Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chicken Chopped Salad with Pear Vinaigrette: The perfect antidote for holiday cookie boredom

This is the anti-holiday salad. The type of thing that most people would relegate to the period after the holidays when they are resolved to lose that muffin top and cuddly layer of fat that has accumulated around their thighs due to the ingestion of too many cookies and eggnog lattes during the month of December.

So it seems rather odd that I would be cooking and craving something so healthy now -- at a time when I should be stuffing my face with gingerbread men and chocolate Santa Clauses and peppermint hot chocolate made with half and half.

There's a place for that, of course, and a couple weekends ago I did more than my fair share of indulging using the "It's the holidays!" justification. In a four day period, I consumed four scoops of Scoops ice cream, bread pudding from Masa, four Trader Joe's chocolate covered ice cream bon bons, a sizable Bakelab lemon sugar cookie, more chocolate, and a Bakelab Coconut Cloud. By the end of that fourth day, I felt more than a little "holiday-ed" out.

And so I've attempted to start my post-New Year's resolution a little early this year -- turning a blind eye to all the peppermint-studded cookies and log-shaped cakes that people keep trying to shove down my throat. It hasn't been an easy task. With Christmas just three days away, the baking brags and cookie clatter among food personalities and bloggers has reached a fever pitch. While I definitely appreciate a homemade baked good, it's a bit disturbing how excited people have been getting about , say, a rum ball.

"Look, it's another recipe for rum balls! And they have rum! And I dip them in powdered sugar to make them look like snow balls! Hooray! Praise Jesus! Now everybody comment and tell me how fabulous and domesticated and Christmas-spirited I am for making... RUM BALLS!"

I'm sure that when the good people at Crave at Work, an LA-based company that delivers fresh produce to workplaces in the area, commissioned me to participate in their Holiday Recipe Challenge, they were expecting me to make something similarly decadent and... spirited. I have to admit that when I received the green tote stuffed with pistchios, sugar cane, and 10 pounds of Bosc pears, Cara Cara oranges and Green Dragon Apples, my mind initially started thinking about sweet treats I could make with all the goodies. I thought about turning the pears into a jam and then swirling it into a vanilla ice cream base for pear ice cream. I thought about using the apples to make bread pudding or a festive fall cake. I even contemplated supreming the oranges to lovingly lay over a spiced French toast -- "perfect to wake up to on Christmas morning."

But, ultimately, the thought of all that hogwash kind of made me want to gag.

So, instead, I made a chopped salad with grilled chicken, farro, dried cranberries, apples, jicama, manchego, spinach, pistachios, and a pear vinaigrette. While Santa Claus would most likely be a disappointed jolly old elf if he encountered this salad rather than a snowflake-shaped cookie on his route, in my mind, it's the perfect holiday recipe for people who don't want to ring in the New Year with a new double chin. The colors -- green, white, red -- are certainly festive, and it packs a satisfying punch to help fuel those egregious trips to the mall. (Throwing elbows to secure the last cashmere sweater can be quite taxing.)

I also imagine that it would be an appropriate Christmas dinner side if the farro and chicken are omitted.

It would not, however, ever be acceptable reimagined as a holiday cookie. And we can truly praise Jesus for that.

Chicken Chopped Salad with Pear Vinaigrette
Serves 2

1/2 pound chicken breast
1/2 cup farro
1/2 Green Dragon apple, cut into 1/3 inch cubes
1/2 cup jicama cubes (1/3 inch)
2 ounces manchego cheese, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Two handfuls of spinach
2 tablespoons pistachio pieces
Olive oil

Pear Vinaigrette
2 Bosc pears, peeled and cut into chunks
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
Salt, pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pears into small roasting dish and bake until tender and starting to release their juices -- approximately 15-20 minutes. Remove pears from dish and puree until smooth using a food processor, blender or immersion blender. Whisk in the champagne vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, prepare farro according to package instructions - set aside to let cool.

While farro is cooking, use some of the pear vinaigrette as a marinade for the chicken, reserving the rest in a separate container for the salad. Let chicken marinate for 15-30 minutes, then heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Coat with splash of olive oil and cook chicken approximately five minutes per side or until completely cooked through. Remove chicken from pan and let rest a couple minutes before cutting it into cubes.

Combine spinach, apples, manchego, jicama, farro, chicken, dried cranberries in large bowl. Toss with pear vinaigrette to taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately, topped with pistachio pieces.


Anonymous said...

That looks DELICIOUS! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

Esi said...

Praise Jesus no cookies here! Although I'm making cookies later today...does this mean I've become one of them??

Monet said...

I find myself craving healthy food as the days to Christmas approach. I'm almost cookied-out now. This salad looks fresh, crisp and delicious. I hope that you are having such a wonderful week of holiday celebration. Thanks for sharing, my sweet friend!

Anonymous said...

Nice, I must be craving a salad, this "Chicken Chopped Salad" is making me Hungry! Been into the Fudge and making my way through about 10 Christmas fruit boxes. People know what I like, Stay Healthy, JO

Diana said...

Ms. Code - Of course! Thank you for reading it! :)

Esi - I think there is a reason those cookies burned. They were made with hate! ;)

Monet - I hope you had a wonderful Christmas with your family as well!

Jo - So important to blanace out those indulgent meals (and fudge!) with some healthy eats. Makes the indulgence actually taste better in my opinion!