The inspiration for “Thai Crunch Salad” is my backyard garden. I planted an autumn garden on the first of September. A month later, I am pleased and proud that the pak choi has grown prolifically with very little help from me. It is ready for harvest and I need recipes.
I remember eating a dish for “Thai Crunch Salad” with chicken and a peanut butter, cilantro and lime dressing at California Pizza Kitchen. Although flavor combination was a bit unusual; the dish was outstanding. I’ve always wanted to try making it at home. Here’s my version.
Growing Pak Choi and Bok Choy in Louisiana
I got busy this fall, weeded and planted an autumn garden around the first of September. Added more garden soil, fertilizer, mulch and watered the plants. I am sort of a novice gardener; not a real pro, so it is rewarding to see that every little vegetable seedling is co-operating with my garden plan and growing. The highest achiever is the pak choi which is a variation of bok choy. It is a member of the cabbage family–but doesn’t develop a round head. Here is the pak choi on the left.
The pak choi has taken off and grown without any interventions from me-the gardener. The pak choi is shown in the first photo along with neighbors Red Russian kale and dill.
California Pizza Kitchen Recipe
California Pizza Kitchen restaurant has much more than just pizza on the menu. I friend introduced me to the restaurant a year or so ago. She ordered pizza with pear and cheese. I couldn’t decide from the many choices on the menu and randomly picked “Thai Chicken Crunch Salad with Cilantro, Peanut and Lime Dressing”. The fruity lime and cilantro dressing mixed with peanut butter was refreshing. It was mixed in with several crunch ingredients — peanuts, edamame, fried won tons and rice sticks. Pieces of chicken made it a main dish salad. It was a memorable salad and apparently quite popular from all the copy-cat recipes on the internet.
The California Pizza Kitchen salad actually is made with Napa cabbage not bok choy. Duplicating their recipe exactly is tedious; the list of ingredients is quite long and they actually combine two salad dressing bases to make the dressing. Too much for me. I decided to improvise with ingredients I had on hand and make a scaled down and simpler version keeping true to the flavors.
For the salad, I combined napa cabbage, pak choi (bok choy) and romaine lettuce that was in my refrigerate and needed to be used. The pak choi has a spicy, crisp taste. Pak choi has flatter leaves than bok choy. When young, the tender leaves can be eaten raw. In the salad. I chopped up some of the white stem, too. I love napa cabbage, a very mild version of head cabbage. I added romaine lettuce to tone the flavors down a bit.
The California Pizza Kitchen salad dressing is quite lengthy and tedious. I made a very easy version and omitted several ingredients that really didn’t add to the dressing in my opinion. Here are my salad dressing ingredients.
The original recipe called for honey; I substituted maple syrup–had some on hand and I like the milder taste compared to honey. I loved the creamy peanut butter — this makes the salad unique and the lime juice adds a refreshing taste. The red pepper flakes and black pepper spice things up. The sesame oil label is hidden; just a little adds to the salad. I actually added the cilantro to the salad greens rather than chopping it up in the dressing. Much easier. To make the salad dressing, combine and whisk together all the ingredients in a bowl, except cilantro and olive oil, then stir in olive oil.
The fun part of this salad is the crunchy ingredients. I used peanuts, diced cucumber and fried won tons to add crunch. Slightly different from the restaurant recipe which included edamame and rice sticks and no cucumber.
I had never attempted cooking fried won tons. It took a couple of trials to discover how to bake them without ending up with totally burnt ones.
To make them, I lined a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Then I coated the aluminum foil with a very thin layer of olive oil, wiping off excess with paper towel. Then place won tons on the foil and turn them over to coat lightly with olive oil.
These were baked in a 350 degree oven on the top shelf for exactly 5 minutes. Don’t bake longer; they will burn quickly. You will have to start over. Then break the fried won tons up into small chips. Sort of bland in my opinion, but they did add crunch.
The main course ingredient is chunks of chicken. I used chicken tenderloin pieces (remove the center tendon) which were marinated in soy sauce, Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning and a little olive oil Bake in 350 oven in single layer for about 20 minutes until done, remove and chop up. If you don’t have Toney Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, just use a bit of garlic powder and a dash of cayenne pepper. The soy sauce provides plenty of salt.
For the final salad, simply combine everything. Add the cooked chicken and dressing to the cut-up salad greens, cucumber, green onion and cilantro. Also mix in the peanuts. Before serving, add the fried won tons.
This recipe is a keeper! I’ve always been interested in finding a recipe which includes peanut butter in the dressing. This dressing is mild and the flavors blend together; the peanut butter doesn’t overwhelm everything else. This dressing would taste great with a pasta salad, too. (Perhaps reduce the maple syrup.)
Eclectic Thai Crunch Salad with Peanut Dressing
Ingredients for salad dressing:
- 1/4 cup maple sugar syrup
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 2 Tbsp creamy peanut better
- 1 Tbsp sodium-reduced soy sauce
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
Ingredients for salad:
- 2 cups packed chopped pak choi or bok choy leaves
- 2 cups packed chopped napa cabbage (about 1/2 head)
- 1 small bunch romaine lettuce
- 1/2 cucumber
- 4 green onions
- 1/4 cup packed chopped cilantro leaves
- 1-1/2 lb chicken tenderloin pieces
- 1 Tbsp sodium-reduced soy sauce
- 1 tsp Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning or 1 tsp garlic powder and dash cayenne pepper
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts
Ingredients for fried won tons:
- olive oil
- 8 won ton wrappers
Method and Steps:
- For the salad dressing: combine all ingredients except olive oil in medium sized bowl. With wire whip, whisk together ingredients until combined. Peanut butter may have some chunks. Then whisk in olive oil. Set aside.
- For salad greens, carefully wash pak choi leaves, napa cabbage leaves and romaine lettuce. Drain in colander, then chop leafy part of greens and some of center stem. Set aside.
- Peel and dice cucumber. Chop green onions. Remove cilantro leaves from stems. Chop coarsely. Set aside.
- For chicken, remove center tendon from chicken tenderloin pieces and place chicken pieces in medium bowl. Add soy sauce, sprinkle with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning (or garlic powder and cayenne pepper) and olive oil. Stir to combine. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil, place chicken tenderloin pieces on single layer. Place in 350 degree oven and bake about 20 minutes until cooked through. Remove from onion. When cool enough to handle, cut tenderloin pieces in bite size chunks. Set aside.
- For fried won tons, line baking sheet with aluminum foil. Drizzle very thin layer of olive oil on aluminum foil and spread out using spatula or paper towel. Wipe off excess oil with paper towel. Place single won ton on sheet, then flip so each side is covered with olive oil. Repeat with remaining won tons. Place in 350 degree oven and bake for exactly 5 minutes. Sides should just begin to brown. Resist baking longer, the won tons burn quite rapidly. When cool enough to handle, break up into chips.
- To finish salad, place greens in very large salad bowl. Add cucumber, green onions and chopped cilantro. Toss to combine. Add chicken and peanuts and toss. Pour salad dressing over salad and gently combine with tongs. Just prior to serving, toss in fried won tons.