As John Lennon so rightly said – life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Usually, those other plans are the big things – some day I’ll be famous, rich, married, published and generally so fabulous that people will be falling at my feet and showering me with rose petals every hour on the hour.
Mm hmm. Right.
In the meantime, there is life. The quiet overlooked moments. The dishes in the sink, the trillionth re-run of America’s Top Model, the tattered t-shirt you refuse to throw away, the yet un-read pile of books on the nightstand, and recipes like this one for Chicken Noodle Salad.
So ordinary that you overlook it. Not special, not trendy. No one’s tweeting about it and it’s not going to win any awards. People might even wonder what kind of an imbecile would post such a recipe (because clearly, people have nothing better to do).
But the fact is, these recipes are what happen while you’re busy making plans for bigger, more spectacular, award-winning, attention-grabbing, book-proposal-launching recipes.
Like when you’re too tired to think and you just want a bowl of starchy rice with some soy sauce and hot sauce splashed on top for dinner.
Or butter. And pasta. Sprinkle of parmesan.
Leftover chicken stir-fried with rice, chilis, peas and crushed bouillon. Yes, I said bouillon. Get over it. It’s not the enemy and works in a pinch. Because I walk to and from the grocery and those freakin’ cartons of chicken stock are heavy.
Ramen. Endless ramen. Veggies, scrambled eggs, soy. Will remain your friend long after your twenties have come and gone.
Fried egg and bacon sandwich with mayo and hot sauce. And chips. And Diet Coke. (Excuse me, you DO save calories from Diet Coke, okay?)
I love those non-recipe recipes. The ordinary “recipes” of daily life. What we eat while we’re watching stuff on Top Chef that most of us, probably, will never eat or attempt to make.
To me, those overlooked eating moments are not throwaway. They are more deeply revealing of who you are than the fanciest recipe you make from following someone else’s instructions. That food speaks more truly to the soul of your kitchen than anything else.
Not many food writers go into that kind of thing – Nigella refers to it a lot which is why I love her. You only have to see one of the midnight fridge raid portions that close her TV shows to relate immediately.
These aren’t the kind of recipes you’ll ever be known for, perhaps it’s not even the kind of recipe you want to write about, but it is still a recipe with a story and a more intimate, revealing story than all the buttercream recipes ever compiled in the world.
Because it’s just what you do in your kitchen, by yourself, that neither you nor anyone else would even notice.
And that’s where life happens.
Chicken Noodle Salad
I think what I had in mind while I was half-consciously tossing this together were the cold noodle salads I used to get at my school cafeteria. Now I know cafeteria food is normally the kind of thing you want to forget, not re-create but just call it one of the perks of going to school in Bangkok. There was a noodle stand where we would buy hot bowls of “sen-mee lukchin” or white rice noodles with meatballs (what the meatballs were actually made of were a source of great debate amongst 7th graders).
By the noodle stand were several bowls of condiments – 9 or 10 of them. The condiments are key to creating noodle soup and my friends and I would spice up our bowls like they were works of art and then have a taste of each others creations to see who had done the best that day.
Quite a world away from a cold turkey sandwich and an apple.
Some drowned their soup in soy, others liked the tang of a particular condiment made from vinegar and red chilis, I was always partial to the fish sauce with thai bird chilis (nam pla prikinoo). You had to sprinkle with crushed red pepper and of course you got extra points for having the spiciest noodle bowl at the table.
You could also opt for noodles without broth, and you had a choice of egg noodles instead of the thin rice noodles. When I was in an egg noodle sort of mood, I would skip the broth, the noodle lady would put on lots of cilantro and bean sprouts and I would douse the whole thing in soy, nam pla and crushed red pepper.
The noodle salad I created here is a much tamer, sub-conscious version of that memory.
4 oz angel hair pasta
¼ cup sliced red onions
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
3-4 Thai bird chiles, chopped
Big handful cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
Soak the red onion in some cold water for 10-15 minutes, then drain and squeeze out the excess water. This takes some of the acrid bite out of the onion.
Cook the pasta then drain and rinse under cold water until the noodles are cold.
In a large bowl, toss the chicken, onions, pasta and soy sauce together. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well.
What can I say, it’s that simple.
Serves 2 extraordinarily ordinary people.