Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pistachio-Crusted Chicken and Warm Spinach Orzo Salad

I was standing in line at Whole Foods when I realized I'd forgotten the chicken.

"Oh my gosh!" I exclaimed, anxiously eyeing the mass of groceries I'd already unloaded onto the conveyor belt. "I forgot something." I told the cashier sheepishly.

She smiled in understanding and insisted I run back to get it, and I sprinted over to the poultry counter so the butcher could hack me off a 5-ounce breast for my dinner that night. By the time I made it back to the register, there was a sizable line of angry customers who were none-too-pleased to be held up by my mad dash for chicken. Fortunately, the cashier didn't seem particularly bothered by their irritation at both me and her, and I was in and out and on my way with all the fixings for my Saturday night supper.

I'd been wanting to try the recipe for the warm spinach, orzo and pistachio salad ever since Esi from Dishing Up Delights brought it to my attention after I posted about my big fat sort of (but not really) Greek orzo pasta dish. I loved that the recipe called for balsamic vinegar and shallots (two of my favorite ingredients to cook with), but I didn't love that it doesn't call for any animal flesh. While I do enjoy getting my protein fix from tofu, tempeh and lots and lots of cheese, the salad seemed to cry out for something meaty to go with it. Because it contains pistachios, it seemed destined to be served with a pistachio-crusted chicken breast.

I'd never actually made a pistachio-crusted breast of chicken, so did a little Googling to see which method would prove most fruitful for my purposes. I didn't want a recipe that had too much going on since it was meant to be an accompaniment rather than a competitor to the orzo salad, but I could have been a little more risque in my seasoning. Though the chicken was moist and tender, it was a bit bland and would have benefited from a more liberal dose of Dijon mustard, and perhaps a squirt of honey as well. I did think that it went well with the salad, and enjoyed the meal as a whole (mostly because it looked so darn purdy on my new fancy Crate and Barrell plate!), but wished I'd thought to squeeze a little lemon over the orzo to balance out the balsamic vinegar.

Ultimately, the combination of starch, greens and protein made for a very satisfying meal, and didn't leave me rummaging through the freezer for chunks of old frozen brownie like my lackluster pancakes did the previous night. Thank goodness for filling, hearty-healthy chicken. And thank goodness for the sweet cashier who let me go back to get it.

Warm Spinach, Orzo, and Pistachio Salad
(Adapted from Dishing Up Delights, who adapted it from Serves One by Toni Lydecker)

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus a large pinch
1/4 cup whole wheat orzo
1 tablespoon crumbled feta cheese
2 teaspoons organic, extra-virgin oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large handful organic baby spinach
1 small shallot, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon roasted pistachios

Cook orzo in boiling pot of chicken broth until tender.

Meanwhile, saute shallot in frying pan until translucent. Combine the feta, olive oil, vinegar, a large pinch of salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl.

Drain the orzo through a strainer and add to the frying pan with the cooked shallots . Throw in the dressing and spinach and stir until orzo is coated in dressing and spinach is just wilted. Sprinkle with pistachios, and if desired, serve over a bed of extra cooked spinach.

Pistachio-crusted chicken breast

1 chicken breast, pounded flat
1 egg white
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons crushed pistachios
2 tablespoons Panko crumbs
Flour for dredging
Salt, pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare three bowls -- one containing just enough flour to coat chicken breast, another containing the egg white and Dijon mustard, and the third containing a mixture of equal parts crushed pistachios and Panko crumbs.

Salt and pepper the chicken breast and then coat in flour. Shake off excess flour, and then dip in egg white/Dijon mustard mixture and then into the Panko/pistachio crumbs (you most likely will not need to use all of it).

Heat olive oil in nonstick frying pan over medium heat, and fry breast for approximately 3-4 minutes on both sides or until the chicken is nicely browned. Transfer breast to cookie sheet lined with foil and bake approximately 10-15 minutes or until cooked through.

Serve with warm spinach orzo salad.


Esi said...

I was so not hungry last night, but wanted something to nibble on and I seriously considered making this salad, but then I got lazy and had a scrambled egg instead...anyway, I love that you paired it with chicken. I may have to try that next time.

Alessandra said...

Do you think the crust would work with fish? I'm just not that into chicken...

Reeni♥ said...

The chicken looks great! I love the flavors in the crust. The salad looks like a perfect match for it!

The Blonde Duck said...

It was chicken of destiny! What a lovely cashier!

Come visit me at www.aduckinherpond.com.

Diana said...

Esi - I hate those nights when I'm not hungry and don't know what to make! That's how I felt on Sunday.. blech!

Ali - I think it would be excellent on fish -- particularly on a white fish like mahi mahi.

Heather said...

i love using nuts to crust poultry and fish. this sounds lovely. love the orzo salad!

Erica said...

What a great dinner! Esi rocks! Whatever- those people need to take a chill pill! You needed that chicken to make this amazing dish

The Duo Dishes said...

The salad really does sound good. But the chicken sounds magnificent. Loves 'stachios!

Donna-FFW said...

This looks so delicious. I love the crust. It must be sooo tasty with the pistachio.