Poached, chilled chicken breast is a protein-packed blank canvas that’s primed to take on just about any palette of flavor and texture you can conjure.
This chicken salad makes the most of that invitation. Its dressing, inspired by a tandoori marinade, is spiked with big, bold flavors: garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric, cumin, salt and both black and cayenne peppers. The spices are forward and exciting, but they work harmoniously without being overwhelming. Plus, they impart not only flavor, but also color and texture.
The garlic and salt are mashed together to form a paste, so rather than encounter strong bits of the allium here and there, you get a gentle undertone of it throughout. Whole cumin seed, which is toasted until fragrant and crushed a bit, does the job of providing random bursts of flavor and texture, and turmeric gives the salad dressing an enticing golden hue.
Another cue taken from tandoori cooking, in which yogurt is used as the marinade base, is that in this recipe, yogurt forms the creamy foundation of the dressing. Besides providing silky body and a light tanginess that plays well off the spices, it gives the dressing a comfort-food-creamy effect with a fraction of the mayonnaise typically used, and with considerably more nutritional punch.
The dressing is tossed with the tender chunks of chicken along with cool, crisp slices of cucumber and a generous sprinkling of fresh cilantro leaves, for a chicken salad that is both striking and sumptuously satisfying.
Tandoori-Spiced Chicken Salad
The chicken needs to be poached, drained and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes, and up to 3 days, in advance. If you make the salad in advance, add the cilantro just before serving.
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to an even 1/2-inch thickness
2 cups no-salt-added chicken broth
Water, as needed
1 teaspoon cumin seed (may substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin)
1 small clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt, or more as needed
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt (not Greek-style)
2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger root
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 English (seedless) cucumber, seeded, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves (see headnote)
Arrange the pounded chicken breast pieces in a single layer in a large skillet; it's OK if the pieces overlap slightly. Add the broth and enough water to cover by about an inch. Cover and bring just to a boil over medium-high heat, then immediately remove from the heat; let the chicken sit in the liquid, covered, for about 10 minutes or until it is just cooked through.
Transfer the chicken to a container with a tight-fitting lid, discarding the liquid. Cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (and up to 3 days).
Toast the cumin seed in a small, dry skillet over medium heat; cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently, just until fragrant and lightly browned. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush the seeds a bit; or transfer to a cutting board and use the flat side of a chef's knife to do the crushing.
Mince the garlic on a cutting board, then sprinkle with the salt. Use the flat side of a chef's knife to reduce the mixture into a pastelike consistency.
Whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Add the ginger, coriander, turmeric, black pepper, the crushed cumin seed and garlic-salt paste, stirring to form a smooth dressing. Taste, and add the cayenne pepper, if using.
Cut the chicken into bite-size chunks and place in a mixing bowl, along with the cucumber and cilantro. (If you’re making in advance, wait until serving to add the cilantro.) Pour the dressing over and toss to coat. Taste, and season lightly with salt, as needed.
Serve chilled, or at a cool room temperature.
Per serving (using 1.6 tablespoons chicken broth): 260 calories, 40 g protein, 5 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 130 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar
Yield: 4 servings