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A handy life strategy, dinner included

A few devoted readers may remember when, about eight months ago, in a post involving Spandex, my mother, erogenous zones, and whole wheat bread, I mentioned a woman named Sherry, an aerobics instructor for whom I once harbored a short-lived but memorable fascination. I was only five or six, too young to stay at home alone while my mother took her aerobics classes, but old enough to keep myself entertained in the back room of the gym—and to do some serious thinking about my life.

Sherry was the nicest, prettiest, and most approachable of the instructors. She had a soft, crinkly, playful voice, and her legwarmers always matched her elastic belt. Her shiny, dark brown hair was something straight out of a V05 Hot Oil ad, and she was engaged to a man who, I believed, looked like Ken. I was fascinated with Sherry. I wanted to be Sherry. First, I reasoned, I would have to change my name, and then we would have to spend lots of time together. This part would be very convenient, actually, because I had a plan. In the wilds of preschool, I had somehow come to believe that in order to get my driver’s license, I would have to pass a test requiring me to take apart a car and put it back together. This being far too daunting, I decided that when my time came, I wouldn’t bother with getting my license; instead, I’d get Sherry to drive me everywhere, and that way, we’d be together. So it was that I devised a handy life strategy: if being an adult looks too hard, I’ll just get a pretty lady to do it for me.

Today, two decades later, the inner workings of automobiles remain a mystery to me, but I do have a driver’s license and, happily, my given name. I must admit, though, that when adulthood—work, laundry, and staying awake on the bus, plus clothing, bathing, and feeding myself—starts to look grim, I still start looking for the pretty lady. And that, dear reader, is how I came to own a Nigella Lawson cookbook.

Had Nigella been around when I was a pre-pre-adolescent, smiling down reassuringly from the cookbook shelf, I would surely have been spellbound. And if someone had warned me that as an adult, I’d have to cook and feed myself three times a day, my answer would have been easy: I’ll let Nigella do it for me. Sure, she may be a tad obvious, what with all that coy finger-licking and cleavage, but when being a grown-up gets me down, she is the Sherry of my kitchen. Though she can’t actually pack my lunch or dish out my dinners, at least she can tell me what to eat and how to cook it. Her look may be more merry-widow Bed Head than V05, but her style is warm, inviting, and sensible; her food is easy-peasy approachable; and to cap it off, her recipes work—and beautifully too.

I have gladly slurped her simple pea soup; I’ve topped dozens of oatmeal cookies—not to mention some fingers—with her brown-butter frosting; and I’ve nearly forgotten all social graces before a slice of her chocolate banana cake, which no one should ever, ever, be asked to share. I even trust her with granola—a momentous declaration indeed, given that my breakfast is a ritual of the highest order. For years, I started my mornings with one granola—and one I still love dearly—but recently I’ve been cheating with Andy’s Fairfield granola from Feast. Nigella told me to. And when the dim, damp, doggedly tiring days of fall have left me with little enthusiasm for the kitchen, I’ve settled into the couch with one of her cookbooks and emerged refreshed, with a pair of chopsticks and a plate of her red seasonal salad.

Now, if only there were a pretty lady to do the dishes.

Red Seasonal Salad
Adapted from Feast, by Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson has quite a way with Vietnamese-inspired flavors, and this salad is ample proof. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself in an all-out chopstick assault, pinching and plucking up punchy mouthfuls of cabbage, red onion, radish, and cold chicken doused with fish sauce, lime, chiles, garlic, and cilantro. The original recipe calls for cooked turkey, which, come Thanksgiving, can be found in abundance across the U.S., but for everyday purposes, I prefer chicken. This is, after all, a winter salad, and nothing fits the season better than a roasted chicken.

2 red chiles (often labeled Thai chiles), seeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs superfine sugar
3 tsp rice vinegar
3 Tbs fresh lime juice
4 Tbs fish sauce
3 Tbs vegetable oil, such as canola or grapeseed
1 red onion, peeled, halved, and very thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups cold cooked turkey or chicken, shredded
1 ½ lbs red cabbage, quartered, cored, and very thinly sliced (about 8 cups, sliced)
½ lb red radishes, thinly sliced into rounds
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a very large bowl, whisk together the chiles, garlic, sugar, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, and oil. Add the red onion and a grind or two of black pepper, stir to immerse the onion slivers in liquid, and set aside to steep for 15 minutes. Add the shredded turkey or chicken, and leave to steep for another 15 minutes. Add the cabbage and radishes, and toss gently to coat with dressing. Add about half of the cilantro, and toss to mix. Serve, topping each portion with a bit of the remaining cilantro.

Leftovers of this salad keep surprisingly well—though they do lose a bit of pep and crunch—for up to two days in the refrigerator, sealed in an airtight container.

Yield: about 8 servings


Blogger tara said...

Lack of pretty lady? I do contest, my dear, as you are surely a fitting candidate. But truly, who WANTS to do dishes? I fully sympathise with your thoughts on Nigella. I'm sure had she been around during my formative years I would have spent far too long attempting to set my hair in perfect waves and adopting terms like "juge" and "bung" into my vocabulary. I have not tried this recipe yet, and now feel even more encouraged to do so - what a perfect destiny for leftovers!

11:41 AM, November 05, 2005  
Anonymous Gigi said...

In the words of Tony the Tiger (someone you may want to consider as runner up for adult caretaker--he's fun, he's active, and he has unlimited access to sugar cereals mom would never let us eat. or is that just my mom?), this post is Grrreeeaaaattt!!! In the words of yours truly (that would be me), it is perfect. It does exactly what you wanted it to do (unlike hair, despite multiple uses of V05 and Bed Head products). And your choice of Ken picture is well, lookin' cool!

7:25 PM, November 05, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

Isn't Nigella the best! I enjoyed watching her tv show so. And readng her NY Times column. I only have two of her cookbooks though, Feast and Nigella Bites. I've recently discovered Donna Hay, I guess you can say she is her Australian counterpart. Actually come to think of it Martha and Donna Hay are more similar in that both have magazines and books. Sorry for the tangent. Love them all really. Even meany Martha.

5:54 AM, November 06, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Beautiful post! I've always strangely resisted liking Nigella - despite the fact that I surreptitiously read her cookbooks in the store and have even been known to get out of bed early on Saturdays to watch her on TV - but your unashamed devotion has got me doubting my resolve. Maybe I'll just have to try this recipe and see for myself. p.s. Is the banana chocolate cake really that good?

9:24 AM, November 06, 2005  
Blogger kickpleat said...

This is a nice twist to her Vietnamese chicken cabbage salad, of which I'm such a fan. But this is much much prettier! I love all the pink and red and I couldn't think of a better meal for a northwest winter!

1:43 PM, November 06, 2005  
Anonymous Johanna said...

gosh, I love Nigella. I wish they still aired her show on Style!

2:39 PM, November 06, 2005  
Blogger Dawna said...

I was a bit reluctant to like Nigella at first - I'm not really sure why. I think it was all the glamourously silver blank pages in "How to Eat." I did, however, get completely sucked in eventually. First, because the food on her tv show looked so delicious, and secondly, because a friend living in London had become a fierce devotee. Then I started trying her recipes, which, as you say, work beautifully. Now, I own my own copy of Feast, and have a lot of recipes ear-marked for testing. Everything I've tried has been delicious.

6:15 PM, November 06, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Molly, very funny story! I always loved to hate Nigella. And I relished the moment at the end of the episodes where she would sneak down to the kitchen in her pj's and stuff her face with whatever it was she had made during that episode. It was so not befitting of a proper English woman, and it was as naughty as it got on a cooking show. Ok, so maybe I loved her more than I hated her.. its true..

12:07 AM, November 07, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Tara, it is never too late for adopting Nigella-esque hairstyles and Nigella-speak! I mean, really, if I hadn't had to do those dishes, I might well have been in front of the mirror, trying to coax my here-there-but-not-everywhere waves into perfect, buoyant, ladylike curls. Then again, perhaps the dishes were a good thing after all.

Gigi, fellow daughter of a no-sugared-cereals mom, merci mille fois. As you know, this post was a bit reluctant in its birthing, so your midwifing was greatly appreciated, as always!

Foodiechickie, I agree on all counts. I don't yet own any Donna Hay, but well, Christmas is on its way! And as for Martha, you know, I have nothing but appeciation for her. She is a little stern and stiff, but bless her, she taught me to make pate brisee! What a woman.

Melissa, I too resisted Nigella. I only bought Feast very recently, despite having used a number of her recipes from the New York Times and elsewhere. Sometimes she is just too cute and too perfect, and that doesn't always work to her advantage. But in the end, I've been won over by her recipes, plain and simple. And she has a lovely, intimate writing style. And yes, that chocolate banana cake is pretty fine--it's homey goodness done right.

Kickpleat, I remember your post about that salad! I actually followed the link from it to the recipe, and I too made it and loved it. This is a subtle twist on that, with a red theme, and the radishes are a great addition. More than anything, I admire how well-balanced the flavors in the dressing are. Nigella has a very trustworthy palate, I find.

Johanna, maybe there will be reruns?

Dawna, my sentiments exactly! Sometimes eating your words winds up tasting pretty good...

Michele, I'll have to see if I can find some of her old shows on video or something! I've only seen one or two episodes, and neither involved pajamas! Grrrr.

3:55 PM, November 12, 2005  
Blogger Clare said...

Um, can I just say YUM?!??!???!
I will be making this A LOT, let me tell you. I will also be making your carrot salad (had that last night) and your asian noodle salad with roasted eggplant (had that the night before) a whole heckuva lot.

Molly, I gotta tell you, you have made me enjoy cooking. I am totally serious here. I absolutely love your blog...it's my first stop for new recipes. Before I found it, I never enjoyed cooking, as much as I tried. But I have seen the light, lady, and it's because of you!

Now, I have to go eat my salad.

5:15 PM, January 07, 2009  
Blogger HadleyEG said...


I have just moved to France, and am still in my month of living at the high school where I am teaching English. The BTS students I share my kitchen with are very nice, but not at all tidy. It hardly matters, though, because we have only 2 burners and a microwave at our hands. I cannot cannot cannot wait to move into my apartment so I came make all the recipes from your November 2005 archives! Thank you for loving brussel sprouts and sausage!

2:38 AM, October 22, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for that red salad recipe. i had made it quite a few times a number of years ago and loved it passionately. i am having friends over for dinner and thought about making it and looked on her site but couldnt locate the recipe, i kept looking under red cabbage...and kept getting a heated one. then i thought i will just try to remember it and at the last minute i remembered that it was called red salad. i dont have radishes so i used red peppers sliced and will throw a handful of dried cranberries in at the end. hooray i was so happy to find it, many thanks, suzy

7:46 PM, September 03, 2011  

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