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Chicken Salad Days

August 20, 1992|FAYE LEVY | Levy is a cookbook author. and

During the hot summer days, one of my favorite lunch or supper dishes is a cool chicken salad. I don't mean the old-fashioned, mayonnaise-dressed chicken salad that many of us grew up with. Instead, I mix chicken with rice, beans or a combination of both and dress the salad with vinaigrette. This kind of salad contributes healthful grains and fiber-rich beans to my diet in an enticing way. Light yet satisfying, these salads enable me to have a main course ready with little time or effort.

Generally I mix each cup of diced chicken with 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked rice or beans. For a complete meal in one salad bowl, I add some cooked or raw vegetables as well.

I've found many ideas for new chicken salads in my neighborhood, in local ethnic restaurants and in fine take-out shops. But somehow inspiration comes most readily when I am away from home.

During a recent trip to San Diego, I enjoyed a tropical fruit salsa of papaya, mango, pineapple, orange and red onion. I thought it would be a perfect flavoring for a summer chicken salad. When I returned home, I mixed the salsa ingredients with chicken and rice, moistened the mixture with a ginger vinaigrette and sprinkled it with toasted macadamia nuts. The resulting salad was refreshing, colorful and festive.

It's fun to borrow flavor combinations from traditional ethnic dishes and use them in chicken salads. For example, sesame seeds and marjoram, the major ingredients of the Middle Eastern seasoning called zaatar (a mixture of tart dried sumac berries and wild thyme that is sprinkled over savory pastries and cheeses) make a lively accent for a chicken salad with garbanzo beans. Or you can look to Latin America to prepare a chicken salad with black beans and a salsa-style dressing of jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, lime juice and cilantro.

The easiest way to have chicken on hand for salad is to cook extra when you are grilling or roasting chicken or making chicken soup. When I cook beans or rice, I find it practical to cook enough for at least two meals so I have plenty left for salads.

If you don't happen to have cooked chicken, you can quickly broil or poach boneless chicken breasts or thighs. Or you can make chicken salads in no time by taking advantage of prepared foods. Roast chicken and turkey are available at many delis and supermarket deli sections. Frozen baby lima beans and canned beans also are useful timesavers. In the case of canned beans, I prefer low-salt versions with no extra seasonings because the salads taste best with fresh flavorings.

Chicken salads with rice or beans make dinner and party planning simple. You can prepare these salads at your leisure and serve them later in the day or even the next day. The chicken, beans and rice will only gain in flavor while they marinate in the vinaigrette dressing.

Lime juice, cilantro, jalapeno chiles and black beans lend a Latin American note to this colorful, flavorful salad. Serve it with country bread for a terrific lunch, supper or party dish.

ZESTY CHICKEN AND BLACK BEAN SALAD

2 (15- to 16-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed, or 2 1/2 cups cooked black beans

3 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken

1/2 medium red onion

2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice

5 or 6 tablespoons oil

Salt

3 or 4 jalapeno chiles, seeded and minced

3/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

6 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

Combine beans and chicken in large bowl. Place onion half, cut side down, on cutting board and cut in half again lengthwise. Holding 2 halves together, cut into thin crosswise slices to make quarter slices. Separate into thin slivers and add to chicken mixture.

Whisk lime juice in bowl with oil and season to taste with salt. Stir in jalapenos. Add dressing to chicken-bean mixture. Add cilantro and tomatoes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Makes 6 servings.

Note : To prepare cooked beans for this recipe, sort 1 cup dried black beans and discard any stones. Soak beans overnight in 5 cups cold water. Rinse and drain. Place beans in pan with 6 cups fresh water. Bring to boil. Skim off foam. Cover and simmer over low heat until tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Drain.

I usually serve this salad on a bed of lettuce or spinach. Marinated red peppers and black olives make good accompaniments.

CHICKEN SALAD WITH RICE, GARBANZO BEANS AND SESAME SEEDS

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 cup long-grain rice

1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans or 1 (8 3/4-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

3 cups diced cooked chicken or turkey

3 large green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon strained lemon juice

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon dried leaf marjoram, crumbled

1 teaspoon dried leaf oregano, crumbled

Lettuce or spinach leaves, optional

Toast sesame seeds in small skillet over medium heat, shaking pan often, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer immediately to plate.

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