Posted by: Andi Angel | January 19, 2010

How to Design a Recipe

I need your creativity… let me know if I leave out any possibilities or variations!

Yesterday for lunch, I did something I’ve been wanting to try for a while: I threw together a killer Chinese Chicken Salad.

What really surprised me was not how good it turned out (I am getting pretty good at this intuitive cooking thing), but how many variables I had to work with.

What I did: Threw some frozen cubed pre-cooked chicken into a pot on the stove, dumped in a few teaspoons of sesame seeds, poured in some canola oil and red wine vinegar, sprinkled in some salt, ginger, celery seed, garlic powder, black pepper, and a cautious smidge of chili powder. I heated it up on medium low for several minutes while I prepped the other ingredients.

In a largish bowl, I dumped some shreds of bagged pre-washed lettuce, then shredded in some raw carrot and cucumber. When the chicken was warmed through, I dumped it (oil/vinegar dressing and all) onto the veg and tossed it. I crunched up a bag of ramen noodles and sprinkled them over the top.

I mostly made this all up as I went along, having first Googled “Chinese Chicken Salad with Ramen”. But along the way, so many variations occurred to me.

The chicken: there are a gazillion ways you could prep this. The easiest is the frozen Schwan’s cubes I used. You could grill some, season and bake, dice and pan-fry, or buy pre-grilled strips frozen or refrigerated. There’s frozen “popcorn” chicken (breaded chunks, for anyone who doesn’t know) – or, depending on what flavor scheme you used on last night’s chicken dinner, you could just dice up some leftovers – think “planned-overs”.

The vegetables: I wanted some celery, but didn’t have any on hand (so I added celery seed instead). The shredded cucumbers made a nice light-green substitute, though. Carrots didn’t occur to me until I web-searched a few recipes. Most of them also used cabbage, which I don’t regularly used, so I subbed the lettuce. I considered dicing or grating in some onion; I could have used dried minced onion, but I already had a lot going on – I either forgot it or felt it wasn’t needed… but this is where it goes into the gray area between veg and seasoning…

The dressing: I could have used a spoonful of refrigerated minced garlic instead of the garlic granules. I could have used peanut or sesame oil instead of canola, if I had any. (I’d have gone with peanut.) At that, I could have chopped some peanuts and sprinkled them on top with or instead of the Ramen. Because of the MSG (and the seasonings I’d already used), I threw out the packet of ramen seasoning, which many people use in the salad. Oh, and the vinegar… I’ve seen red wine vinegar, rice vinegar and white vinegar in chicken salad recipes. Dunno about balsamic, but I’m sure apple cider could turn out well. Oh… and I bet soy sauce could work, or maybe hoisin?

Spices: One recipe used green onion, which I didn’t have. Most suggested salt and pepper. The ginger, chili powder and celery seed were my own ideas, based on previous stir-frying experiences.

OHHHHH… there are SO STINKIN’ MANY SPICES AND HERBS OUT THERE! So many gorgeous ways to subtly alter the flavor experience of each dish… If any of you have any suggestions, please add your ideas in a comment! I’d love to experiment some more.

I’m no sure hand at cooking, and a lot of what I do is look at a recipe and alter it to my tastes and available ingredients. It often takes me 3 or 4 times as long to prepare as it would anyone else, and it doesn’t always turn out… but I learn a lot.

I have learned enough that I could turn out a killer improv chicken salad the other day 🙂


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