Friday, October 16, 2009

Southwestern Chicken Salad in a pinch

By Helen Klein

If you’re like me, your family frequently complains that there’s nothing in the fridge.

It really doesn’t matter that every shelf is overflowing with foodstuffs; they want something ready to eat, and it’s not apparent.

To counter that complaint, I often root through the refrigerator, looking for bits and pieces of cooked food that has lain fallow for a day or two, but is still good, with an eye to concocting something tasty, wholesome and appealing when the rummaging inevitably starts.

Today, I began with a single grilled chicken breast, half a grilled corn, half a lemon and half a yellow pepper garnered from my refrigerator shelves. I then communed with my vegetable drawer and my shelf of staples, chopped and diced for a few minutes, and ended up with a lunchtime salad that, in my perennially hungry household, is definitely a keeper. And, it took no more than 20 minutes to put together!

Because I had the grilled chicken, the sweet pepper and the corn, I decided to think southwestern style whose bold colors and assertive flavors always appeal to my brood.

To balance the colors and the flavors, I added half a red pepper, a small cucumber, about a quarter of a Vidalia onion, about seven or eight black olives (the end of a jar), a generous scoop of capers, and half an avocado, then tossed it all with a quick dressing of extra virgin olive oil and citrus juice (a mix of lemon and lime), spiked with salt, freshly ground pepper and some cumin, topping the mixture with some chopped fresh parsley as a garnish.

This was by no means the only way I could have taken my stash of leftovers. I considered adding either black beans or chickpeas; both would have added substance, a textural counterpoint and a nutty flavor to the mix. Instead of the fresh peppers, I could have pulled out a jar of roasted peppers and added a bit more smoky flavor to the dish. I also could have chopped up a clove or two of garlic and added that to the dressing.

Or, if I wanted something with more of a Mediterranean flavor, I could have shelved the corn for another day, and made a similar salad, leaving out the avocado, but adding chunks of feta cheese and tomato.

Similarly, had I had a piece of tuna steak left over from grilling the day before, that could have formed the basis for an ad hoc Salade Niçoise. Just chunk it up, add tomatoes, onions, olives and blanched green beans, and voila!

There really is no end to the possibilities, once you begin looking at your leftovers with an inventive eye.

Southwestern Chicken Salad


1 large grilled chicken breast
½ ear grilled corn
½ yellow pepper, seeded and cored
½ red pepper, seeded and cored
1 small cucumber, peeled
½ ripe avocado
¼ cup pitted black olives
1 heaping tablespoon capers, rinsed
Juice of ½ lemon
Juice of ½ lime
Extra virgin olive oil to equal amount of combined citrus juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 Tbl. chopped Italian parsley, for garnish


Cut chicken into ½-inch cubes. Set aside.

Remove corn kernels from cob; add to chicken.

Dice peppers and cucumber into ½-inch cubes. Add to chicken and corn.

Remove avocado meat from shell; cut into ½-inch cubes. Add to chicken and vegetables.

Cut olives into quarters; add to chicken mixture with capers.

In a separate small bowl or measuring cup, combine lemon juice, lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin.

Pour over salad, and mix well to combine.

Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.Serves two as lunch main dish. Recipe can easily be doubled.


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