I have a couple of go-to favorites that I rotate into my monthly menus pretty frequently because they satisfy at least one or more of the following criteria:
1. Easy to make. Who wants to spend hours cooking an elaborate meal after coming home exhausted from work and being out of the house for 12 hours?
2. Cooks in under 30 minutes. Ok, I'm not the biggest fan of Rachael Ray, but I can appreciate the whole 30 minute meal concept.
3. Tastes good! Just because it's quick and easy, does not mean that it needs to taste like cardboard.
For warm Spring or lazy summer days, my fave is a Thai Ground Pork Salad that I found in a recipe book and modified to my own taste. It's ridiculously easy to make, you will spend about 10 minutes total of actual cooking time. The rest of the time is cutting veggies/herbs and drinking wine. The one downside for this dish, is that it requires a couple of items that most people don't normally have in their pantries like fish sauce, kaffir leaves and palm sugar, but you can find fish sauce at almost any grocery store, in the Asian section and palm sugar can be swapped out for brown sugar in a pinch. Kaffir leaves are tougher to substitute, you can swap in grated lime peel, but the real thing is best. You can order a dwarf kaffir tree on the internet so you'll always be prepared for an Asian-inspired dish. I have to confess I will be ordering one soon myself!
The quickest way to get this dish done is to chop everything ahead of time so all you have to do is cook the meat and add in the aromatics. When you're done, everyone will praise you for how exotic your meal was and clamor for more. Then again, maybe all you'll get is a satisfied burp from the hubby, but that's a job well done in my book too!
Vietnamese-Style Ground Pork Noodle Salad
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 lb 2 oz ground pork
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lemon grass stem, white part only, finely chopped
2-3 shallots, thinly sliced
3 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 small red chili, finely chopped
5 kaffir lime leaves, very finely shredded
6 oz vermicelli rice noodles (you can use more, just double the dressing recipe)
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 cup scallions, just the green part, chopped
1 small handful mint leaves
1 small handful bean sprouts
1 small handful thai basil
1-2 limes, quartered, for garnish
1 1/2 tablespoons shaved palm sugar or brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons peanut oil, extra
Heat a wok until very hot, add the peanut oil and swirl to coat the wok. Add the pork and stir-fry in batches over high heat for 5 minutes, or until lightly golden. Add the garlic, lemon grass, shallot, grated ginger, chili and kaffir lime leaves, and stir-fry for a further 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Place the noodles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water for 30 seconds, or until softened. Rinse under cold water and drain well. Toss in a bowl with the cilantro, mint, basil, bean sprouts and pork mixture. To make the dressing, mix together the palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice. Add the sesame oil and extra peanut oil, and whisk. Toss through the salad, season and garnish with a little cilantro, scallions, bean sprouts, mint and basil (don't forget the Sriracha).