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Variations Of Chicken Salad Something To Cluck About

Chicken salad has become so popular that there’s now a cookbook devoted to it.

“The idea came from a publisher who ate chicken salad every time she went out to lunch; she thought there could be more ideas” for home cooks, notes Carole Lalli, former editor-in-chief of Food & Wine, whose new book is called, simply, “Chicken Salads” (HarperPerennial).

Lalli notes what current restaurant offerings demonstrate: Chicken salad is vastly different from the mayonnaise-and-celery concoction most Americans grew up on.

“The traditional chicken salad is now almost comfort food - it’s white, mild, not too chewy and not very exciting to the taste buds. We’re looking for more tastes.”

So in the ‘70s the salad became curried, mixed with fruits and nuts. In the ‘80s it was chicken salad with goat cheese and fresh herbs. Today it’s grilled-chicken salad, mixed in almost any combination.

There’s Asian chicken salad (with noodles and spicy peanut dressing), Tex-Mex chicken salad (with beans, salsa and chips), Italian chicken salad (with pesto and pasta), Middle Eastern (with couscous), even Caribbean (with a spicy dressing and tropical fruit).

“Our palates have grown up,” says Lalli.

With the recipes that follow, those updated flavors can now come home to roost.

Chicken Salad With Pesto

This recipe comes from D’Angelo’s Italian-American Restaurant in Ballston, VA. You can make your own pesto for this recipe or, if pressed for time and basil, you can use a commercially prepared pesto.

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (mixture

of rosemary, oregano, thyme, marjoram)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

3/4 cup olive oil

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinned chicken breast

1/2 pound penne pasta

1 red bell pepper, seeds and membranes removed, diced

1/2 medium red onion, sliced

1 cup pesto

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 head romaine lettuce, chopped

3 tomatoes, sliced (for garnish)

Combine lemon juice, lime juice, mixed fresh herbs, pepper and garlic. Add oil and whisk until well combined. Add chicken breasts and let the chicken marinate about two hours in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Then combine pasta with red pepper, onion, pesto and vinegar.

Drain the chicken, discarding the marinade. On hot grill, cook chicken breasts until done, about 10 minutes.

To serve, divide lettuce among six serving plates. Top the lettuce with the pasta mixture. Cut the chicken breasts horizontally into thin strips and place them on top of pasta. Decorate with tomato slices.

Yield: serves 6.

Nutrition information per serving: 474 calories, 23 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrate, 26 grams fat, 46 milligrams cholesterol, 233 milligrams sodium.

Chicken Salad Jean-Michel

This recipe, adapted from Jean-Michel restaurant in Bethesda, MD, combines both tart and sweet flavors to provide an unusual but refreshing alternative to the traditional grilled chicken salad.

2 tablespoons paprika

1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus a bit extra for coating the grill

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinned chicken breasts

1 small head Boston lettuce

1 small head bibb lettuce

2 endives

2 to 3 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled but seeded and cut in thin strips

4 small Portobello mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup honey mustard dressing (recipe follows)

Combine paprika and the cup of the vegetable oil. Add chicken breasts and marinate at room temperature about 15 minutes as you prepare the rest of the salad and heat the grill.

Wash lettuces and endives. Mix together and arrange on 4 serving plates. Top with apple strips.

Lightly coat a fine-mesh grill rack with oil and top with the sliced mushrooms. Grill mushrooms over a hot fire until steamy and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Remove, let cool slightly, and then place on top of apples.

Drain chicken, discarding the marinade, and grill until done, about 10 minutes. Slice horizontally into thin strips and place on top of prepared salad plates.

Give the dressing (recipe follows) another quick whisk to recombine and either drizzle on top of prepared salad or pour into attractive pitcher to serve on the side.

If you cannot find small Portobello mushrooms, consider using one pound of the smaller Cremini mushrooms.

Yield: 4-6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 409 calories, 22 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrate, 30 grams fat, 55 milligrams cholesterol, 101 milligrams sodium.

Honey Mustard Dressing

1/4 cup honey mustard

1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Combine the honey mustard, cream, vinegar and sesame oil. Slowly drizzle in the vegetable oil and whisk until well mixed. Set aside until ready to serve.

Yield: 9 servings.

Nutrition information per 2 tablespoon serving: 140 calories, trace protein, 4 grams carbohydrate, 14 grams fat, no cholesterol, 46 milligrams sodium.

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