Sunday, August 18, 2019

Southwest Chicken Salad

Southwest Chicken Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing
Salad Served

Recipe by Robin

Whenever Southwest chicken salad is on a restaurant menu, I’m likely to order it. Styles vary widely, but typically include salad greens, corn, beans, cheese, and a side of salsa. A chicken breast, hopefully browned and spiced, crowns the creation. Dressings vary from chili lime vinaigrettes to creamy flavored ranches to green goddesses. This first attempt to recreate the salad at home was a great success, largely due to the rich, creamy homemade avocado ranch dressing. Fresh corn-off-the-cob from last night's Farmers' Market leftovers adds more taste appeal, though in a pinch—or in winter—frozen cooked corn will do nicely.

Partially eaten salad with additional scoop of dressing
Pausing to Add More Dressing
Another key is cooking the beans yourself instead of using canned. Canned black beans can be disagreeably soggy and squishy in salads. Use the quick cook method in my recipe below. The process takes a little more than 2 hours plus cooling time, but 1 hour is soaking time. You control the texture of the final product, plus can cook extra for burritos or bean dip.

I made my own salsa, but it adds considerably to the time needed for the salad. Next time I’d considered a good premade salsa fresca—given that I’m currently a novice at salsa making. If you’re already a salsa whiz, by all means employ your DIY salsa magic—especially when fresh tomatoes are plentiful. Spicy salsa works best in this salad, with jalapeno, cilantro, and perhaps cumin accents.

For a casual lunch, present the ingredients salad bar-style, and let individuals build their own salad from plates and bowls of colorful goodies. For more formal occasions, layer ingredients in large individual salad bowls, topping with just-cooked chicken.  Serve the salsa and dressing on the side. Accept the inevitable compliments gracefully.

Salad bar choices: Romaine, corn, beans, chicken, cojita cheese, salsa, avocado ranch dressing
The Salad Bar is Open
Southwest Chicken Salad
serves 4

7 - 8 cups torn romaine (bite sized pieces)
2 - 3 ears cooked, cooled corn, cut from cob
1 - 2 cups cooked, cooled black beans*
Blue corn or multigrain tortilla chips
4 oz. or more cojita cheese, in thick slices
2 cups salsa fresca
Avocado ranch dressing or other dressing
1 lb. chicken tenders, or flattened breasts
Chili powder
Olive oil

See this link for the avocado ranch dressing, which is key to this salad. Make it at least 2 hours, and up to a day ahead of salad serving time, so flavors can blend and mellow.

You can either make a self-serve salad bar, or arrange the salads yourself. The former is more casual, arguably more fun, and allows people to make their own choices. You might let people fill their bowls as you cook the chicken, then offer the chicken as a hot topper.

Either set out the following in bowls, or layer into individual salad bowls: romaine, corn, beans, and tortilla chips. Add a chunk of cojita cheese to each bowl, or serve on a plate at the salad bar. In either case, serve salsa and avocado ranch dressing in bowls so that people can add their own once after the chicken is ready.

Meanwhile, cook the chicken. If using breasts, cut each in half or thirds at an angle to shorten the cooking time. Sprinkle chicken with salt and chili powder. Heat a little olive oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken tenders and sauté about 5 minutes, till browned. Flip meat and brown other side, about 4 minutes.

It’s optional whether to cut the tenders into bite sized pieces (easier to eat) or serve as is (looks more substantial and easier to divvy up). Remove cooked tenders to serving platter and place at the salad bar, or top prepared salad bowls with chicken.

Serve immediately with avocado ranch dressing and salsa.

*To quick cook beans:

Wash 1 cup black beans and remove any small stones.

Place in medium saucepan and cover with 2 inches of water. Cover pot and bring to boil.

Simmer for 5 minutes.

Turn off heat and let beans cool for 1 hour.

Drain beans, wash gently, and again cover with 2 inches of water.

Bring to boil and simmer until soft but not squishy, about 50 – 60 minutes.

Drain and chill to use in salad.

Makes about 2 cups.

Two different salads made by two different individuals
Creations from the DIY Salad Bar

Beautifully browned and spiced chicken tenders
Spiced Chicken Tenders for Toppers

Partially eaten Southwest Chicken Salad
Variety of Color, Flavor and Texture in Every Bite

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