I admit it, I was really stuck for what to do about House Arryn, “As High As Honor”. Everything else was in place (although at this point in time I was still grinding myself down on the millstone of the octopus, but at least there I had an idea). It was the last to fall. So it had to be a salad, and to be honest that’s never be a favorite of mine. I mean, you just can’t win friends with salad, can you?
Fortunately my friend Doug, who is an excellent skilled chef himself, has a favourite salad recipe that his mother-in-law makes. Another one right out of Madame Paré’s collection, this time from Company’s Coming: Salads, Jean Paré, p.30. Originally called Japanese Cabbage Salad. Since it involves dried noodles, it seemed like a natural to make into a “bird’s nest” motif and get my connection to House Arryn (however slim). A bit of a stretch, but there you go. This was not going to get the focus of my attention. Or at least so I thought.
I made a test salad, and it was really tasty! For a person who is normally not a big fan, I quite liked this one, so that was definitely happy news. It calls for instant noodles and also chow mein noodles, but they don’t taste markedly different to me. I assume the chow mein was there just to give it some colour and visual difference. But given that I wanted to form the salad into a bird’s nest on the plate, I didn’t need the longer twistier noodles, so I just doubled up on the instant noodles.
Okay, here’s where it goes off the rails a bit. Maybe I just thought that this dish hadn’t caused me enough grief and I was expecting it at this point? I’d become “institutionalized,” like the fellow in The Shawshank Redemption? At any rate, the dressing calls for (among other things) vinegar, soy sauce, and cooking oil. All I had was balsamic vinegar at the time, so I used that, and it worked out okay. But I wondered. There’s a lot of other stuff going on in there, so “vinegar” probably meant just plain white vinegar. And while I used China Lily soy sauce, they could have meant Japanese soy sauce (like Kikkoman), which I find to have a very different taste. And what does “cooking oil” mean exactly? They probably meant vegetable oil, but they might have meant olive oil. Olive oil is more common in salad dressings after all.
I couldn’t take the uncertainty. I determined that I would make up a little tiny sample of all the possible combinations of those ingredients and test drive them all. Since one of the base ingredients is the chicken flavour powder from the instant noodles, I had to dig out my trusty knife and chop that powder into eight equal piles, like any coked-up yuppie from Miami Vice. It turns out that I would have made a very poor drug dealer (or user) in the 80s; even after my painstaking and time-consuming chopping with my knife (not even a razor blade and a mirror, come on!) I’m not sure my piles were even. But eventually I had what you could reasonably call the base for eight different samples of dressing. Happily the oil portion calls for a half cup, so that was easy to divide. Yes, I really went full-on obsessive-compulsive on this one. The final verdict? White vinegar, Japanese soy sauce, and canola oil. Though it was a subtle difference in the end.
So the plan was to form the salad into bird’s nests on each plate, and then to have sculpted a cream cheese egg (mixed with the tiniest bit of blue food colouring to give it a wild bird’s egg’s blue tinge) to be placed into the centre of each salad. That’s my contribution to this recipe, along with the modification of the noodles. But I simply ran out of time on Saturday, and the fancy eggs were the first casualty. After all… it’s just the salad.
‘Bird’s Nest’ Cabbage Salad
½ cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
2 tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted
½ head cabbage of medium size, shredded
12 oz. bean sprouts
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 green onions, chopped
¼ cup sunflower seeds
2 x 3 oz. instant noodle packages, broken up
1 pkg. (chicken) seasoning from noodle package
½ cup canola (vegetable) oil
2-4 tbsp. Japanese soy sauce (Kikkoman)
3 tbsp. vinegar (white)
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
4-6 tbsp. cream cheese
blue food colouring
- Put almonds and sesame seeds in single layer in pan. Toast in 350°F oven for about 5 minutes (watch carefully as they can get too dark in no time) until golden. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Put shredded cabbage and bean sprouts into large bowl. Add mushrooms, onions and sunflower seeds. Add toasted almonds and sesame seeds.
- Break up instant noodles and set aside.
- Empty seasoning packet from box of noodles into a small bowl. Add oil, lesser amount of soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Add more soy sauce to taste, depending on quantity of cabbage. Stir in salt and pepper. Put in container with cover. Can be made ahead.
- Mix cream cheese with a few drops of blue food colouring and form into 4-6 eggs, one per plate.
- Shake dressing over salad. Form salad into bird’s nest shape on the plate. Sprinkle dry noodles overtop. Place cream cheese egg in centre. Serve.
Other permutations involve turning this into a Japanese Shrimp Salad (add 2 cups canned or fresh cooked shrimp to mixture before tossing; can add sliced cucumber or radish as well) or an Oriental Chicken Salad (add 2 cups cooked chicken, cubed, to mixture before tossing; again you could add the cucumber or radish). Even as a simple self-serve bowl of salad without the bird’s nest, this is darn tasty. For a salad.