I love the onset of fall – the leaves start turning, the orchards begin to fill with fruit, and the crisp autumn air gives me an excuse to break out my grandmother’s old quilts. But the start of fall also means that school’s started again, the busyness of the holidays are starting to begin, and the mourning of the freshness of summer.
During any seasonal transition there’s always so much to do, and so I like the ease of this recipe. Besides a little bit of chopping and the dressing (which you can make ahead and keep on hand for this and other salads) it’s a fast dump and mix recipe, impressive enough to make for guests, but easy enough to have any day of the week. Packed with veggies and protein, I’ll have 2 or 3 of the lettuce cups as a light but filling lunch, or add in some steamed white or brown rice to make it a complete dinner. It’s also a great make a head appetizer for a dinner party. Just keep the filling and lettuce cups separate till you’re ready to serve. The flavors only get better with time.
I’ve discovered, it’s also a great “add-in” recipe that you could add-in or substitute any leftover vegetables you might have around the house. The Asian pears are a great subtle background flavor for almost anything – red peppers, cucumbers, radishes, avocado – while still holding their distinct sweetness and crispness. Try substituting peanuts or crispy wonton strips for the almonds, or serving the whole mix on a toasted baguette smeared with a little Brie instead of in the lettuce cups. The possibilities are nearly endless. And when I don’t want to grill my own chicken, I’ve been known to just pick up an already roasted one at the grocery store and use that or even left over flank steak as a way to make the recipe even faster and easier.
Beside the ease, fun, and unexpected flavor profiles, I also love this recipe, because it’s a last harbinger of summer. There will be time for roasted apples and freshly pressed cider in the months to come, but while I can, I like extending the brightness and vigor for just a little bit longer as I make my way into fall.
Chicken & Asian Pear Slaw in Lettuce Cups with Sesame-Ginger Dressing (serves 2)
¼ c rice vinegar
1 T grated ginger
2 T soy sauce
1 T fish sauce (if you don’t have fish sauce, add another T of soy sauce)
2 T sesame oil
1 T vegetable or canola oil
1 T honey
½ t red pepper flakes (optional)
1 lg. Asian sliced thinly
1 grilled chicken breast shredded – a scant 2 cups
1 lg. carrot julienned
3 scallons sliced on the diagonal
¼ c slivered almonds (reserve a few for garnish)
1 head Boston or butter lettuce washed, dried, and divided into “cups”
sliced avocado for garnish (optional)
1. In a large mixing bowl (we’re just going to use the same bowl to toss our slaw in) place all dressing ingredients together and mix. I’ve found that using a microplane or the smallest side on any boxed grater will give you the best results with your ginger. When mixing, the dressing will remain “broken” and not imulsify, that’s the way it should be.
2. Prep all salad ingredients, slicing each thinly. To julienne the carrot, first cut the carrot into a manageable length, then into small “planks”. Then stack 3 or 4 planks at a time and cut across length wise.If you have the time, try toasting your almonds by putting them in a small sauté pan for a few minutes on medium high heat until they’re lightly browned and intensify in scent.
3. Mix ingredients together with the dressing, and allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes for the flavors to marry while you prep your lettuce. While washing, make sure to dry the leaves thoroughly as to not water down the dressing.
4. Fill each lettuce cups generously with about half a cup of the slaw, garnishing with some of your reserved almonds and some sliced avocado and additional sliced scallion if desired.