We all, I think, have times where we wish our mouths had an ‘undo’ button. Where we would happily go back in time and refrain from eating that last piece of bread, slice of cake, cutlet of meat, forkful of noodles, entire two courses…times where we’re so disgracefully full that we empathise with force-fed foie gras geese as we waddle, moaning plaintively, home to fester fatly in bed until the following morning when we declare we are never eating that much again. A bit like a food hangover, really.
I don’t think I’m alone in occasionally over-indulging in delicious food to the point where I feel a little bit like a beachball, despite appearances to the contrary. Weeks where I’ve eaten out a lot, or cooked a lot of baked goods and nibbled more than I intended, or been unable to stop myself having thirds because it was just too damn tasty. When such times arise, abstaining from eating is simply not an option. I love food too much, and I am completely unable to function without at least a partially full stomach.
The solution, I discovered a couple of years ago, lies in four magic ingredients: chilli, lime, herbs and mango. Well, more generally, in south east Asian food. The hot, sour, salty, fruity tang of south east Asian-style salads, mouth-tinglingly refreshing dressing combined with an assortment of nutritious vegetable crunch and sweet, nourishing fruit, has a magical power to perform that reset function on your tastebuds and your general feeling of dietary wellbeing. Combine with healthy, filling protein and a scattering of toasted peanuts and you basically need never eat anything else again (although inevitably heavier Western food and desserts will offer up their siren call once more, and you will once more find yourself powerless, held in thrall to their seductive saturated fat content and alluring promises of sugary sustenance).
The other night, in a bid to feel healthy and svelte again after a week of ceaseless cake, and to create lots of delicious leftovers, I roasted a large chicken smothered in a paste of coriander, garlic, salt, turmeric and lime juice. Simple, but beautifully flavoursome and moist. To accompany it, I threw together (I hate that phrase as it makes my cooking sound contrivedly artless, but I actually did) a salad of lovely crunchy healthy things that I had in the fridge: gem lettuce, mooli (a long Asian radish that looks a bit like a gnarled, white carrot), cucumber, toasted peanuts, combined with slivers of ripe, juicy mango and a lovely tangy dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, chilli and brown sugar. Finally, some fresh herbs – fresh herbs always make you feel healthier, especially if you use huge bunches of bushy coriander and sprawling mint (I grow a variety called grapefruit mint in my garden, which tastes exactly how it sounds and is perfect for these salads).
It was even better than I imagined, and I think is probably one of the ultimate Asian salads to come out of my kitchen. The combination of the moist, rich chicken with the zingy, crunchy salad makes for a ridiculously satisfying, filling and – above all – nutritious meal that will make up for any dietary trespasses you may be beating yourself up for. If you’re not neurotic like me, it’ll just taste great and you should make it asap.
Turmeric and lime roast chicken with Vietnamese-style mango salad (serves 2):
For the chicken:
- 1 free-range chicken
- A bunch of coriander, roots only
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 lime
For the salad:
- 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 3 spring onions
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 just-ripe mango
- 1 mooli radish (or substitute 2 carrots)
- Half a cucumber
- 1 baby gem lettuce
- A small bunch of coriander, leaves only
- A small bunch of mint, leaves only
- 1 green chilli
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- Juice of 1 lime
- 3 tbsp toasted peanuts, roughly chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 190C. In a small food processor, blitz the coriander, 2 cloves of garlic, salt and turmeric to a paste. Rub over the skin of the chicken. Bruise the other two garlic cloves and place inside the chicken. Squeeze the lime over the chicken, then put both lime halves inside the cavity. Roast for 20 minutes per 500g, plus an extra 20 minutes. Check for doneness using a sharp knife; the juices should run clear. Leave to rest for 20 minutes before serving.
Meanwhile, make the salad. Finely chop the spring onions and garlic and sauté in the rapeseed oil until softened and golden. Set aside. Peel the mango and shred the flesh into thin strips; do the same with the mooli. De-seed the cucumber and cut the flesh into thin strips too. Shred the lettuce. Put in a large bowl with the spring onions and garlic. Finely chop the mint, coriander and chilli and add to the bowl. For the dressing, whisk together the fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice, then toss with the salad. Divide between two bowls or plates, garnish with the peanuts, and serve alongside the chicken.