Wilful and Wonton Salads

As the red, yellow and orange leaves pile up on our lawn, I realize that it’s time to re-focus on my favorite leaves—those green ones in my salad bowl.  I might add that this is really a good season to fall for salads….

Over the past months, I’ve realized that I especially enjoy salads that “crunch”—although my family would undoubtedly add that I need to try harder to mute the sound effects.  I love the croutons and Romaine in the classic Caesar, the tortilla chips in Southwestern and the bacon bits in the Cobb.  But the salad with the biggest overall crunch factor and an increasing favorite of mine is the Asian (sometimes called “Chinese”) salad.

The recipes for these salads vary.  Most contain either iceberg/Romaine lettuce, and/or cabbage as their base.  Additional crunch assistance may be provided by fried wonton or other crispy noodles, and nuts (almonds, peanuts or cashews).  The dressings tend to contain soy sauce, sesame or peanut oil and perhaps rice wine vinegar.  I’ve found my favorite dressing a bit far from home—the honey-infused version served atop the Asian Chicken Salad at The White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, Wisconsin.  Sweet!

Some salads chefs also add canned mandarin oranges. I’m not sure why, although I was glad to learn that these fruits are actually grown/eaten in southeastern Asia.  But there’s something particularly anomalous about a fresh, crisp green salad topped by fruit that’s been soaking in a can of syrupy juice.

Asian salads have become increasingly popular in the Chicago area:  from fast food places like McDonald’s to slightly-less-fast food venues such as Panera, Corner Bakery and even Noodles & Company (thanks, Rett).

The menu at California Pizza Kitchen boasts two Asian salads among its 13 choices:  the Chinese Chicken and Thai Crunch.  They both rely on a base of Napa and red cabbage, with carrots, chicken, wonton and scallions.  But the superior Thai Crunch salad also contains edamame, rice sticks and peanuts in a lime-cilantro peanut dressing.  Who needs the pizza?

But, as Jane reminded me, to find the best Chicago-area Asian salad, you have to be on your way to somewhere else—via O’Hare airport.  There, Wolfgang Puck has established four eateries, including three that serve his “Famous Chinois Chicken Salad.” The recipe contains a base of Napa cabbage and Romaine lettuce, cut into ¼-inch julienned strips, topped by julienned snow peas, shredded roast chicken and toasted sesame seeds.  This is definitely a salad to which I want to get Oriented.

Yours till the Asian carps,
NJL

5 Responses to “Wilful and Wonton Salads”

  1. Melmo says:

    Mmmmmm… sounds delicious! I love making salads w/cabbage — great crunch and the price is right. I look forward to hearing about….salad pizza!

  2. Charlene says:

    scrumptious!!

  3. Josh says:

    Although you scared me with the iceberg lettuce reference, you won me over with the rejection of canned mandarins on a fresh salad. Totally agree. Now I just need to buy an outbound flight….

  4. Jane says:

    You are making me hungry! Another delicious salad is the chicken or beef ginger salad at Lulu’s in Evanston. Crunchy wontons with a piquant ginger dressing. Yum!

  5. Rett says:

    The Chinois Chicken Salad is definitely worth a special trip. We will occasionally go the Wolfgang Puck’s at the Museum of Contemporary Act in Chicago just for that salad. While there (very near Watertower Place), check out the museum gift shop as well. You can go to both Puck’s and the gift shop without paying for museum admission (and notice I’m not recommending the museum itself, except for special exhibits).

    http://www.wolfgangpuck.com/restaurants/casual-dining/wolfgang-pucks-cultural-center-cafe

    P.S. Is there any truth to the notion that salad dressing should be made in the bottom of the salad bowl, and then tossed “up?”

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