Recipe: Vietnamese chicken salad

Recipe: Vietnamese chicken salad

The classic Vietnamese chicken salad is a staple at my family's table, as it is not unusual for us to eat salad every other day.

It is also the dish I turn to whenever I have a head of cabbage lying around. One head is too large for one dish, so I cook half and the other half ends up as salad.

But not as coleslaw, which I do not care for, because it is usually tossed with creamy mayonnaise dressing.

I like the Vietnamese dressing, nuoc cham, because it uses just fish sauce and lemon juice, seasoned with coriander, garlic and chilli - my favourite ingredients.

All very healthy too and I take it even further: I substitute the peanuts called for in the original recipe with almonds, sweeten the dressing with palm sugar instead of white sugar, and use only chicken breast, which has less fat.

This is a habit which started when I was cooking for someone ill with cancer and needed to relook even the smallest details which could affect a person's health.

So I now use only almonds, which are safer, even if peanuts are frequently in the recipes for various types of Asian salads and are nutritious.

Peanuts are rich in vitamin E, niacin, folate, protein, manganese and tryptophan, which the body uses to produce mood-regulating serotonin. They are good sources of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.

When part of a healthy diet, food rich in monounsaturated fat may help lower blood cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association. It may also reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

The trouble with peanuts is that often, they are infected with aflatoxin mould, a known carcinogen that is many times more toxic than DDT, a banned pesticide.

As a result, I have even stopped using peanut butter and, instead, buy other types of nut butter, available in health food stores, to spread on my toast.

Even my dressing for satay and gado gado is made from ground almonds rather than peanuts.

Almonds do not have the same problem.

They are also excellent sources of monounsaturated fat and are rich in vitamin E, copper and dietary fibre.

Besides making good use of extra cabbage, this Vietnamese salad is also great for using up leftover chicken.

It is a typical Asian mother's habit to make good use of bits and pieces.

My mother would need only a chicken carcass to make macaroni soup, for example. The bones make the stock, while the flesh peeled from the bones would render enough meat for the soup.

Here, I use chicken breasts, which is white meat and the least fatty part of the chicken. And I remove the fat and the skin as well.

Finally, the sweetener. While white sugar is common in the kitchen, since I discovered that palm sugar - yes, gula melaka - has a lower glycaemic index (GI) than white sugar, it has become my sweetener of choice.

The GI is a numerical scale used to indicate how high a particular type of food can raise the blood glucose level. Food with a low GI, by virtue of the body's slow digestion and absorption of it, produces gradual rises in blood sugar levels.

Palm sugar also delivers mellow sweetness to the dressing which I like.

Aside from all these substitutions, the salad faithfully follows the classic Vietnamese recipe, especially in the inclusion of lots of fresh herbs.

It bears repeating that eating salad is an easy way to get a couple of servings of your vegetables and fibre a day.

Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous recipes for Eat To Live can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.


½ round white cabbage
1 carrot
1 onion
1 cup roasted almonds
2 roasted chicken breasts
1 bunch mint, leaves only
1 bunch fresh coriander, leaves only
4 green chillies
1 tsp fresh coriander root
1 tsp garlic
1 tbs palm or brown sugar, to taste
¼ cup fish sauce
1 lemon, juice only
½ cup water


1) Shred the cabbage and slice the carrot. Then, peel and finely slice the onion, which can be white or red. Alternatively, use shallots.

2) Chop the almonds.

3) Remove the skin and visible fat from the chicken breasts and shred the meat.

4) Place the sliced vegetables in a glass bowl to show off their colours. Top them with the shredded chicken meat and chopped almonds.

5) Garnish with fresh mint and coriander leaves and add sliced green chillies. You can adjust the number of chillies, depending on how much heat you like.

6) Chop fresh coriander root and garlic for the dressing and mix them with sugar, fish sauce, lemon juice and water. Taste to adjust the amount of seasoning.


7) Pour the dressing over the salad and toss it just before serving.

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