I have a very vivid memory of being about seven years old and playing outside at my grandfather’s home in Connecticut when he and my father came outside with three buckets and, after handing me one, proceeded to lead me deeper and deeper into my grandfather’s property, to a spot seemingly deep in the woods (it’s a vivid memory that is most likely altered by the effects of time to be more fantastical than it really was), a spot I didn’t even know belonged to my grandfather, where he had a rather extensive garden. I had never been to this spot before; as I said, I didn’t even know my grandfather had that much property.
My grandfather moved us from patch to patch, collecting vegetables and fruits and loading them into the buckets and then we carried them back up to the house and he proceeded to cook us dinner.
My grandfather hasn’t changed much. He’s changed locations (he currently lives in Florida, not too many miles from me to be exact) and his garden isn’t as large, but his hands still carry the stain of dirt in the creases and every time I visit I’m handed something plastic filled with something he plucked from the earth.
I’ve always wanted to be like that. The idea of having a garden with fresh fruits and vegetables at my disposal is highly appealing, but I lack a green-thumb and so a garden has remained an idea, not an actuality. Recently, though, my wife has decided that we need to try harder to be outdoors-type people. I like the outdoors; don’t get me wrong. I love the beach. I even like to hike. But, standing in the hot sun digging in the dirt and fighting hordes of bugs…yeah, not so much. Still, what the wife says goes and so we wound up buying some basil plants and filling a pot in our front yard and, remarkably, it is still alive and is flourishing. This gave us a little faith in our abilities to cultivate something and so when my grandfather dug up a tomato plant and put it in a plastic tub for us and said, “You don’t even have to plant it; just leave it in the tub and water it occasionally,” we snatched it up and put it in the backyard.
Well, it’s still alive too, and it’s starting to produce tomatoes and so the other night I decided it was time to throw the kids outside, have them pick us some vegetables and help me make dinner.
It’s summer and the heat from the sun always makes me want something fresh, cool and light. Summer also makes me think about picnics and the perfect picnic food is some sort of salad, whether it be pasta, potato or chicken. I love chicken salad, but I wanted to make something a touch lighter than the usual fare, bogged down with heavy mayonnaise. So, the kids and I put together a chicken salad that is full of vibrant fruits and vegetables and accented with herbs and a creamy cheese.
Oh, and it’s super easy to make!
Here’s what you’ll need
3 lbs. Chicken Breasts
¼ Red onion
5 Roma Tomatoes
¼ Radicchio Head
1 Red Bell Pepper
¼ Cup Olive Oil
3 tbs. Rice Wine Vinegar
1 tsp. Chili Paste
1 tbs. Garlic Paste
1 tsp. Lemon Grass
½ tsp. Ginger Paste
1 Lemon (zested and juiced)
Salt + Pepper (to taste)
1 Dragon fruit
1 Red Pear
You’ll start by cooking your chicken. You can do this in the oven at 350 for about 45 minutes, or you can do like I did and cook it in a skillet, which takes about 1/3 of the time. If you choose to cook it in the skillet, you’ll need a bit of olive oil or you could use butter, which is what I used because…why not! I hate giving times on things like this because this all depends on the size of your breasts, but I cooked mine at medium heat for about 5 minutes per side, and I did add a little beer (since I was drinking one) to cook it down in. Once your chicken is cooked through, cube it right there in the skillet and leave it off the burner to cool.
Then you’ll move onto the rest of your salad.
The nice thing about this dish is that there isn’t a lot to it outside of chopping and mixing. To get the base of the salad done, chop up your red onion, red bell pepper, tomatoes, strawberries, radicchio, basil, mint and dill and toss together in a mixing bowl. You’ll notice that I didn’t give measurements for the herbs, and this is because I like to leave this up to discernment. I use about a handful of each, but this all depends on your family and your particular flavor tolerance.
Next you’ll make your vinaigrette. Whisk together your oil, vinegar, lemon zest and juice and pastes (chili, ginger, garlic and lemongrass) and salt and pepper to taste. I use the pastes here because they mix really well to make a smooth dressing without any chunks.
Add your cooled chicken and dressing to the mixing bowl with your fruits and vegetables and toss well until everything is coated.
Simple as that. Now you can compile your sandwiches. I sliced cucumber, red pear and dragon fruit and used marscapone cheese as a nice spread for the sandwiches. My kids are currently in love with pumpernickel bread, so that is what we used. The bright freshness of the salad mixes really well with the sweet creaminess of the cheese and the crispness of the cool fruit. It’s a robust, bold sandwich that is filling without being heavy. It’s the perfect summer sandwich!
I hope you enjoy it and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the dish if you do!