Orange Chicken Crispy Rice Salad

Orange Chicken Crispy Rice Salad

There are two important things to understand about this recipe for Orange Chicken Crispy Rice Salad. The first is that it’s hilariously American, as is the case with all of my recipes that approach cuisines from other countries. The second is that it’s absolutely delicious regardless of authenticity. The inspiration for this concept came from my first experience with a crispy rice salad at Doi Moi in D.C. Their food is Southeast Asian, and so delicious – I definitely recommend a trip if you’re near 14th street. Their crispy rice salad involves fermented pork, which I have never worked with before, so I decided to combine the concept with something a little more familiar: orange chicken.

I have wild dreams of someday being one of those people who just throws all kinds of interesting ingredients into a dish without a second thought. I love trying new foods and flavors, and I make a conscious effort to order outside of my comfort zone at restaurants, but sometimes you just have to stick with some of what you know when you’re trying a new recipe concept. The point of that being that the sauce for my orange chicken started with a Panda Express copycat recipe, and I haven’t really done that much to it. I’m okay with that however, as Panda Express orange chicken is a delicious gift from the heavens.

The crispy rice is of course the real standout of this salad, and the whole reason for it’s existence. I didn’t even know that crispy rice was a thing until a few months ago, but the version I made up for this recipe is one of my new favorite things. I started with a recipe from Ayesha Curry which set me on the right path flavor and texture-wise. I flavored mine with Greek yogurt, lemon, dill, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Her recipe calls for crisping the rice in a pan on the stove, but mostly I just kept burning things that way. I found it much easier to get the results I wanted by toasting the rice on a tray in the oven. The result is crisp, slightly chewy, very flavorful rice that clumps together into bites like croutons in the salad.

This salad could easily have gone in the direction of very bad for you but with summer coming I figured I’d keep it light. I use grilled chicken instead of fried, and loaded base of the salad with spinach, broccoli and cucumber, and topped it with some cashews for added crunch and nutrition. I think a variety of textures is what separates a decent salad from a great one – they can get a bit boring if every bite is the same. This salad has a combination of crunchy and chewy and soft components that combine with the bright flavor of the orange chicken, and the lightly spicy crispy rice, to make a pretty perfect meal.

This salad is a perfect start to break away from a typical boring lunch time. You can only eat Caesar salad so many times in a row before you want to stab yourself with your fork. Not that there’s anything wrong with Caesar salad. Crispy Rice Orange Chicken Salad is as always, open to interpretation. I invite you to try it with lemon chicken or switch out the cashews for pecans. Maybe add roasted Brussels sprouts in place of the broccoli. Just promise me that whatever you do, you’ll keep the crispy rice – It’s truly something different and wonderful, and I can’t wait to make it again.




Print

Orange Chicken Crispy Rice Salad

Orange Chicken Sauce adapted from Food.com's Panda Express Copycat Orange Chicken 


Ingredients

Crispy Rice

  • 3 cups cooked rice (1 cup uncooked)
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt 61g
  • 2 Tbsps lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 tsps red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 tsps dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp salt

Orange Chicken

  • 1 lb chicken breast
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil - divided use
  • 1 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed or bottled)
  • 3 Tbsps soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsps rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup green onion, chopped
  • 2 tsps garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tbsps cornstarch

Salad

  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1 cup diced cucumber, de-seeded
  • 1 cup steamed broccoli florets
  • 1/2 cup dry roasted cashews

Instructions

  1. Prepare the crispy rice. Stir together the cooked rice, yogurt, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, dill, pepper, and salt until well mixed. Spread into one even layer on a baking tray lined with foil. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, stir the rice around on the tray, and bake for another 30 minutes. It's done when the top of the rice has browned and the clumps are crispy on the edges and soft inside. Once the rice has cooled slightly, transfer to a cutting board and chop larger clumps into bite-sized pieces. 

    2. While the rice bakes, make the orange chicken. Slice the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces and sautee in a skillet over high heat, with a Tbsp of olive oil. Remove to the side. To make the sauce, combine orange juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice wine in a small bowl and set aside. Using the same skillet from the chicken, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Stir together the green onion, ginger, garlic, 1 Tbsp of olive oil, and chili flakes and add to the hot skillet. Cook for about a minute until fragrant, and then add the orange juice mixture. 

    3. Let the sauce come to a simmer, over medium-heat, about 9 minutes. Do not let it come to a full boil. Stir together the corn starch and water, and add to the sauce. Stir gently for an additional 3 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken. Lower heat and cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and add the chicken, stirring until well-coated.

    4. To assemble the salad, fill a bowl with chopped spinach, diced cucumber, broccoli florets, and cashews. Top with a generous helping of orange chicken and crispy rice. Enjoy!

    Note: Leftover orange sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week. 


Warm Butternut and Bell Pepper Salad

Warm Butternut and Bell Pepper Salad

On Sunday, I woke up and realized that I’d barely eaten a single vegetable between Friday and Saturday. Please tell me that happens to you, too. This recipe was born out of a need to make something delicious and vegetable-based, with the ingredients already in my kitchen. It’s funny how sometimes the most wonderful dishes come together that way – and I can guarantee that this dish is indeed wonderful. It’s got soft, slightly sweet butternut squash, bell peppers, garlic, and onions as a base.  To flavor it, I created a cross between a light balsamic vinaigrette and Chinese take-out inspired sauce that works with the nutty squash flavor better than I could’ve dreamed.

I was cooking bacon before I started concocting my “stir-fry,” so I threw some torn, thick-cut bacon in with the mix. It added another dimension to the texture, and I don’t think I even need to remind you how adding the flavor of bacon to just about anything will immediately improve it. I wilted some spinach into it at the end to add a little more color and bulk. I don’t actually love cooked spinach all that much, but the flavor of it sort of disappeared in this dish, so I got more nutrition without that bitter wilted spinach flavor. This is yet another addition to my “make vegetables taste good” file.

I was truly just throwing things in the pan for this one. Chop up the vegetables, saute them, and add your sauce. Then throw in a big handful of fresh spinach, let it cook down, and the result is a perfect alternative to a regular cold salad. The prep and cooking processes take maybe 30 minutes, and you don’t have to stand at the stove the whole time the food is cooking. Since starting this blog, I’ve become very aware of how much I like being able to multitask. If I can make lunch and clean up the kitchen at the same time, (and maybe text and dance and dream up other blog ideas as well), I am a much happier person.

I invented this recipe to be my lunch, but it would make a fabulous side dish for beef or chicken, or even a vegetarian entree if you forgo the bacon (just make sure to taste it and see if it needs an extra dash of salt in that case!). That said, the recipe makes a fairly small portion. Even as a side dish, you may need to double or triple the measurements depending on who you’re feeding. It’s a quick, healthy lunch or dinner for when you want something warm and comforting, but still light and fresh. If you’re doing any kind of low carb diet, then this recipe is definitely for you.

I always mention how recipes are incredibly versatile, but I suppose that as a person who can’t ever follow a recipe without tweaking it, I just think everything is open to interpretation. You could try this dish with other kinds of squash, any greens you like, beets, or mushrooms – the possibilities are endless when you’ve got some onion, garlic, and a great sauce to start.




Print

Warm Butternut and Bell Pepper Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 medium white onion
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 2 cups diced butternut squash
  • 2-3 strips of bacon
  • 3 tsps olive oil, divided use
  • 1 tsps balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsps sesame chili oil
  • 2 tsps soy sauce
  • 2 tsps honey
  • 2 tsps rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsps brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 big handful of fresh spinach

Instructions

  1. Chop red bell pepper, onion, bacon, and butternut squash, and mince garlic. Add to skillet on high heat with a tsp of olive oil. Give them a quick stir once every minute or so.

    2. In a small bowl, stir together all remaining ingredients including 2 tsps of olive oil to make the sauce. When the vegetables in the skillet just start to brown, pour half of the sauce over them and stir.

    3. Keep an eye on the skillet, stirring frequently (but not constantly). When the vegetables look like they're almost done (squash and peppers are tender, onions are browned), pour the other half of the sauce into the skillet and stir.

    4. Let cook for 3-4 more minutes, and lower heat. Add fresh spinach to the skillet and stir in. Let it cook just long enough for the spinach to wilt. Remove from heat and serve.

    Note: I place a large pot lid over my skillet after adding the spinach to help it wilt a little faster.


Black Bean Confetti Salad

Black Bean Confetti Salad

Black Bean Confetti Salad is possibly my favorite recipe of all time. The original is from Smitten Kitchen, and it honestly changed the way I thought about bell peppers. When I started learning to cook, a lot of the motivation was (and still is) to find delicious ways of preparing vegetables so I’d want to eat more of them. I used to be very bell-pepper-ambivalent. They were too sweet and too crunchy, which is generally not a combination I enjoy in my produce. Putting them in this recipe has really helped me re-think bell peppers. I’ve found that you can learn to like almost any food if you prepare it with flavors you already love.

I became obsessed with food way before I discovered this recipe, but making and eating this stuff over the years is largely responsible for me finally sitting down and creating the food blog I’ve always dreamed of. This isn’t my own recipe, but I’ve tweaked it, adding green onion, and honey and cayenne to the dressing. I think the changes really enhance this recipe. Playing with recipes like this is so satisfying, especially when my experiments work out.

I just desperately want everyone to know about this salad, because not only does it taste like a dream, it’s also extremely healthy. Black Bean Confetti Salad is a big bowl of fresh vegetables, fiber, protein, and healthy fats – what could be better for keeping your New Year’s resolution going?

It might seem like more of a salsa than a salad, and I absolutely invite you to enjoy it with chips (and a margarita), but it also makes a fabulous side dish. I served it with Cajun-seasoned tilapia and rice recently, and they went together beautifully – that sort of meal is also inexpensive, which I love. Proof you don’t need to spend a ton of money to eat well.

This recipe makes a fairly large amount, so you could halve it, although I don’t know why you would. I personally have to force myself not to eat the whole bowlful by itself as soon as I’ve finished making it. This is partially because it’s actually better the next day, when the flavors have had time to meld, and because I think eating an entire can of black beans in one sitting would destroy me.

I’ve made a number of changes to the original recipe, including the addition of scallions. This is definitely the kind of recipe where you can play around with the spices and ingredients to really make it fit your taste. The Smitten Kitchen original suggests adding cilantro if that’s something you really love.

Print

Black Bean Confetti Salad

Adapted, with slight changes, from Smitten Kitchen's Black Bean Confetti Salad.

Servings 5 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 15oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small white onion
  • 2-3 scallions
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper

Dressing

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1 large lime

Instructions

  1. Step 1: Dice onions, scallions, and bell peppers - small is better; you want the pieces to be about the same size as the beans.

    Step 2: Drain and rinse black beans. Stir together with onions, scallions and peppers.

    Step 3: Pour olive oil into a liquid measuring cup, and add salt, honey, cayenne, cumin. Add lime juice until the amount in the measuring cup reaches 1/3 cup. Whisk until the salt is completely dissolved. 

    Step 4: Pour over salad and stir. This salad can be stored and served the next day, and will stay good for up to five days in the refrigerator. It's actually better the next day because the flavors meld overnight!