Blackened Chicken Salad

Which side are you on with Cajun food?  Love it?  No, thanks it?  I enjoy it because of the explosion of flavor that it always has.  Flavor like that asks, are you living life as fiercely as you could?

Well…are you?

Print this recipe and be fierce: Blackened Chicken Salad for Two

We’ll start with the dressing.  The amounts I’m giving you here are for 2 servings.  Math is required should you be needing more than that.  I am sorry, but Wednesdays are not my math days, Thursdays are.

I put my ingredients in a bowl for production value, aka a pretty picture.  You should just plop all of them into a blender and whizz it all together.

I’m on a tofu craze, so I started with 1/3 cup of soft silken tofu.  Plus 1 tablespoon of deli style mustard (Please use one that’s Dijon style with visible mustard grains in it, not the fluorescent yellow kind).  1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.  And the twist, the zest and juice of 1 lime.  A dash of salt and black pepper is good too.

This is an intense dressing, but it has to be able to cut the spiciness of the blackened chicken.  The citrus from the lime and tang of the apple cider vinegar do just that.

Liquify all this in your blender, and let it wait while you finish everything else.

Surprisingly, blackened chicken is an easy thing to make.  You need 3 ingredients: chicken, Cajun seasoning, and oil (olive or vegetable or canola all work).  You’ll make an assembly line for your spicing process: olive oil (2-3 tablespoons), 1/4 cup of Cajun spices (this was my entire small bottle of Cajun spice!), and a saute pan warming up 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat.

Now all we have to do is add chicken. I cut 2 boneless, skinless breasts long-wise into tenders.  Again, math required for more servings.

I know, it’s intimidating to use this much spice.  Cajun food really asks you to take risks.  Honestly, this is the one and only time in my life where I’ve used an entire brand new bottle of spice in one recipe.  It seemed absurd, but oh man, once I tasted that spice delight crusted on the chicken, I forgot everything.

Grab one chicken tender.

Drop it in the oil and coat both sides lightly.  Drip off any excess oil.

Now plop the chicken tender in the Cajun seasoning.  Give it a bath basically.  Cover as much of the chicken in a coat of spices.  Really press it in, but keep in mind you have other chicken pieces, so don’t let one tender hog it all.

Then put the chicken in the heated saute pan.  Repeat with all your chicken tenders.

DON’T TOUCH THE CHICKEN for 5 minutes.  This is called blackened chicken, remember?  Not that it’s burned, it shouldn’t be, but every time you touch the chicken a little bit of the spices flake off making it less spice-blackened.  This bears repeating, the less you touch it, the better the flavor.

After 5 minutes, flip the tenders and cook the other side for 3-4 minutes.  Here’s my one and only flip.  Fabulously spice-crusted.

Remove the chicken from the heat, and let it rest on a plate while you chop up the rest of your salad ingredients.  This is where you look at what you have in your fridge and use that or whatever you like in your salads.  Don’t have romaine, use iceberg.  Prefer the spring mix; you’re genius.  Have some leftover roasted veggies from last night’s dinner?  That’s one of my favorite things to add to salads.  We all have our own routes to Blackened Chicken deliciousness.

Here’s my route for two newlyweds.  I had 6 leaves of romaine lettuce.  1/2 cup of grated carrots, about 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (always needed on salads), 1 garden-fresh tomato, and 2 green onions.  (Shameful side note- we only had baby carrots which is why I decided to grate them up before taking the shot of salad ingredients.  I don’t recommend that, unless you want your knuckles an eighth of an inch away from sharp grates.  Blood is not an ingredient of this recipe).

Prettily arrange all your salad ingredients in a bowl.  Or just throw them in.

Now add 1 peeled and diced apple.  You’ll swoon, I promise because in one bite you can have spicy Cajun chicken, sweet apple crunch, and citrus lime tang.  Apples are one of my go-to ingredients on salads, especially for a touch of sweetness.  Once you start adding them to salads, you won’t be able to stop.

Cut the chicken into chunks the size of quarters and sprinkle over the salad greens.

Drizzle half of the dressing over each salad.

Buen Provecho!

Cilantro Marinated Grilled Zucchini

Here’s another recipe for all the zucchini that stares at you on your counter-top because you cannot keep up with cooking all the harvest.

Skip the tutorial, print the recipe, and get a-cookin’: Cilantro Marinated Grilled Zucchini

I’ll be using my double burner indoor grill pan for this recipe, but it would be pretty uh-mazing if you did cook the zucchini over a BBQ.

First off, I have to make a disclaimer.  Every time I use my grill pan, my fire alarm goes off from all the smoke, so I have to take a few precautionary measures.  Does this happen to anyone else when they use an indoor grill pan?  It happened at my last apartment too, and I wonder what on earth am I doing wrong?

First, I have to open up all the windows to the kitchen and dining room.

Second, I take out our trusty Hawaiian Breeze fan that is about the size of a small watermelon, but packs a punch.  This is the best fan we own.  I’ve nicknamed it Napoleon, small but effective.

Third, I position Napoleon (the fan) towards the grill pan and the stove vent-fan.

Fourth, I get our stove’s fan going.  It’s not a true vent, just recirculates the smoky air.  I’d like to give whoever invented that a gold star (sarcasm).

Fifth, I open up the garage door.

Here’s the set-up.  Notice the strategy to use Napoleon to divert smoke away from the evil smoke detector.

I can’t believe I just showed an open doorway to our garage online.  It could be worse, I suppose.

Slice up your zucchini into either length-wise or width-wise pieces, depending on your preferences.  Normally I cut mine along the length, but I had a 10-pound zucchini that I forgot about while we went on vacation to Seattle, and I went the circle route.  Eventually it’ll all get cooked and chopped and deliciously marinated.

After all this prep, then I get a-grillin’.  Preheating the grill pan is necessary, but once it’s ready, the process moves quickly.

Make sure to put oil on the zucchini to get grill marks and make sure they don’t stick- not a pretty sight.

Make a single layer, packing the slices in like sardines.  You’ll still have to do a second batch most likely, more if you have a single burner grill pan.

We’ll cook these on the hot grill pan for about 4 minutes on each side.  DON’T TOUCH!!  We want those enticing grill lines all over the zucchini for taste as well as color-interest.

After about 4 minutes, flip to the other side and cook another 4-5 minutes until cooked through but the squash maintains a slight crunch.  Repeat grilling the rest of the zucchini.  Set the grilled zucchini aside to rest while you prepare the marinade.

You’ll need a food processor or a blender.  And these ingredients: 2 bunches of cilantro, a couple sprigs of Italian parsley, 1 lemon, and 4 cloves of garlic (come on, don’t be shy from flavor).

Remove the tips of the cilantro stems.  Not too much, the stem flavor balances the exuberance of the leaves.

Rough chop these.

Rough chop the parsley.  Add cilantro, parsley and 4 minced garlic cloves to a food processor.  Also grate in the lemon zest and squeeze the juice in.

Pulse 20 some-odd times to break up the greens.  It’ll look like this.

Now we’re going to smooth it out a little bit more.  Add 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper.  Pulse until desired consistency.

Pour the marinade into a large bowl.

Chop up your cooled grilled zucchini and drop into the marinade.

Mix well.  With hands optional.  Let marinate at least 1 hour.  This dish makes a flavorful side and a drop-everything-and swoon topping for any salad.  There’s no need for dressing as the marinade has plenty of flavor and salad green coating capacity.

Cucumber Salad with Ginger and Mint

Have you ever read a Day in the Life of a Dog and Cat?  I love it!  It makes me laugh out loud every time I read it, and as a dog owner, I can completely relate to everything being a dog’s favorite thing.

Ginger is my new favorite thing.  If I had a tail, ginger would make it wag.  I love its sweet spiciness and freshness.  Ginger has an ego; no matter how little of it you put in, it will always get noticed.

This salad is a winner for summer produce.  Cucumbers are producing like it’s the end of the world (I suppose for them it is since they are annuals), so are the peppers.  Fresh ginger  gives the soft flavors of cucumber and sweet pepper a little wake-up call.

Printable Recipe: Cucumber Salad with Ginger and Mint

Don’t close your eyes…you might miss the making of this salad; it’s that fast.

Start with olive oil and rice wine vinegar in your salad bowl.

Rice wine vinegar is ideal because it acts like a secondary character- letting the cucumbers, peppers, and ginger take center stage.  It has a tangy sweetness to it.  Other possible variations- keep it light- apple cider vinegar or white vinegar.  I think balsamic would be a little too heavy, but that’s just me.

We’re going to use a microplane to grate in a 1 inch piece of ginger.

There’s a lot of goodness that hides behind the grater.  Give it a good tap on the bowl or use your fingers to get every last fresh bite.

Don’t forget to sniff the ginger.  It smells like childhood.

Sprinkle on salt and pepper.

Add your sliced cucumbers.

And a diced up sweet pepper.  Forgot the picture because the ginger mesmerized my sense of smell and rendered me frozen for a few minutes.

Grab some fresh mint, and stack up the leaves.

Sniff it because you just can’t help yourself.  (If you have a tail, wag it because the smell of mint is happiness.)

Roll up your mint leaves-

We’re going to chiffonade these as best we can by cutting them into little ribbons.  It just looks prettier than if we rough chopped them.  Though, of course, to each his/her own.

If you have it, add in the juice of 1 lemon to help the mint and cucumber retain their gorgeous green color.  I love that green- it sings.

Mix well.  Serve at room temperature.  Taste summer.

Moroccan Lentil Salad

Lentil beans are the poor man’s feast.  We always have a bag on hand for emergencies.  Fast. Cheap.  Tasty.  Better yet, healthy and low-fat.  Also, they are filling.

Cheap+filling=delicious.

I grew up on lentil soup or some variation of bean soup.  This is a lentil salad, meaning it is not liquidy and can be a chameleon like hummus.

If you need healthy brown bag lunches and are tired of PB ‘n J, try this Moroccan Lentil Salad.  Sounds like a commercial, but I’m serious.  Cook it on Monday and it’ll give you between 3 and 4 different lunches, depending on how much you want to eat.  Put it on top of salad, fantastic.  Inside a wrap-mmm good.  As a side dish next to fish- you’ve got your protein for a year.  You get the idea.

Printable Recipe:Moroccan Lentil Salad

We’ll start with green lentils, though in reality they look brown.  Food has a lot of misnomers.  Ever heard of red cabbage?  It’s really purple.  Red onions too, really purple and white.  Maybe the powerful person who called green lentils green thought green was a better color than brown.  Who knows, but we must oblige.

We’re going to cook a cup of lentils, really a fistful, with 3 cups of water.Don’t forget to cover it!!  Trap in the steam.  Trap in the heat.

Salt?  NO!

Bay Leaf? NO!

But lentils are soooo plain, what about some other flavor?

Just you wait…

Bring it up to a boil and then lower it to simmer.  This will cook for about 30 minutes.

Now we’re going to make the secret: Morrocan dressing.  It’s got a hint of cumin, a little pirouette from lime juice, color from turmeric, and ginger and garlic pizzazz.  Pizzazz I tell you.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Whisk it all together in a small prep bowl. Enter the greens from stage left.  We have cilantro, mint, and zucchini.  Notice the green theme?  Another reason these lentils should be green lentils. That there is my second zucchini from the garden and I have a gazillion more about to avalanche into the house in the next 2-3 weeks, so I got to stay on top of it and try to add them EVERYWHERE.  Well, except my morning coffee.  Don’t want to taint that moment of bliss.

The last 7-10 minutes of cooking the lentils, I slide in the chopped zucchini for good measure. The lentils should be done in 30 minutes or so.  You want them to keep their shape, but you also want them well…cooked.  Over 30 minutes is fine, under no way.  I’d say 40-45 minutes max, just in case you forget about it.  And no, that doesn’t mean I forgot about the lentils either, but thanks for thinking of it.

Put lentils and cooked zucchini into a medium sized bowl.  There shouldn’t be any liquid.  If there is, you may need to drain them first.  Pour over the fragrant dressing, take a whiff, and mix. Also add some fresh chopped mint.  Oh goodness, that smells so good.  Sometimes I wish you could just scratch and sniff the computer screen.I was going all healthy so I put a heaping 1/2 cup of the lentils on top of mixed salad greens, then sprinkled on fresh chopped cilantro and shredded carrot.Buen Provecho!

How to Make a Basic Vinaigrette

With my naked, homegrown salad, I wanted a basic balsamic vinaigrette.  Once you start making your own vinaigrettes and realize how easy they are, there’s no limit to your imagination.

At its essence, a basic vinaigrette is 4 ingredients, plus salt and pepper, alright, 6 ingredients.  Plus 3 tools: a small whisk (or fork), a prep bowl, and garlic press.I minced 1 clove of garlic in a small prep bowl.Then I combined 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon spicy deli-style mustard.  Please don’t use basic yellow mustard; it really doesn’t have the same flavor as deli mustard.  I stirred to combine.While whisking, I drizzled in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil.  It wasn’t possible for me to get a picture while one hand whisked and the other drizzled, sorry.  Then I poured the vinaigrette over my salad and mixed with my hands.

Once you get comfortable with the basic canvas, play around with other ingredients you may enjoy: lemon juice/zest, spices, different vinegars, different oils, orange juice, etc.  Always taste the dressing before pouring it on the salad.

Celebrate Spring Salad with Shaved asparagus

Inspired by a night out at the restaurant Corso in Berkeley, we replicated their quintessential spring salad of shaved asparagus, fresh arugula, pickled red onions, toasted almonds, and Parmesan shavings.

Start with arugula. So fresh from the farmer’s market in Berkeley.  So raw, I even had to trim it off of its stems and remove the flowers.Arugula is a firecracker on your tongue: spicy and unashamed.

Next, shave raw asparagus using a potato peeler.Because the pieces are so thin, the tender asparagus balances the spicy arugula.

Next, add some pickled red onions.  They take 10 minutes.  We made them the night before the dinner so the flavors would melt.  Recipe comes courtesy of David Lebovitz.

In a small saucepan, combine 3/4 cup white vinegar, 3 Tablespoons sugar, 1 bay leaf, 5 all spice berries, 5 whole cloves, crushed red pepper.  Bring to a boil. Add slices of red onion and simmer for a few minutes.  Voila, you’re done.Toast some slivered almonds in a pan until they turn a beautiful tan shade and give off a wholesome nutty smell.  Shave some fresh Parmesan cheese on top.  Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar; sprinkle salt and pepper.  You’re done.
So easy.  So good.  So fresh.  My favorite salad to celebrate spring.