The Revealing, Secret Diaries of a Not-So-Secret Foodie


In Essay, Faith, Food, Gab, Photos, Recipe on June 18, 2011 at 8:54 am
Merle's Chinese Chicken Salad Garden Party

Merle’s Chinese Chicken Salad in Red Cabbage Leaf Bowl served Garden Party Style.

Ramen Noodles:  those super long noodles I first discovered in college.  The affordable, yet tasty meal in a colorful package.  My go-to dinner in a hot pot when the spending money that needed to last all month had dwindled far too low.  Some might consider them a salty lesson in budgeting, but for the foodie they were an inspiration.  This 10-cent find, with a little imagination, was transformed into a secret ingredient hidden in the next Chopped champion’s wicker basket.  Quietly awaiting successful incorporation into a winning appetizer, entrée or dessert.

When deciding which recipe to post next, it occurred to me those very same noodles had a front row seat at some very joyful events in my life.  That’s because they can be found broken in a salad that has become a family food tradition when women in my family shower a Bride-to-Be or a new Mom-in-Waiting with joyful, new beginning wishes.  For me, this blog is in part about sharing JOY.  So posting this recipe is a joyful must.  Plus it is a recipe that my sister, on more than one occasion, specifically requested for her “keeper box”.  So in here, it will be. Ever since my Aunt Jo got the recipe from her friend, Merle, Chinese Chicken Salad always seems to appear on the menu when it’s time for our family to host a formal luncheon for a group of ladies.  In fact, it was the starring dish at my own Bridal Shower. What a memorable day it was for me.  What a joy to be surrounded by many women who meant so much to me.   And that lunch–remember it to this day.

Waiting for more of our guests to arrive, I peeked into my parents’ dining room. Grandmother’s antique fruitwood table had been polished to a gleam and covered with a lace table-cloth crocheted by Aunt Dorothy’s hands.  Beautifully, that salad sat in a cut-glass bowl with silver tongs perched atop the mound of Merle’s crunchy goodness.  Nearby was a large basket of neatly arranged butter croissants positioned right across the way from the bright Lemon Chiffon Jell-O.  Skillfully molded into the traditional fluted ring using Aunt Jo’s Tupperware.   My mom’s almost famous strawberry ice-cream punch fizzed in that oh-so-fancy punch bowl with cups hanging around it’s rim. Empty, just waiting to be filled.

How could it be anything, but wonderful?  After all, the women who lovingly prepared my bridal luncheon together have accrued over 105 years of marriage between them.   These ladies work so well together.  Especially when it’s time to plan a party or host a holiday.  So, I guess it is no surprise they make the “art of marriage” look as easy as pie.  Happily, it was the very same salad they chose to serve almost two years later at our baby shower.  If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?

What a joyful celebration that baby shower was for me.  Finally I was able to go out, be on my feet, and even walk around.  It was safe now.  With trepidation, I had marked off each passing week on the calendar.   Each week that passed, the baby would be bigger.  Each week that passed, a little more relief.  At last we had come far enough.  What a welcome change of pace that baby shower was for me.   I cried when I walked into that cleverly decorated Great Room.  Tiny baby clothes everywhere.  Each outfit carefully hung by wooden clothespins on laundry lines that surrounded the perimeter of the large room filled with people who I loved.  How welcomed it was to share Merle’s Chinese Chicken Salad once again, this time on Lynne’s table.  Able to celebrate a new arrival now that the worry of early labor was lifted. It was fear, not procrastination that had left our nursery unfinished when unexpectedly all of my usual activities were grounded to a halt.

For months, I saw the seasons change out the window of our little blue house.  At a snail’s pace I watched late summer, creep into autumn and then slowly turn into the chilly beginnings of winter.  Amazingly in just one early winter’s afternoon, our nursery was completely outfitted by our family and friends.  Who could have predicted we’d receive 8 plus pounds of boy at full-term and then some.  He was late and arrived exactly one day after his predicted due date.  We named him after the Patron Saint of Children because something heavenly brought him to us.  Then my husband and I drove him home amongst the twinkling of tiny new snowflakes while listening to Christmas carols on the radio.  Children are such Miracles; each and every one of them.  Of this, I am sure.

Flash Forward.  Interesting how quickly eight years can pass when you’re not tracking them but rather, enjoying them as they unfold.  Made me smile when at his opening swim meet last Saturday, a very chilly one at that, I noticed a group of shivering swimmers slurping down those very same noodles from steaming hot Styrofoam cups quickly before their next event.  Happily, that day I watched our oldest son swim a qualifying butterfly stroke for the first time. I quietly thought to myself, good fortune.

So, go ahead. Give Merle’s Chinese Chicken Salad a try.  You just might find yourself recalling all the “Good Fortune” you’ve received.  Besides, it’s a light and easy fare that is sure to be a crowd pleaser.  Pan-sear the chicken, as it gives the best flavor and texture. Take the time to dry roast those sesame seeds and almonds; the extra nuttiness it imparts is well worth the effort.  Be sure to add the dressing right before serving, to keep those noodles at their crunchy best. I hope you like it as much as we do!  I bet you find yourself doubling the recipe, because it really is that good.  On a recent rainy afternoon at the Lakehouse, a double-batch of this salad was gone in a blink.    It wasn’t served on fine china and tasted just as good when eaten off a paper plate.  And, it wasn’t only the ladies who raved about it this time.  You see, it doesn’t require a fancy setting to be enjoyed– just good company.

Merle’s Chinese Chicken Salad



2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pan-seared and cubed

½ head of green cabbage, shredded

4 green onions, chopped

1 package Top Ramen Chicken-flavored Noodles

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

½ cup slivered almonds


3 Tablespoons vinegar (I like Seasoned Rice Wine Vinegar)

2 Tablespoons white sugar

½ cup oil

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ pack of the chicken-flavored seasoning foil pack Top Ramen Noodles

Toast sesame seed and almonds on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes at 350 degrees.  Watch closely as these will burn easily.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Combine these with broken-up Ramen Noodles. Set Aside.  Reserve the foil chicken seasoning pack. In separate bowl combine, chicken, onions and cabbage.  Toss to combine well.  Set aside until ready to serve. Make dressing by combining sugar, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and ½ of the chicken seasoning pack from the noodles.  Mix well.

15 minutes before serving combine all ingredients. Toss well to coat evenly with dressing. Season with more black pepper, if desired. 

Note:  Too lighten it up, I often double the salad portion but do NOT double the dressing. For variety, I often add 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil to the dressing.

New Mr. & Mrs.  Greenville, PA.  August 16, 1938.

A New Mr. & Mrs. Greenville, PA. August 16, 1938.

Optimism.  The Cool Pool.  June of 2010.

Optimism. The Cool Pool. June of 2010.

©, 2011.

  1. Love how you weave our life’s memories into all the food we love. Love the picture of your grandparents. They would be married 73 years this summer. Hard to believe they didn’t make it to the 34th. Happy Fathers Day Daddy.

    You’re dad just asked me to make this salad today, Sue. Love mom.

  2. Sue I love this. I wrote another comment on your mom’s page.

  3. Love your stories Sue! And this sounds delish….one I will try for sure!

  4. Sue…getting one of your posts always makes my day and always makes me hungry! xo

  5. Memories…they are the best! All of your postings bring back the best memories and make me smile!!! Love that salad. Love Aunt Jo ;)))))

    • You always make me smile and dang do I like your salad. Add rice wine vinegar to yours next time. I know you will dig it. Love you bunches Aunt Jo. –suebthefoodie

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