I think of salad with chicken as a workhorse of the healthful culinary world.
It reliably gets the job done and can be good, but it is rarely memorable or inspiring. Truthfully, it can be a boring fallback.
I suppose I should have had higher expectations when I ordered one at Fume in Napa Valley several months ago. The place was recommended by a culinary-pro friend, and I was in a mecca of good food and wine. Still, I was taken aback by just how compelling that salad was and how much it stood out from the same-old, same-old. The thought of it stuck in my mind so long, I had to come up with my own version.
What makes this salad so special is its variety of tastes, colors and textures, which makes each forkful a bit different, so eating it feels like a constant discovery. There are two kinds of lettuce – tender Bibb and crisp romaine – crunchy nuts coated in a maple glaze, sweet chunks of red apple, cool bites of celery, the snap of blanched green beans and chewy dried cherries.
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Instead of the usual cubes of grilled breast, there are tender pieces of chicken torn from half a roasted bird. All the ingredients are coated in a lightly creamy, tangy buttermilk dressing seasoned with fresh dill and green onion.
This salad might take a bit more effort than adding cooked poultry to pre-washed greens and calling it a day. But most of the elements can be made ahead and you can use a store-bought rotisserie chicken. You’ll be rewarded in pure delight.
Green Salad With Chicken, Apple and Maple Walnuts in Buttermilk Dressing
For the dressing:
1/2 cup buttermilk, well shaken (not low-fat)
3 tablespoons regular or low-fat mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest and 2 tablespoons juice (from 1 lemon)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 green onion, trimmed and thinly sliced (white and green parts)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh dill
For the salad:
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
4 ounces thin green beans (haricots verts), trimmed
1 head Bibb or Boston lettuce, cored and torn into bite-size pieces
1 small head romaine lettuce, cored and torn into bite-size pieces
2 cups torn cooked chicken (from 1/2 medium roasted chicken; 8 ounces total)
2 ribs celery, cut into bite-size pieces
1 small red apple (unpeeled), cut into bite-size pieces
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped dried cherries, preferably unsweetened
Whisk together the buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon zest and juice, the mustard, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until well blended, then whisk in the green onion and dill. The yield is 3/4 cup.
Combine the walnuts, maple syrup and salt in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated and the walnuts are glazed and lightly toasted. Transfer to a plate to cool.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with cool water and ice cubes.
Add the green beans to the boiling water; cook/blanch them for about 2 minutes, until crisp-tender and bright green, then use a slotted spoon to immediately transfer them to the ice-water bath to stop their cooking. Pat dry and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces.
Just before serving, combine the lettuce, chicken, celery, apple, dried cherries, walnuts and green beans in a large bowl. Drizzle with the dressing and toss gently to coat.
Make ahead: The dressing can be refrigerated up to 1 day in advance. Dress the salad just before serving.
Per serving (using low-fat mayo): 360 calories, 25 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar
Yield: 4 servings