After the red velvet cake post last week I thought I should attempt to share something healthy-ish. You know, something that doesn’t call for 2 cups of oil and multiple sticks of butter. If you based any ideas of what my diet might look like on my blog posts, you’d probably think 75% of what I ate was cake. Well. I really like cake. What can I say? No, really though, I promise I eat real food sometimes too.
If I’ve had a busy day at work, or have very little time to get dinner together, I think a nice big salad with a bunch of stuff it is a really good way to go. You can buy pre-washed greens, and even bottled dressing if you like. Then just cook off some protein, usually steak or chicken in my house, while you prepare all your veggies. Now, I’m really not into the idea of eating a salad, or any meal for that matter, just because it’s healthy. I could definitely stand to lose a few pounds, but I think as long as I eat fresh homemade food, and balance the sweets with plenty of vegetables, I’ll be just fine. I don’t want to go to all the trouble of making a something if it doesn’t taste like anything. I like my food to be full flavor, so when it comes to salads I tend to go all out and load them up with all kinds of good things.
A hearty filling salad can be really easy to make with a wide variety of vegetables, and I usually like to throw in some fruit for sweetness. I generally like to do a few laps through the produce department and see if anything calls out to me. For this salad, I really had no preconceived ideas of what I wanted when I walked into the grocery store, but before I knew it I had something taking shape. I grabbed some chicken breast, a beautiful red bell pepper, a half pound of sugar snap peas, and some nice ripe bosc pears and I was almost finished. I thought a light citrusy dressing would tie everything together so I picked up a big naval orange, and I figured the salad could use something rich with a little crunch so I grabbed a shallot to fry up. All that was left was some organic spring mix and I was good to go.
If I’m eating a salad as my dinner I like it to have a lot going on to make it feel like a substantial meal. I try to follow a very loose formula of a few different veggies or fruit mixed into some greens with a protein. I usually like to add some richness to my salads with something just a bit fatty and salty. This can be some crispy bacon bits or chewy lardons, a bit of crumbled or shredded cheese, a handful of toasted nuts or seeds, or even just a creamy dressing. A little bit of fat goes a long way to make a salad feel more filling and complete. For this salad I decided some fried shallots would serve my needs just fine.
When I got home I washed all my produce and set to work. I made up a sweet & slightly spicy vinaigrette with the zest and juice from my orange and a tiny bit of cayenne pepper. Then I sliced my pepper and pear into thin strips and cut the stem ends off of my snap peas. I thought a carrot would be a welcome addition and I had plenty at home so I decided to go for it. Grated carrots are great in salads, but I love to have super long, super thin strips of carrots. A few months ago I picked up a julienne peeler and now it’s seriously my new favorite kitchen tool. The one I use is made by Kuhn Rikon and is available here. It makes light easy work of cutting carrots into long, thin, even strips. This can be done on a mandolin cutter, but sometimes carrots and other harder vegetables can be tough to get through the teeth and blade on a mandolin with your fingers in tact. If you have the skills to pay the bills, you can also do this with a knife, but I think it’s much faster and easier with the julienne peeler.
After I had my veggies ready to go I set to work pan frying my shallot. I sliced it into very thin discs, separated those with my fingers and dredged them in generously seasoned flour. Then, in a cast iron skillet, I fried them in a few tablespoons of olive oil until they were nice and brown and crunchy. I’m sure that thinly sliced shallots would be great in the salad raw, or you could skip them all together, but fried they add just a touch of saltiness and caramelized crunchiness to an otherwise super light meal. When they were done I transferred them to a paper towel lined plate, and in the same skillet I seared my chicken breasts until well browned and cooked through.
When searing your chicken, or searing anything for that matter, it’s best not to use a non-stick pan. Non-stick pans are not designed to withstand long periods of high heat, no matter what material they’re made of. Teflon, nano-ceramic, it don’t matter. If you want a good pan you can sear in I’d recommend a cast iron skillet or a stainless steel saute pan. Of course, you’ll need to use a bit more butter or oil to cook in these pans, but you can get them screaming hot and not worry about negatively affecting the utility.
Many people tell me they’re intimidated by having to care for and maintain a cast iron skillet, but I promise you it’s not difficult. Most cast iron skillets sold today come pre-seasoned and ready to use, and maintaining the seasoning is pretty simple. There is tons of information on the internet about cast iron care, and it becomes second nature once you get the hang of it.
It would be really easy to change this salad to fit your taste by swapping some ingredients out for others. I think it was pretty damned tasty as is though. While fresh, light and healthy, this salad was totally satisfying. Along with the bitterness of the mixed greens, you have a few layers of flavor all tossed together and complimenting each other. There’s sweetness from pepper, peas, carrots & pears. Then there’s the sweet and tangy spice of the vinaigrette, the rich salty crunch of the shallots, and the hearty meatiness of the sliced chicken breast. While this salad might not be something you can throw together in 5 minutes- it is something that can easily be assembled and ready to eat in well under an hour, and I think it makes a great weeknight supper.
Mixed Green Salad with Pears, Snap Peas, Seared Chicken & Orange Vinaigrette
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons divided
2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic
1 large orange
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of flour
4 small skinless boneless chicken breasts
1/2 lb sugar snap peas
1 red bell pepper
1 ripe bosc pear
1 large carrot
5 oz package spring mix
To make the vinaigrette measure out 1/4 cup olive oil, vinegar & honey into a small bowl. Finely zest orange and grate garlic (you can use your zester) and add to bowl. Juice the orange into the bowl, add cayenne pepper and whisk together. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Taste again.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy cast iron or stainless steel pan over medium high heat. Slice shallot into thin disks and separate rings with your fingers. In a small tupperware with a lid (or ziploc bag) season flour with salt and pepper. Add shallots and shake until well coated. Distribute shallots over pan evenly and, stirring every so often, fry them until they’re brown and crunchy but not burnt. Remove with a spoon and drain on a paper towel lined plate.
Turn the pan up to high and get it super hot. The remaining oil will smoke a bit. Season both sides of chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and add to pan. Cook on high for 5-7 minutes per side, or until fully cooked and nicely browned. Remove from pan and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing into thin strips.
While chicken is cooking, remove stem ends from snap peas, and slice bell pepper into thin strips. Cut the ends off your pear, slice in half, and scoop out center and seeds with a spoon. Slice into thin strips. Using a julienne peeler, mandolin, knife or grater, cut carrot into very thin long strips. In a large bowl add spring mix, peas, pepper, pear & carrots, and toss well with vinaigrette. Divide between plates and top with fried shallots and sliced chicken breast.