My friend, John, always joins me for the Celebration of Light festival in Vancouver. The festival is a fireworks exhibition where countries compete for the best pyrotechnic display. This year, the competing countries were: The United States, France and Japan. Japan was favoured to win, and they did. Personally, I thought Japan’s display had several technical flaws, although timed beautifully with the music. I still thought France was the clear winner. Clearly the judges didn’t solicit my opinion. Whilst in town, I took John to one of my favorite nearby “quick serve” restaurants, The Noodle Box. John had a fried rice dish that was so spicy that he had to send it back and have it remade with considerably fewer red chilies. I had a Thai Basil Cilantro Pesto Chicken Noodle dish that was, simply put, amazing. Now, I am not opposed to going out to eat on any given occasion just so I can try something new and let someone else do the dishes, but I do like to cook great food at home. The next day, John’s mouth was still burning from his atomic fried rice from the day before but I wanted the noodles again so I tried making the dish at home. Whilst it’s not exactly the same as The Noodle Box serves, it is still pretty dang tasty. I forgot to buy shallots so the picture is sans fried shallots. Try it! You’ll like it!
Thai Basil and Cilantro Pesto Chicken Noodles
Recipe courtesy Mitch Bolen
Yield: serves 6
1 cup Thai basil leaves, lightly packed
1 cup cilantro leaves, lightly packed
5 cloves garlic, 4 whole and 1 thinly sliced
3 Thai chilies (Bird’s Eye chilies)
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 limes, 1 juiced and one cut into 6 wedges
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sesame oil
3/4 cup peanut oil, divided
1 package Thai rice noodles
1/2 pound (raw) chicken breast, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced
1 15 oz can coconut milk, shaken
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1-cup pea sprouts
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fried shallots
1/2 cup roasted salted cashews, chopped
Sliced Thai Red Chilies, to taste
Combine the basil, cilantro, whole garlic cloves, Thai chilies, tamarind paste, soy sauce, lime juice and the sesame seeds in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/4 cup of the sesame oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Slowly add 1/2 cup of the peanut oil and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Place the rice noodles in a large bowl and cover with lukewarm water. Set aside to soak. Noodles should be somewhat flexible and solid, not completely expanded and soft. When in doubt, under soak the noodles.
Combine the chicken, remaining 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining peanut oil in a sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the onion and yellow pepper and sauté until soft and just beginning to brown. Remove from pan and set aside. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of peanut oil to the pan and let heat. Add the chicken and sauté until opaque. Add back the sautéed onions and peppers, 1 cup of the pesto (reserve any remaining pesto for another use) and the coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, cover and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the rice noodles and add to the chicken/vegetable mixture and toss to combine. Remove to a serving platter and top with the tomatoes, pea sprouts, green onions, shallots, chopped cashews, cilantro and red chilies to taste. Serve with lime wedges.