Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Playdate Special: Chicken Salad, Hold the Mayo

My household is anti-mayonnaise. I wasn't raised that way, true, but there's no fighting it anymore. I usually get by scraping it off sandwiches, but my husband has been known to discard the top half of burgers to completely rid his burgers of mayonnaise taint. My older son used to get rashes from it.

It's easy enough to find alternative seasonings for our sandwiches and burgers. And when mayo is a necessary ingredient, I take the time to make an eggless mayonnaise with a recipe from Anna.

But what about creamy chicken salad? I adore chicken salad, but most preparations absolutely drown those lovely chicken chunks with mayo.

I use plain yogurt, preferably nonfat, cut with a bit of lemon juice to make it less cloying. To my taste, it's far brighter and lighter than mayo-based dressing.

The morning of our potluck picnic, I quickly made some whole wheat rolls (from my favorite no-knead bread cookbook), threw together the chicken salad, and tossed a bag of washed spinach greens into the picnic basket. It came together over two hours, accounting for rising and salting and getting-kid-to-preschool time, but hands-on time was under 15 minutes.

I tried out a Martha Stewart Living recipe that looked similar to my own basic chicken salad dressing. Martha being Martha, the recipe calls for roasting two chicken breasts to provide the meat -- that's too much effort for me. Chicken salad is a beautiful way to use leftovers. I usually make it with fresh leftover chicken, or with defrosted leftover chunks I've saved in one- and two-cup bags in the freezer. Her version also served the salad in wheat pitas, but I prefer the chunkiness of this version served atop greens. If you need a little more zip, try adding chopped red onion or a bit of rice vinegar.

Chicken Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumbers

Salting the tomatoes and cucumbers helps remove water content and keeps your salad from getting too drippy. Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, August 2009. Serves 8.

1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 medium tomatoes, quartered, seeded, and cut into large bite-size chunks
1/2 cucumber, cut into large bite-size chunks (peeled if desired)
1 teaspoon coarse salt (half that amount if using sea salt)
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken breast, shredded into large bite-size pieces
ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
baby spinach leaves or other greens
fresh mint, oregano, thyme, or oregano -- any one or a combination of two -- coarsely chopped

Line a fine sieve with a paper coffee filter or cheesecloth. Place yogurt in sieve and set over a bowl or the sink and drain for 30 minutes. (Don't let it sit too long or it will get too thick.)

Combine tomatoes and cucumbers in a bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, gently mix together, and let stand for 15 to 30 minutes.

Drain tomato and cucumber mixture and combine in bowl with drained yogurt, chicken, lemon juice, garlic, and remaining salt. Season with pepper to taste, and stir.

To serve, place a handful or two of greens on each plate and top with chicken. Top with chopped herbs.

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