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News / Life / Food

3 options to kick off salad season: Hearty salads filling without being heavy

By Nicole Hvidsten, Star Tribune
Published: May 15, 2024, 6:04am

As springtime temperatures fluctuate, so do our moods and patience with trying to plan meals.

One day we’re throwing open the windows, firing up the grill and declaring it “almost summer,” only to be humbled by near-freezing temperatures and thoughts of chili and slow cookers the next. Consider these salads your middle ground.

Too early and chilly for meals of delicate greens, but past the point of craving the warmth of pot roast and potatoes, hearty salads are the answer when you’re looking for meals that are filling without being heavy. These recipes, from a crop of new cookbooks, borrow from global flavors — Asian, Greek and Middle Eastern — to provide a solid start to salad season.

Spicy, peanutty chicken brings heat and simplicity to an herb- and vegetable-filled dish, with sweet mango and crunchy peanuts thrown in for sweetness and texture. Quinoa is dressed with all the familiar, vibrant Greek flavors and toppings for a satisfying meatless meal. And get all the warming flavors of chicken shawarma but in salad form, no flatbread required (although we wouldn’t be opposed to having it alongside).

Before long, shoulder season will give way to summer, and we’ll be ready for even lighter fare, like tossed salads and pasta salads. Until then, fill up with these three simple salads and savor the season — and whatever curveballs it throws our way.

Hearty Green Salad With Spicy Peanut Chicken

Serves 4.

This peanutty, vegetable-packed spicy chicken salad is an easy meal to toss together. Start by quick-pickling shallots and serrano chiles. Some of the brine goes into a vinaigrette to dress the greens, the rest goes into a thick, creamy spicy peanut dressing to coat the other components. The chicken adds heft while peanuts give crunch, and a garnish of Thai basil and mint gives herby freshness. We like to use poached chicken, but store-bought rotisserie chicken works, too. The shallot and serrano can be refrigerated in the pickling ­liquid for up to a week. From “The Complete Beans & Grains Cookbook,” by America’s Test Kitchen (2024).

1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon table salt

2 shallots, sliced thin and separated into rings

2 serrano chiles, stemmed, halved, seeded, and sliced thin crosswise

12 oz. Broccolini, trimmed and cut into 1‑in. lengths

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

2 to 3 tablespoon Asian chili-garlic sauce

4 teaspoon fish sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small head napa cabbage, halved, cored, and sliced thin (9 cups)

2 cups watercress, torn into bite-size pieces

1/2 cup fresh Thai basil leaves

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

2 mangos, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2‑in. pieces

2 carrots, peeled and shredded

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded into bite-size pieces

1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped

Microwave vinegar, sugar, and salt in small bowl until simmering, about 1 minute. Stir in shallots and serranos and let sit, stirring occasionally, until shallots are pink and slightly softened, about 20 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer ­shallots and serranos to large plate, leaving liquid in bowl.

Combine Broccolini and 1/4 cup water in medium bowl. Cover and microwave until crisp-tender, 11/2 to 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer broccolini to plate with shallot and serrano. Discard water. In now-empty bowl, whisk 1/4 cup pickling liquid, peanut butter, chili-garlic sauce and 1/2 cup water until smooth. Set aside.

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In a large bowl, whisk together fish sauce, garlic and remaining pickling liquid. Add cabbage, watercress, Thai basil and mint and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then distribute evenly among 4 shallow serving bowls. Sprinkle each salad with pickled shallot and serrano. Arrange broccolini, mango and carrot in piles over top of greens. Drizzle 1/4 cup reserved peanut dressing over vegetables and mango in each bowl. Add chicken to remaining reserved peanut dressing and stir to coat evenly. Divide chicken among salads, then sprinkle with peanuts. Serve.

Greek Quinoa Salad

Serves 6.

Greek salad is always an easy sell. It’s got that wonderful, refreshing briny flavor profile that keeps you coming back for more. When I’m at a diner with my kids (the height of fine dining with a four-year-old and a six-year-old) and don’t know what I want to eat, a Greek salad is my go-to. One thing it always promises is bright, puckery flavor. Here we are adding quinoa and a traditional Greek dressing to make it a full meal in a bowl. Just the way we like it. From “Big Bites,” by Kat Ashmore. (Rodale, 2024).

For the quinoa:

Kosher salt

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed

For the dressing:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano

3 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1 English cucumber, chopped

1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved

1/3 cup minced red onion

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Freshly cracked black pepper

One (6-oz.) bag mixed spring salad greens (baby spinach, arugula, or a combination)

To make the quinoa: Bring a medium saucepan of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook the quinoa for 10 to 13 minutes until the quinoa is just tender. We are cooking this like pasta, so don’t worry about the water-to-quinoa ratio.

To make the dressing: While the quinoa is cooking, in a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, and oregano. Set aside.

Drain the quinoa and put it back in the pot. Cover the top of the pot with a paper towel and put the lid back on. Allow the quinoa to sit for 5 to 7 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Dump the quinoa into the bowl with the dressing along with the tomatoes, cucumber, olives, red onion, feta and parsley. Toss well to combine. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.

Right before serving, add the salad greens to a large serving bowl. Add the quinoa mixture, toss and serve. This salad will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Chicken Shawarma Salad

Serves 4.

We go through a lot of shawarma in my house, mainly because everyone loves kebabs. But when I’m feeling like I need a lighter meal, I make my chicken shawarma salad. It has all the components of a classic shawarma but with lettuce instead of flatbread and, truth be told, I love it. It is a wonderfully fresh, crunchy and satisfying salad. For bigger appetites, serve it with wraps or flatbread on the side. From “Flavor,” by Sabrina Ghayour (Aster, 2024).

For the chicken:

1 1/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/4 cup Greek yogurt, plus extra to serve

2 teaspoons garlic granules

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons paprika

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:

1 head lettuce, sliced

4 large tomatoes, halved and sliced

1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced

4 to 6 large pickled cucumbers, sliced diagonally

2 to 4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped, plus extra for optional garnish

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Olive oil

Chili sauce, such as Sriracha, for serving

Preheat oven to 415 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

For the chicken: Put the chicken, yogurt, garlic granules, cumin, coriander, paprika, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil into a mixing bowl and season generously with salt and pepper, then use your hands to mix well and ensure the marinade coats the top and underside of each thigh.

Transfer the chicken thighs to the prepared pan and roast for 40 to 45 minutes, until charred and cooked through. Remove chicken from the oven, slice thinly, and set aside.

For the salad: Place sliced lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumber and cilantro on a large platter. Squeeze over the lemon juice, drizzle with a little olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Gently toss together, add the chicken slices, and toss again. Drizzle with yogurt and some chili sauce, and scatter with a little extra cilantro, if desired.

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