Southwestern Chicken Salad

I don’t love salads.  I wish I did.  I know I need to eat more vegetables, but I tend to like warm meals more than cold ones.  However, on a day like today—nearly 100 degrees—I needed something cold for dinner.  After a trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, I was more than happy to eat something cold and light, so I made this lovely southwestern chicken salad.

This salad is not just any old, boring salad.  It is spicy, sweet, and chock full of yummy toppings.  This time around, I topped my romaine with grape tomatoes, avocado, banana peppers, cotija cheese, and chicken.  But in the past, I’ve made it with corn, shredded cheddar cheese, skirt steak . . . whatever I’ve had on hand or what looked good in the grocery.  Ooh, crushed tortilla chips would be great too!

The best part of this salad, and what makes it sweet and spicy, is the dressing.  It is made up of lime juice, honey, EVOO, and . . . chipotle peppers in adobo.  These peppers, which can be found in small cans in your grocer’s “international aisle,” add both spice and smokiness to this otherwise fairly traditional salad.  If you are sensitive to spice, start out by just adding half a pepper.  If you love spice, like I do, add two or three.  The peppers, with the addition of the sweet honey and tart lime juice, make the most delicious dressing.  To be honest, I make this salad as a vessel for the dressing.  It is addictive.

Southwestern Chicken Salad

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe for Southwestern Steak Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 hearts romaine lettuce, torn
  • 2 avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and diced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup cotija cheese, diced
  • 1 banana pepper, julienned
  • 1 to 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced (or more for an extra spicy dressing!)
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 4 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Instructions:
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high; add a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  Place chicken in skillet. Cook 8-10 minutes per side, until cooked through. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely with foil. Let rest 5 minutes, then thinly slice.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss together lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, cheese, banana pepper, teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
  3. In a small bowl, combine chiles, lime juice, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Gradually whisk in oil. Pour half of dressing over salad and toss; add chicken and toss again. Add more dressing to taste*.
  4. Makes 2 large salads.

*Make sure not to overdress your salad.  It will weigh down the lettuce and overwhelm the toppings.  Always add dressing gradually.

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