When the weather heats up I start looking for ways to prepare dinner without heating up the kitchen. My mind wanders to picnics and barbecues with images of friends laughing, sounds of kids playing, and sultry, balmy nights. Salads are always a good choice when the heat takes away your appetite and all you can think about is jumping in a cold pool of water to cool off. Fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market, prepared ingredients I can buy from the store, pastas and other items that can be served cold are at the top of my list. When you think of pasta salad do you think of sweetened macaroni and mayonnaise? Corkscrew pasta with vegetables? Penne with Italian antipasti? Noodles with Asian vegetables? Pasta is endlessly adaptable – I can toss in any vegetables I have in the refrigerator, change up the sauce and have a whole new meal!
Sesame oil can range from pale yellow with a light nutty flavor to deep golden brown and quite pungent, depending on whether the seeds were roasted before pressing. Combining the sesame oil with soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and garlic chile sauce creates a beautifully balanced sauce. Slightly sweet, spicy, salty, and tart, it triggers nearly all of your taste buds in a single bite. Make this salad ahead when you have a few minutes and you can use it as a main course (with the chicken), or as a side dish (without the chicken) during the week. It travels well and can be taken to potlucks, picnics or barbecues. Grilled pineapple slices pair especially well with it, creating a little of a Thai Pineapple flavor profile. Fresh, light, and healthy, this is the perfect summer dinner.
To keep cooked chicken moist and tender, always store in any remaining pan juices. If you do not have much juice, add some chicken stock. Try to make sure the bulk of the chicken meat is submerged in liquid. When reheating, keep in the liquid which keeps the chicken from drying out and becoming tough.
Kitchen Skill: Julienne knife skills
Julienne cuts are the size of matchsticks. Using a potato as an example, slice a thin piece of each side to make a squared-off rectangle. Place the potato on a flat side and cut 1/4-inch thick slices lengthwise. Stack slices (flat side down) and slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick sticks.
- 16 oz long pasta such as spaghetti, fettuccine, or tagliatelle or tri-color rotini
- 5 to 6 tbsp sesame oil, divided
- 1 cucumber, peeled
- 1 carrot, peeled
- 1 stalk celery, peeled
- 3 green onions, white and light green parts sliced
- 3 to 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 to 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 1-1/2 tsp Asian Chili Garlic sauce
- 1-1/2 cups cooked chicken, preferably grilled or rotisserie-cooked, shredded
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- Cherry tomatoes, halved, for garnish
- Cook the noodles in well-salted water according to package directions. Drain thoroughly, transfer to a large mixing bowl and toss with 2 tbsp of the sesame oil.
- To prepare the vegetables: Cut cucumber in half lengthwise and remove the seeds (use a spoon and drag down center of each half.) Cut each half into thin strips. Cut carrot and celery into long strips. Cut all into slender matchstick strips about 1-1/2-inches long - this is called julienne.
- To prepare the sauce: Combine the remaining 3 to 4 tbsp sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and chili garlic sauce in a small bowl. Whisk and set aside.
- Add the julienned vegetables, onions, shredded chicken, and cilantro to the noodles. Toss to combine. Add the sauce and toss well. Taste and adjust seasonings with additional salt, pepper, and chili garlic sauce if desired. If you want a little more acid, try a few drops of lemon juice to brighten the flavor. Sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and decorate with cherry tomatoes. Serve chilled.
- To make this ahead, toss everything together except the chicken, cilantro, and tomatoes - store those separately.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings