Thai Chicken Salad With Peanut Chili Dressing

While at work, rolling up some Thai-Vietnamese summer rolls–those delicious, fresh, light appetizers made from rice paper wrappers filled with crisp bean sprouts, fragrant herbs, earthy bean sprouts, rice noodles, and for non-vegetarians, shrimp, I came up with an idea for a nice, cooling salad to run as a dinner special later.

It came about like this–I had made a spicy peanut sauce for dipping the rolls, and included some lovely Thai marinated cucumber and red onion salad with each order of rolls, just to give a different flavor and texture to the appetizer. And I happened to have a bite of summer roll dipped in the peanut sauce then popped a bit of cucumber which was marinated in a dressing made of lime juice, palm sugar, fish sauce, fresh ginger, mint, Thai basil, and Thai bird chilies.

(Before we continue, let’s talk a bit about palm sugar. It is made from the sap of the coconut palm, and it has a sticky, half-liquid texture. Sold in jars in Asian markets, it is used a great deal in Thai cookery. It has a subtle flavor–like the way a nice sweet flower smells, but without the tooth-aching sweetness that cane sugar has. You can use raw sugar to substitute for it, but I would try the palm sugar anyway. I like it better, and it isn’t hard to find, nor is it too expensive.)

The two flavors and textures went off in my mouth like an firecracker. The sweet, hot and sour cuke was icy yet filled with the heat of the chilies and ginger, while the creamy, sweet and earthy peanut sauce tamed the flames. I thought about it and decided that I needed to use those two flavors in a chicken salad, and soon.

So, Tuesday, today, I set out to put my idea into action.

I made the same lime and fish sauce based marinade as I had done for the red onions and cucumbers on Saturday, and this time, I tossed two different salads in it. One was composed of paper-thin cucumber slices and red onion slices as before, but with the addition of see-through slices of radish. The other was made from poached, shredded and chilled chicken. These went into the refrigerator to chill down to a delectable, nearly frozen temperature, while I put together the dipping sauce turned salad dressing.

This peanut sauce is simplicity itself–it consists of four ingredients, but the finished product is so tasty, everyone who tastes it will think you are a culinary genius. And, really, there is no reason to disabuse them of that belief. Just smile and accept the accolades that will pour out to you from satisfied eaters.

All you have to do is take equal parts hoisin sauce, and natural peanut butter–that being peanut butter with nothing but peanuts and salt in it, and blend them together with a tiny amount of rice vinegar–about 1/4 cup per two cups each of the hoisin and peanut butter. Then, you add sriracha sauce to taste, and thin it all out with water until it is the right consistency for a salad dressing–liquidy, but not runny, in other words.

For crunch and a crisp, earthy flavor, I added ice cold romaine lettuce and mung bean sprouts, and for a garnish, a sprinkling of peanuts and a sprig of Thai basil.

It turned out to be an amazingly refreshing light entree salad for the hot, dry late July days of Southeastern Ohio.

But I bet it would be good any time, and anywhere that you are faced with a day that is too hot to bother with either cooking or eating.

And it is all easy.

And–it is pretty low in fat. The only fat you get is from the chicken, which if you start with poached boneless, skinless breasts, will be negligible, and the peanut butter. And if you use natural peanut butter, it will be the plain old monounsaturated peanut oil that is in peanuts, which is actually good for you. There is a lot of fiber and vitamins in this salad, so not only is it good–it is good for you, in many ways.

Yet, it tastes both refreshing and sinful at the same time.

What is not to like?

Thai Chicken Salad With Peanut Chili Dressing

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons–to taste–palm sugar or raw cane sugar
1/3 cup fish sauce–use Golden Boy or Squid brand for the best flavor
2-7 thinly sliced Thai bird chilies–to taste
2″ cube fresh young ginger, peeled and sliced in very thin jullienne
1/8 cup finely minced fresh Thai basil
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh mint
3 large cucumbers, well scrubbed
1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
10 sweet red radishes, tops and bottoms sliced away and cut into paper-thin slices
1 pound poached chicken, shredded and well chilled
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Sriracha sauce to taste
1 large head romaine lettuce, washed, dried and cut into thin strips
2 cups really fresh mung bean sprouts, rinsed and dried
1/3 cup really good roasted, salted peanuts
4 sprigs of fresh Thai basil


Mix together the first seven ingredients, and stir until the palm sugar dissolves. Taste for seasoning–you may like it sweeter or hotter. Adjust accordingly–the flavors should be a perfect balance between sweet, hot, sour and salty.

Split this marinade in half and put into two medium sized bowls.

Slice the cucumbers in half longitudinally, and scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon. Slice them paper thin into little half-moons, and put them, the red onions and radishes into one of the bowls of marinade, and toss to combine. Cover tightly and put in the fridge to get it ice cold.

Take the shredded poached chicken and toss in the other bowl of marinade, then cover tightly and put in the fridge. While these are chilling, put the next four ingredients, from the peanut butter to the sriracha sauce, into a food processor or blender and blend until combined. Taste and adjust as needed–add more vinegar for more tang, and more sriracha for more heat. For more sweetness, add a spoonful of hoisin sauce, and for more peanuttiness, add the peanut butter. When the flavor is the way you like it, turn the machine on and blend in water while it is running, a little at a time, to get the dressing to a pourable consistency. Go slowly–you don’t want it to be too thin!

When the vegetables and chicken are very cold, split up the sliced lettuce into four equal portions and layer them onto the bottom of serving plates.

Sprinkle equal amounts of bean sprouts over the lettuce, then put a layer of the marinated vegetables over that. Top the vegetables with a dollup of chicken on each plate, and then drizzle with the dressing. Sprinkle peanuts over everything and garnish with a sprig of basil, and serve some extra peanut dressing on the side.

Serves four for a light lunch or dinner.


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  1. Heres a good site for Thai cooking
    It’s got about 30 recipes each one with a cooking video to go along. Free too

    Comment by Norris Hall — July 23, 2008 #

  2. The Sriracha sauce dots add a nice touch to the plating. 🙂

    Comment by AppetiteforChina — July 24, 2008 #

  3. Oh, man. By some lucky coincidence I had on hand almost every ingredient your listed for this recipe (don’t you love it when that happens!) and so decided to give it a try for dinner – it is sublime. The only things I omitted were the bean sprouts, chiles and Sriracha sauce, as I do not like my food to be too spicy hot. I loved the way each of the bold flavors in both the marinade and the dressing melded together and exploded in the mouth. Thanks for this recipe!
    Quick question about palm sugar: A while ago I bought something claiming to be palm sugar from an Asian food store, but it isn’t liquid like you say. The taste is lovely but the sugar is compressed into little cakes which are so hard that it is impossible to cut, smash or grate them. So far I haven’t been able to use them in anything because of this. Any idea if what I bought is indeed palm sugar or something else?

    Comment by EK — July 27, 2008 #

  4. Three times so far I’ve looked at a recipe on your blog and changed my mind right then about what to have for dinner. They’ve all been good, but this one is something special. I’ve made this salad four times in just a few weeks, and I almost never repeat a recipe so often — this one is a keeper! Thanks for posting it.

    Comment by Rachel Neumeier — July 30, 2008 #

  5. In response to EK’s question about the hardened palm sugar block, yes, it is indeed palm sugar.
    It’s also known as Gula Melaka. Usually it’s boiled in a bit of water till it is dissolved into a thick syrup.

    Comment by Deb — November 5, 2008 #

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