My approach to assembling a meal each night is hardly different from pulling together an outfit each morning. Take today’s recipe: it started with my mood for something a little lighter and the desire to use the perfectly ripe avocado sitting in my fruit bowl lest it go rapidly south. From there sprung the idea of a satisfying main dish salad. The oranges, sitting alongside the avocado, struck me as a great match, and I built the rest of the concept from there, layering in greens, and tying it all up with a little texture in the form of toasted pumpkin seeds.
Likewise, what I’m wearing today: it began with my black skinny jeans because they’re effortless and go with everything, paired with a sweater from a sample sale that makes me look far hipper than I feel. A delicate necklace added a little glitter to the mix without interfering with my work in the kitchen, and a cozy grey jacket finished the job, keeping me warm against the unseasonable chill in the air.
Food and fashion are alike in a lot of ways. So much so that a food professionals conference I attended recently was themed entirely on the subject. Several speakers at the event noted how top trend-setting chefs are little different from cutting-edge clothing designers. Both decide what’s in and what’s out; the rest of us eventually catch on. There was a time I never thought I’d be eating tofu skin or wearing cotton jumpsuits; I now find myself doing both.
Although this salad is not remotely trendy, it is completely worth making (much like your well-traveled jeans are worth wearing). It starts with a marinade that doubles as a salad dressing. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of olive oil in the recipe; half of it gets discarded once the chicken goes onto the grill. Endive, a mildly bitter, crunchy vegetable in the chicory family, adds a little crunch and punch to the greens. This is balanced by the sweetness of the oranges and the touch of honey in the dressing. The presence of healthy fats — olive oil, avocado, and pumpkin seeds — along with the chicken make the salad substantive enough to qualify as dinner.
Although I’ve made this twice now to enthusiastic review for weeknight family suppers, it’s also the sort of thing to tuck away for a ladies-only shower, lunch, or brunch. The bigger question there is, what am I going wear?
GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD WITH AVOCADO AND ORANGES
Packed to the rafters with several “kid favorites”– chicken, oranges, avocados, pumpkin seeds — this main dish salad is a hit in our household. I always sprinkle a little pinch of salt over the avocado before scooping it from its peel since that really brightens the flavor. If you don’t have a grill handy, or aren’t in the mood to fire yours up, cook the chicken under a broiler or in a pan that’s been lightly slicked with oil.
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 medium minced shallots
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
A few drops of sriracha, tabasco, or other favorite hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning the chicken
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
Freshly ground black pepper
2 small heads endive
2 large seedless naval oranges (cara cara is a tasty variety)
1 small head butter lettuce or 3 heads little gems, washed and torn into pieces
1 large, ripe avocado, sliced
2 tablespoons toasted, salted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
In a small bowl make the dressing/marinade by whisking together the vinegar, shallots, honey, olive oil, orange juice, sriracha, and salt. Put the chicken breasts into a medium shallow bowl and pour 1/2 of the dressing it. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably several hours, or even overnight. Reserve the remaining dressing for the salad.
Thirty minutes before you’re ready to cook, remove the chicken from the fridge. Take the breasts out of the marinade, and season lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Heat your grill over a medium-high flame. When the grill is good and hot, put on the chicken and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Turn, and cook the second side for 4 to 5 minutes until the inside has just barely lost it’s pink color and remains tender and juicy. You can also cook the chicken under a broiler. The time will vary depending on the thickness of the chicken.
Remove chicken from heat to rest on the counter. After 10 minutes, cut into bite-size pieces
While the chicken is cooking, prepare the salad. Trim the stem ends off the endive and cut lengthwise down the center. Cut out the little triangle of core from the center of the endive and pull leaves apart.
Set the oranges on a cutting board and use a sharp knife (serrated edge works well) to cut off the peel and pith, revealing the bright orange flesh of the fruit. Cut each orange into quarters and then cut crosswise into bite-size pieces.
Put the endive, oranges, and butter lettuce, in a large shallow bowl or platter. Drizzle most of the dressing over the salad and toss gently. Taste, and add more dressing if needed. Add the chicken and avocado to the top of the salad and drizzle on a little dressing. Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over the top.
Makes 4 main dish servings