking by pretending not to remember having ever eaten it. It drives me crazy because her delivery is so good I can never tell if she means it or not.
“Mimi’s Cafe makes the best onion soup I have ever had!”
Words that cut like a knife until I figure out she is teasing me.
In return I tease her about her lack of curves and her heritage; purposely never quite understanding the differences between Asian cultures and cuisine.
“Mei-Ling, can your mother make sushi as good as this?”
When she called to tell me she and her husband were coming to town to visit her mother over the holidays I insisted they drop by for lunch. I told her I had taken a day class in authentic Mandarin Chinese cooking at the community college and I would love the chance to show off for her and her husband.
I made this.
“Mindy” got the joke immediately as she saw her plate. Which is why I love her. I love this Chinese Chicken Salad too.
Chinese Chicken Salad
You can make this recipe yourself or you can go out to just about any Chinese restaurant and buy it. Its really not that bad.
Adapted from LA Times ; Culinary SOS.
This is what you will need:
- 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 8 cups chopped iceberg lettuce
- 3 cups crispy rice noodles
- 1 pound boiled chicken breast, cut into strips
- 1/3 cup finely chopped peanuts, more to taste
- 2 tablespoons minced preserved ginger, more to taste
- 1 tablespoon roasted black sesame seeds, more to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped green onions, more to taste
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, more to taste
This is how you make it:
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and ginger.
- Taste and adjust seasoning and flavoring as desired. This makes a generous one-half cup of dressing.
- In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, noodles, chicken, peanuts, ginger, sesame seeds, green onions and cilantro leaves.
- Add half the dressing, tossing to lightly coat.
- Taste, and toss in additional dressing as desired.
- Serve immediately.
To make crispy rice noodles, fry the noodles in oil heated to 350 degrees until they’re crisp, 1 to 2 minutes; drain on paper towels. (I skipped the noodles altogether.)