Generally I mix each cup of diced chicken with 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked rice or beans. For a complete meal in one salad bowl, I add some cooked or raw vegetables as well.
I've found many ideas for new chicken salads in my neighborhood, in local ethnic restaurants and in fine take-out shops. But somehow inspiration comes most readily when I am away from home.
During a recent trip to Rancho Valencia Resort near San Diego, I enjoyed a tropical fruit salsa of papaya, mango, pineapple, orange and red onion. I thought that it would be a perfect flavoring for a summer chicken salad.
When I returned home, I mixed the salsa ingredients with chicken and rice, moistened the mixture with a ginger vinaigrette and sprinkled it with toasted macadamia nuts. The resulting salad was refreshing, colorful and festive.
It's fun to borrow flavor combinations from traditional ethnic dishes and use them in chicken salads. For example, sesame seeds and marjoram, the major ingredients of the Middle Eastern seasoning mixture called zaatar, which is sprinkled over savory pastries and cheeses, make a lively accent for a chicken salad with garbanzo beans.
Or you can look to Latin America to prepare a chicken salad with black beans and a salsa-style dressing of jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, lime juice and cilantro.
The easiest way to have chicken on hand for salad is to cook extra when you are grilling or roasting chicken or making chicken soup. When I cook beans or rice, I find it practical to cook enough for at least two meals, so I have plenty left for salad.
If you don't happen to have cooked chicken, you can quickly broil or poach boneless chicken breasts or thighs. Or you can make chicken salads in no time by taking advantage of prepared foods.
Roasted chicken and turkey are available at many delis and supermarkets. Frozen baby lima beans and canned beans also are useful timesavers. In the case of canned beans, I prefer low-salt versions with no extra seasoning,
because the salads taste best with fresh flavorings.
Chicken salads with rice or beans make dinner and party planning simple. You can prepare these salads at your leisure and serve them later in the day or even the next day. The chicken, beans and rice will only gain in flavor while they marinate in the vinaigrette dressing.
Lime juice, cilantro, jalapeno peppers and black beans lend a Latin American note to this colorful, flavorful salad. Serve it with country bread for a terrific lunch, supper or party dish.
ZESTY CHICKEN AND BLACK BEAN SALAD
2 1/2 cups cooked black beans (see note)
3 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken
1/2 medium red onion
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
5 tablespoons oil
Salt to taste
3 or 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
3/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
6 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
Combine cooked beans and chicken in large bowl. Place onion half, cut side down, on cutting board and cut in half again lengthwise. Holding two halves together, cut into thin crosswise slices. They will be quarter slices. Separate into their natural divisions (thin slivers) and add to chicken mixture.
Whisk lime juice in bowl with oil and salt. Stir in peppers. Add dressing to chicken-bean mixture. Add cilantro and tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Makes six servings.
Note: To prepare cooked beans for this dish, sort 1 cup dried black beans and discard any stones. Soak beans overnight in 5 cups cold water. Rinse and drain. Place beans in pan with 6 cups fresh water. Bring to boil. Skim off foam. Cover and simmer over low heat until tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Drain.
I usually serve this salad on a bed of lettuce or spinach. Marinated red peppers and black olives make good accompaniments.
CHICKEN SALAD WITH RICE, BEANS AND SESAME SEEDS
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 cup long-grain white rice
1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas) or 1 can (8 3/4 ounces), drained and rinsed
3 cups diced cooked chicken or turkey
3 scallions, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon strained fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried leaf marjoram, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried leaf oregano, crumbled
Lettuce or spinach leaves, optional
Toast sesame seeds in small skillet over medium heat, shaking pan often, until golden brown, about four minutes. Transfer immediately to plate.
Cook rice in large uncovered pot of boiling, salted water about 14 minutes or until just tender but still firm. Make sure that you have enough water to keep rice covered entire cooking time. Rinse with cold water and drain well. Combine rice with garbanzo beans, chicken and scallions in salad bowl.
Whisk together oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste in small bowl. Pour dressing over salad. Sprinkle with herbs and fold in. Taste and adjust seasoning. Just before serving, fold in about two-thirds of the sesame seeds. Sprinkle the rest on top. Serve salad in bowls or on beds of lettuce or spinach leaves. Makes three to four servings.
Papaya and kiwi turn chicken and rice into a colorful salad. If you like, substitute 1/2 to 3/4 cup finely diced fresh pineapple for two of the kiwis. You can prepare the salad with brown rice, but you will need to cook the rice for about 45 minutes.
CHICKEN AND RICE SALAD WITH TROPICAL FRUIT
1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
3 cups cool chicken stock or canned broth
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon grated fresh gingerroot or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1/3 cup chopped red or green onion
1 small ripe papaya, mango or orange, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped toasted macadamia nuts, optional
Rinse rice and combine with stock in heavy, medium saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until just tender, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. Fluff with fork and set aside to cool.
Whisk together vinegar, oil, salt and pepper to taste, and gingerroot. Put chicken in a bowl and add 3 tablespoons of the dressing to the chicken.
Peel and halve 2 kiwis lengthwise and cut each half into thin slices. Peel and slice remaining kiwis and quarter the slices.
Toss chicken mixture with rice, onion and remaining dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add papaya and small kiwi pieces. Sprinkle with nuts. Garnish with ring of kiwi half-slices. Makes three to four servings.