Peanut chili lime chicken salad

As a salad lover, this is the best time of year — the biggest challenge is figuring out what to do with the abundance of ingredients available.

I’m prone to falling into habits with food, though, making the same thing week after week, and it’s good to mix things up. That’s why the spiralizer kitchen device my boss got me for secular winter holiday is such a fun tool.

Some people knock “uni-taskers,” those kitchen gizmos that serve only a singular, specialized purpose versus utilitarian multi-tools. I contend that (subject to the limitations of your kitchen space) uni-taskers often do prove to be uniquely well-suited to their goal. Multitaskers are wonderful, but uni-taskers will save you time or do things simply not possible with other tools.

For this recipe you also could use a mandolin, a box grater or a food processer fitted with the shredding blade to achieve similar results, but I warn you that a peanut chili lime chicken salad will be laborious to prepare with only a knife in hand.

This salad originated as my go-to “Thai cold peanut noodle” recipe, modified to use spiralized vegetables as the “noodles” rather than an accompaniment to traditional grain-based pasta. This dramatically lowers carbs and calories and makes for an easy adaptation to gluten-free.

Omitting the chicken also will make this a vegan recipe, so it’s a great option for calorie counters and specialty diets. The veggie “noodles” pack in extra flavor, color and texture, so you won’t even miss rice or wheat ones.

Since the dressing is dairy-free, this also is a perfect summer recipe for picnics or cookouts, as it can sit in the sun for a few hours without going dodgy like mayonnaise-based chicken salad would. The creamy peanut sauce gives it heft and body so you still feel full and the chiles, lime and cilantro make it fresh, piquant and bright.

I hesitated to label this recipe as “Thai,” since it has no true Thai provenance. Like most of my recipes, it’s a bit of pastiche, borrowing and rearranging elements rather than employing them authentically.

There is no direct analogue of veggie “noodles” in traditional Thai cooking, though the finished dish is similar to some cold noodle preparations and similar peanut sauce may be found in Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisine.

Marinating the chicken in palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce also is vaguely reminiscent of the preparation of larb, a cold minced chicken salad popular in Laos and the Isan region of Thailand. Overall, however, I wouldn’t even call this “Thai-style,” given my adaptations, but at best “Thai-inspired.” Cultural accuracy is important.

Given maybe 30 minutes of processing time for getting all the veggies sliced and chopped to size, this recipe is otherwise mostly a matter of mixing, so it can come together quickly.

You can make it ahead and let it chill overnight for the flavors to fuse and blend, or you also can prepare the individual elements (marinated and cooked chicken, shredded vegetables, mixed dressing) and toss them together right before serving to ensure that the texture of the vegetables stays as fresh and crisp as possible.

There is no reliable substitute for Thai fish sauce, a cured extract of anchovies that boosts saltiness and umami flavor. If you can’t find fish sauce, or need to leave it out for vegan reasons, try Bragg’s Liquid Aminos sauce, a vegan “fysh” sauce, or substitute 2 parts soy sauce mixed with 1 part lime juice.

Peanut chili lime chicken salad

You can use extra-firm tofu (pressed and drained) or sliced tempeh in place of the chicken for a high-protein vegan option. Lime slices and chopped peanuts make perfect garnish. Serves 2-4.

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed

For the marinade

1 tablespoon palm sugar or dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced

1 tablespoon finely minced ginger root

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce

1 tablespoon sambal oelek or sriracha

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

For the salad

1 large English cucumber, spiraled, shredded, or cut to matchsticks

3 carrots, peeled and spiraled, shredded, or cut to matchsticks

8 or so radishes, spiraled, shredded, or cut to matchsticks

5 Thai chilis or 1 jalapeno, thinly sliced

1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced

For the dressing

3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced

1 teaspoon ginger, finely minced

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon sambal oelek or sriracha

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely minced

Preheat an oven to 375 F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Remove the chicken breasts from the refrigerator as you prepare the marinade, combining all ingredients in a small bowl.

Combine the marinade and chicken in a quart-sized resealable plastic bag or other container of your choice and marinate for about 10 minutes.

Remove the chicken, discarding excess marinade and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then flip and bake 8 minutes more. Remove from the oven and allow to cool, then chop into bite-sized cubes.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients in a small bowl.

Combine the chicken and other salad ingredients in a large bowl, then set aside.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl, then drizzle over the salad and toss to combine. Serve immediately or chill overnight.

Since meeting in 2005, Pereira and Aaron Peterson have enjoyed cooking, entertaining and sharing recipes together.

Inspired and edified by family history, cookbook collections and their travels (and the meals they’ve eaten on them), their blog, GourmetGents, launched in October 2011 as an extension of their love for all things epicurean.

They feature family recipes, unfamiliar ingredients, baking experiments, cooking tips and lots of food photography, all with the occasional snarky aside.

For more recipes, visit gourmetgents.­ blogspot.com.

GourmetGents is published on the fourth/last Sunday of the month in the Lifestyle section.

They can be reached at the Lifestyle Department email, life@sungazette.com.