Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Summer Chicken Salad with Raspberries, Avocado and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Last week, I was craving salad. While I enjoy a good salad, this doesn't happen very often. One reason I needed a salad fix is that we had just eaten this lovely cavatelli pasta with ricotta the night before, and I perceived the dish as being rich--although it's actually not bad as long as you don't eat a ton of it.

The other reason is that I recently got a new cookbook that is all about salads in all their possible guises--Mediterranean Fresh by Joyce Goldstein. Focusing on fresh, light Mediterranean flavors with emphasis on fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit, this is a book for cooks with a surplus of produce on their hands who are looking for ideas and harmonious flavor combinations. It is also for cooks who love dressing, especially when it's homemade. The many and varied salads in the first section of the book--whether cooked or raw, with lettuce or not--have suggested dressing matches that you'll find in the second part of the book. If this mix and match approach appeals to you, and you eat a lot of salad, you'll love the creative, well-conceived recipes.

While I was inspired by a lot of ideas and flavors as I flipped through the book, I could not commit myself to any one recipe and its dressing, despite ample variations and flexibility. But it did get me in a more innovative mood, which resulted in this salad. I think the best salads are the results of serendipity--using the ingredients you have on hand and the produce you need to use up before it fades, rather than going out and buying a long list of ingredients for a salad recipe.

This salad started with sweet, juicy raspberries that sounded like they were meant to be paired with spinach, feta and almonds. Would avocado work in there too? Why not--it goes great with chicken. I did my dead simple balsamic, shake-in-a-jar dressing, and the salad was incredibly good.

This is more of a suggestion than a recipe, so use it as a jumping off point for your own salad creation.

Summer Chicken Salad with Raspberries, Avocado and Balsamic Vinaigrette
I think a really good salad needs to balance a lot of strong flavors and varying textures. Make sure you have sweetness (fruit), salt (feta and actual salt), sour (vinegar), richness (olive oil and avocado), freshness (greens), crunch (nuts). These elements come in countless forms, but the point is to create variety in every bite. You can make this for as many people as you want.

In a large bowl, toss:

- spinach leaves
- mixed baby greens (bag of spring mix)
- chopped cooked chicken
- thinly sliced red onions (soaked in ice water if you want to tone down the bite)

In a small jar, combine 1 part extra virgin olive oil and 1 part good-tasting balsamic vinegar (doesn't have to be expensive, just taste good), salt and pepper. The classic ratio is 1 part vinegar and 3 parts oil. I like my ratio better, but it's up to you. Screw on the lid tightly and shake to emulsify. Drizzle enough dressing over the spinach mixture to coat it when tossed well.

Divide the salad among large serving bowls and top each one with:

- fresh raspberries
- diced feta
- diced avocado
- toasted slivered almonds

Pass extra dressing at the table if you like.

A review copy of Mediterranean Fresh was generously provided by the publisher.


Christie's Corner said...

Looks fabulous! I, too, do the 1 to 1 oil to vinegar ratio with my salad dressings. Now I can't eat store bought dressings because they're too oily.

I'll definitely be giving this a try, especially as the summer heats up.

Hillary said...

I love all the ingredients here, what a wonderful summer salad! Thanks!

Peabody said...

Yum! I love everything in this salad.

Shandy said...

Living in Washington state, there seems to be an abundance of friends with vegetable gardens jumping out will armfuls of fresh everything to share. I love the colors and flavors of the salad you have posted. The great thing about salads is the adaptability for change and the end result of flavors. Delicious! =D

SarahKate said...

This sounds gorgeous- and anything with avocado is a winner for me. Great recipe!

Julie said...

Charmain: I didn't think I could be the only one doing a 1:1 dressing ratio--otherwise, it's just too much oil.
Hillary: I was really pleased at how well all the ingredients worked together.
Peabody: I especially love the raspberries--they're so rarely good and affordable.
Shandy: yep, having a recipe for an ufussy salad like this just doesn't make sense.
Sarahkate: I know, avocados are so good, in like, anything!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

What a deliciously refreshing summer salad this is, Julie. I'm linking to it on my avocado salad post today.