The only thing better than making food is making food Asian. Yes, I love Asia-fying dishes that aren't Asian, like pesto for example. Don't get me wrong — this doesn't mean I don't love all the cuisines of the world as they are; putting my own personal spin on classic dishes is my way of paying homage. It's sort of like saying "I love you" to someone by painting a rendering of them in your own artistic style. (That sort of made sense, right?)
So when I found myself with a whole bushel of basil, I knew that I wanted to make some kind of pesto. I had Parmesan, almonds (pine nuts are for the wealthy), garlic, olive oil, all the ingredients you'd need. But going the traditional route has never been my style. So instead of making pasta or risotto, I grabbed some vermicelli rice noodles from my pantry and decided to make a Thai-inspired pesto dish with chicken.
I'm not gonna lie; this is totally a leftover-composed recipe. For the salad, I used the remaining bits of kale, radicchio, and carrot in my fridge, plus some corn from my pantry. You could easily substitute the kale and radicchio with white and red cabbage to make a proper slaw.
Another thing you can easily improvise is the pesto itself. That's the beauty of sauces and purées, you can tweak the ingredients and proportions to your liking and make something that suits your palate (as long as it has the basic building blocks, of course). So for the Asian pesto, I used basil, scallions, almonds, Thai chili, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. But you can also throw in garlic, ginger, lime juice, and fish sauce if you want a more assertive pesto. (I happened to be craving something lighter that day.)
As for the salad dressing for the kale salad, I used a lot of the same ingredients as the pesto to mimic it, but added a few other ingredients to make it stand out on its own.
Moral of the story: if you have a few leftover ingredients in your fridge, you can likely put together a composed dish, as long as you have a stocked pantry of staples. Recipe below.
Serves 2 to 4
2 chicken breasts
4 small chicken thighs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 8-ounce package of vermicelli rice noodles
1/2 bunch kale, chopped and massaged
1/2 head of radicchio, thinly sliced
1/2 can of corn or kernels from 2 ears of corn
Scallions for garnishing
For the pesto:
4 cups basil, chopped
1 cup almonds, chopped
2/3 cup scallions, chopped
4 small green Thai chiles, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad dressing:
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1/4 cup scallions, chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup honey
Juice from 1 lime
- Season the chicken breasts and thighs with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Combine all the ingredients for the pesto in the food processor and purée until a thick pesto forms. You might have to purée in batches.
- Fill a large bowl with hot (not boiling) water and add the vermicelli rice noodles. They should soften and be "cooked" in minutes.
- Brush the chicken with half of the pesto mixture (reserve the other half for the noodles) and add to a skillet with the olive oil on medium-high heat. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side until completely cooked through. Turn off heat.
- Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in the food processor and purée until smooth. In a large bowl, toss the dressing with the kale, radicchio, and corn.
- Remove the noodles from the water with tongs or chopsticks, draining as much water as possible. Toss them with the other half of the pesto mixture.
- Slice the chicken breasts and thighs into 1/2"-thick slices.
- Assemble plates with noodles on the bottom, topped with the salad, and then topped with the chicken. Garnish with scallions.