Food: chicken cashew nut salad [healthy version]

I have to thank my friend Samia Jannat @ez_emmaline for letting me create this post and inspiring me to make this delicious summer salad. The specialty of this salad is in it's crispiness. The chicken and shrimp pieces are supposed to be deep fried to crisp little pieces that crunch in your mouth, while the cool cucumber complements the heat. The cashews are equally important to this dish, as they are also supposed to be fried to crispness. All this preparation of frying and arranging things separately never gave me the courage to assemble this delectable salad. I also kind of always judged this dish on it's deep frying madness. I confess.

But I took the leap of faith on a rainy day sitting at work, when Samia's mouth watering Chicken Cashew Nut Salad floated across my FB newsfeed! So I went home and totally discarded the idea of any kind of frying and decided to bake it all instead. Here is my version of it...

For the Protein,
1 lb of shrimp :: 2 chicken breasts :: 1 tsp red chili powder :: 1/2 tsp white pepper powder
1/2 cup soy sauce :: 1/3 cup flour :: 1/2 cup corn flour :: 1/2 tsp salt+pinch of sugar+oil

*for gluten free - substitute the 1/3 cup flour with 1/3 cup rice or corn flour

For the Salad,
1 cup of cashews :: 2 cucumbers :: 2 cups of cherry tomatoes
1 capsicum of any color :: 1 shallot (2 if small) :: Green Chilies+Cilantro

For the Dressing, 
1/2 cup soy sauce :: 1/4 cup fish sauce :: 1 lemon
3 tbsp honey :: Chilies and Pepper Flakes for heat (optional)

Before you start anything else, put the cashews to roast on low heat. I have a griddle with my stove and I set the cashews there at low heat while I did everything else. I tossed them once in a while. I drizzled a tiny drop of olive oil over them. 

Now let's focus on the protein. I cut both the shrimp and the chicken to small pieces to gain the crunch factor. Bigger pieces will be less crunchy - more surface area. Then I mixed in the soy sauce + flour + corn flour + red chili powder + white pepper powder + salt + sugar + oil. In terms of oil, I used pure olive oil and was generous with it - about half a cup. The oil will help with the crispiness while baking. 

The key to bringing crispiness by baking is HIGH Temperature LESS Time. Everyone's stove works a little differently. So you will definitely know what would be right. I had to go through this recipe a few times to get my timing and temperature correct. 

I have a gas stove and I set the temperature at 455 C and baked for 35 minutes. I kept checking for color after 20 minutes. So I basically monitored it for 15 minutes, and when the color reached a dark bronze and I could hear it sizzling, I took it out. So keep a watchful eye and monitor it before it's almost done. 

While your protein is baking and your cashews are toasting, start chopping up your vegetables. You can add more salad ingredients of your choice if you like. You could use regular tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes and also ditch the onions if you are averse to it. We like spicy food so we added chopped green chilies fresh from the garden for an extra kick. 

This is what my baked tray of crispy protein looked like. It will stick to the pan and you will have to use some elbow grease to scrape everything off the pan. You could also use parchment paper or aluminum foil to make this a smoother process. 

I chopped my vegetables to small dice sizes similar to the size of the shrimp and chicken. 

Mix all the ingredients of the dressing and taste. I made mine tangy+sweet+hot. You can definitely play it up or down depending on your taste buds. 

So now you have the crispy protein + toasted cashews + chopped salad + dressing.  Take a large bowl and and combine the four items and give it a good mix till the dressing hits every little ingredient in the bowl. 

This summer salad tastes great even as leftovers. It does not retain it's crispiness but the taste only heightens because of the tangy juices. 

It's also a great option to pack for lunch at school or work. I hope you get as excited as I was after I took my first bite of this. Bon appetit!


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