My summer salad lunch routine needed some zing and some zip. Despite the freshest ingredients from the farmers market, my go-to olive oil and balsamic dressing was ho-hum.
My salads became a lot more exciting when I discovered this Vietnamese Salad Dressing. Now I keep a jar of it on hand at all times. I never get bored with the classic Vietnamese flavors — sweet and spicy, salty and tart — and it’s perfect for dousing all of my farmers market finds.
One jar of dressing is all you need for three days of zippy lunchbox meals. The Vietnamese layered salad stays crispy and fresh even if made a day ahead — making it perfect for you organized, make-lunch-the-night-before brown baggers. And it makes good use of the odds and ends of leftovers in the fridge.
Shredded steamed chicken (or cubes of leftover grilled chicken) make the first layer, tossed in a bit of the dressing to keep the meat moist. Next is a handful of shredded Napa cabbage, followed by carrots cut into long strips with a vegetable peeler. Thinly sliced cucumbers are layered over the carrots, followed by another handful of greens. Top with chopped salted peanuts, basil and mint. Limes are a must for squeezing over the salad at the last minute.
A few days later, break out your Vietnamese Salad Dressing for a cold noodle dish. Cook your favorite noodles — I prefer rice noodles for this dish — and run under cold water to cool. Toss with Vietnamese dressing, slices of leftover grilled steak, basil, mint, arugula, and halved cherry tomatoes at their peak of ripeness. Salty roasted peanuts are nice on top. If you can, have lunch outside that day; there’s nothing like slurping up cold noodles on a hot day.
At the end of the week, transform your Vietnamese Salad Dressing into a dipping sauce for fresh spring rolls, made with shrimp, greens, cilantro, carrots and tofu. I love ordering these salad rolls at my favorite Thai restaurants in town, but they are fun and easy to make at home. Rice paper wrappers are given a short bath in water to soften. Ingredients are layered to form a rectangle in the center. Fold the side edges towards the middle and roll up like a burrito. Two or three of these salad rolls make a substantial lunch. If you like, spice up the Vietnamese dressing with a few dots of Sriracha sauce; surely you keep a bottle in your office fridge?