I love to cook as much as anybody, but in the heat of the summer, I prefer to have a nice chicken salad sandwich or a nice big green salad rather than prepare a whole meal. Chicken salad can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. The ingredients for green salads can be washed and prepared and stored beforehand as well -- just don’t put on the salad dressing until you are ready to eat it, otherwise the ingredients -- especially the leafy ones -- will wilt.
Whenever I make chicken salad, I take care to prepare the chicken in a way that keeps it tender, which helps me to reduce the amount of mayonnaise necessary for the recipe. This is a sure-fire way to keep your chicken tender:
1/2 kilo of boneless chicken, 1/4 cup of white flour
Salt and pepper, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp butter, 1/2-1 tsp spice of your choice (curry, ginger, cumin, garlic powder, etc.)
Lay the chicken out and sprinkle each piece with a dash of salt and pepper on both sides of the meat and let it sit for 10 minutes. There is no need to cut off the extra fat -- you can do that later when the meat is cooked. Meanwhile, put the flour in a bowl and add a pinch of salt and pepper plus whatever spice you chose. Mix the flour mixture well. Dredge the chicken through the flour, making sure it is coated on both sides. Prepare your pan: Using a frying pan that can hold all of the meat and that has a cover (very important!), heat the oil and butter on medium to high heat until the butter is sizzling but not smoking. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and cook for one minute (you are not browning them), flip, turn the heat down to low, cover immediately and leave the chicken cooking for exactly 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and let it sit, covered, for another 10 minutes; during those 20 minutes, don’t take the cover off! Really. Just leave it alone.
After the 20 minutes are up, the chicken is ready to use. If you are making a salad, take it out of the pan and let it completely cool. When it is cool, shred it into a bowl, taking care to discard any fat, cartilage or bone.
The leftover oil mixture can be saved and used in other recipes such as fried rice, bulgur, stir-fried vegetables, egg dishes, etc. Make sure you keep it in the refrigerator.
Variations of chicken salad
The chicken will be moist every time with this recipe -- even chicken breast! Now, there are a few variations with chicken salad, but for a very basic recipe, you can put your shredded chicken in a bowl, add about a tablespoon of mustard, half cup of mayonnaise, two tablespoons of chopped onion, two tablespoons of chopped pepper (non-spicy) and a handful of roasted and chopped walnuts or almonds. Mix the ingredients well and use the salad in a sandwich or serve it on a bed of lettuce.
Other possible additions could include diced apples, dried cranberries, raisins, celery (kereviz sapı) and curry powder.
When putting together a green salad -- often referred to as an “Akdeniz” salad on most restaurant menus -- the sky is the limit. When I’m putting one of these babies together, I think of a phrase I learned from a nutritionist once -- “eat a rainbow every day” -- and so my two aims are color and taste. I generally start with leafy greens: lettuce, spinach and rocket (arugula). Next, I add shredded carrots, slices of red pepper, cucumber and some grated purple cabbage. I top this with a little bit of feta or some other cheese and some roasted nuts (generally walnuts or almonds). I finish the salad with cherry tomatoes cut in half and a salad dressing. If you have some croutons, they make a perfect finish to a nice green salad (recipe in my last article, “Culture shock: Throwing out stale bread is a sin!” April 23, 2012).
The key is to only use the veggies that you like. For example, I’m not a big fan of sprouts and so you’ll never find them in a salad made by me. However, I’ve seen them appear in salads from time to time (mostly in the vegetarian or vegan restaurants).
What really makes the salad all pull together is the salad dressing. Here are a couple of easy-to-make dressings that by far surpass the usual olive oil/lemon juice or pomegranate syrup that you see on many tables in İstanbul.
1 medium clove of garlic, 1/4 tsp salt, 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 6 tbsp fresh orange juice, plus more to taste, 1/4 cup vinegar, 1 tbsp mustard
Crush the garlic and mash it with the salt to form a paste. Add the oil and combine it well (a whisk works great here). Add the vinegar, juice and mustard. Whisk and do a taste test -- you can add up to four more tablespoons of juice to make a less-intense dressing. You can also adjust for salt. This keeps in the fridge for up to five days.
Ginger honey soy dressing
2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger, 2 tbsp. minced fresh garlic, 2 tbsp. honey, 2 tbsp. soy sauce, 2 tbsp. water, 4 tbsp. olive oil
Puree the first four ingredients in a blender. With the blender running, slowly add the oil until the dressing is emulsified. Keep up to a week in the refrigerator. This is the dressing I make the most.
Ginger orange dressing
1/2 tsp freshly grated orange zest, 1/4 cup orange juice, 4 tsp vegetable oil, 1 tbsp minced scallions (taze soğan), 1 tsp minced, peeled fresh ginger, 1/4 tsp minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
This dressing is a light dressing -- notice how little oil is in it! Perfect when you want great taste but are watching your oil intake.
Goat cheese and tomato dressing
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese, 2 tbsp vinegar, 2 tsp honey, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped, 1/2 tsp salt, Freshly ground pepper to taste, 1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon (tarhunotu)
Combine goat cheese, vinegar and honey in a blender or food processor and blend until combined. Add oil and tomatoes and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in tarragon.
1/2 cup lemon juice, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup tahini, 2 tbsp honey, 2 cloves garlic, minced, 1 tsp salt, Freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine lemon juice, oil, tahini, honey and garlic in a jar that has a tight-fitting lid. Blend directly in the jar with a hand blender. Season with salt and pepper.
Spinach and strawberry salad
This salad is my new favorite. As of the writing of this article, the price of strawberries has come down quite a lot. This sweet and delicious salad makes two to four servings. It can be personalized with any of your favorite ingredients or you can keep it very simple.
1 bunch spinach, 1 cup strawberries
Sweet vinaigrette: 1/4 cup of vegetable oil, 4 tbsp vinegar or wine, 4 tbsp sugar
Wash the spinach really well and drain. Put the clean spinach into a large bowl. Wash and slice the strawberries. Add to the spinach. Whisk together the vinaigrette. Toss about two to two-and-a-half tablespoons into the spinach and strawberries. This is a very strong dressing, so use it sparingly! Consider adding poppy seeds, sesame seeds and paprika to the dressing.
Crunchy carrot salad
This simple salad also makes two to four servings. It can be made up to two days prior to serving it, so it’s a great party salad if you want to double or triple the recipe.
2 cups grated carrots, 1/2 cup raisins or minced dates, 4 tbsp vegetable oil, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 4 tbsp chopped parsley, 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground paprika, Pinch of salt, For a bit of heat, add 1/4 teaspoon of hot pepper paste
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and marinate for at least two hours or up to 48 hours. Serve at room temperature or chilled. For a Turkish spin, substitute a half cup of ayran for the lemon juice. You can also add your favorite nuts for some protein.
The combinations that are possible with salads are numerous! Lately I’ve been browsing through the fruit and vegetable sellers’ wares to discover new (for me) ingredients to include in my salads. I’m ready for the hot weather. Are you?