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Mary Bergin of Culinary Therapy with Mary Bergin

    Lately, I haven’t been doing  much cooking at home.  Maybe it’s the fact that my 50-year-old oven is on the blink and in the process of being fixed.  Or maybe it’s just that I need of a break and want to get out and try some new restaurants.

    Coming to my rescue last month, some friends invited my husband and I  to  a cooking party at their home with instructor Mary Bergin, who has worked at  restaurants such as Spago in Los Angeles and cooking schools like Sur La Table, and now gives private lessons in the home. (For more information, go to facebook and type in Culinary Therapy with Mary Bergin.)

     Under Mary’s watchful eye, about a dozen of us gathered in Theresa and Michael Fallon’s kitchen  in Santa Rosa  to prepare a Thai feast, including Martini Prawns with Siracha Aioli,  Pad Thai Noodle Salad, Green Curry with Chicken, Thai Seafood Stew and Fresh Ginger Ice Cream.

    The evening was a big hit, especially with my husband, who discovered that cooking can actually be satisfying, when you do it with a partner and an instructor who are a lot more fun and forgiving than his wife.

   My cooking partner and I prepared the Pad Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette, which seemed to be well received.  The ginger-infused oil in the dressing, when blended with  balsamic vinegar, gave it a nice flavor boost.   This could make a very satisfying main course, if you’re looking for a light dinner.

   And the best thing about this recipe? You don’t even need an oven to prepare it.

 Pad Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette

Serves    12 to 14 as a salad

Ginger and Peanut Vinaigrette:

1/3 cup corn, peanut or canola oil

¼ cup fine julienne strips of peeled, fresh ginger

¾ cup toasted peanuts, chopped fine

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar or to taste

¼ to ½ teaspoon toasted Sichuan-peppercorn salt (2 to 1 Maldon sea salt to Sichuan pepperscorns)

For salad:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 garlic cloves, chopped fine

2 small fresh red or green Thai chiles or Serrano chiles, or to taste, seeded and minced

¼ cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ cups loosely packed fresh Thai basil leaves

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

4 ounces dried Thai rice sticks

1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, finely chopped (save ¼ cup for garnish)

1 cup bean sprouts

Lime wedges

4 sprigs cilantro

For vinaigrette: Heat oil in an 8-inch skillet over moderate heat until it shimmers and a single julienne of ginger dropped into it bubbles to the surface immediately. Stir in remaining julienned ginger. Fry just until golden, 10 to 20 seconds, then carefully pour mixture into a fine-mesh strainer set over a heatproof bowl. Spread fried ginger on paper towels to drain (for salad topping) and save and cool the ginger oil for the dressing. In a blender, combine vinegar, sugar, ¾ cup of peanuts and peppercorn salt until well blended, then pour in the cooled ginger oil while the blender is going. Adjust seasoning to taste.

For salad: Soak dried rice sticks in large bowl of warm water until just tender, about 1 hour. Drain rice sticks well. Set aside until needed.

Freeze chicken, wrapped in plastic wrap, 30 minutes to facilitate slicing. Cut chicken lengthwise (along grain) into thin slices and cut slices lengthwise into thin strips. Cut strips crosswise into 2-inch pieces.

Heat a wok or heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Add oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and stir-fry until golden. Add chicken and cook, stirring constantly to prevent sticking, until all chicken is opaque white, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add chiles, broth, fish sauce, sugar and black pepper and stir-fry until combined. Add basil and stir-fry 30 seconds or until basil is wilted but still green. Stir in lime juice. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Transfer to a sheet pan and allow the chicken to cool completely.

To assemble: Combine the vinaigrette with the softened noodles. Transfer the noodles to a large platter and top with chicken mixture. Sprinkle first with bean sprouts, then fried ginger and finish with ¼ cup of toasted, chopped peanuts and sprigs of cilantro over the top and serve with lime wedges.

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