Summer Chicken Salad with Peaches and Blackberries

July 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Hello strangers. It’s been a curious few weeks. My moods have been climbing up and down faster than the San Francisco summer thermometer. For the first time in months, my focus had to slip from the all-consuming minutiae of raising an infant to bigger picture stuff. Going back to work, searching for a nanny, piles of house-related admin. I found myself in the reality check of a slick downtown lawyer’s office, cycle helmet in hand, some kind of baby-food smear on my top, like a cliché of a mom in a movie. The edges were sharper than my woolly existence of maternity leave. It’s all fine – I quite like sharp edges – but I haven’t had much brain space for writing, or even cooking.

Since I was last here, I had Ollie at home for 3 long, staycation weeks of paternity leave. I thought those weeks would see me in the kitchen a lot, and writing even more. It didn’t really happen that way; in fact, I cooked much less than I do on a normal daily basis. Partly as a consequence of the above, but also because we enjoyed lunching out as a threesome most days, and I was granted the luxury of being cooked for on many evenings. I also imagined that we’d use the three weeks to get super healthy. Ollie and I are brilliant at getting each other obsessed by random cleanses, or health kicks. We’re also pretty good at making each other cocktails, and, well, we went down the latter route this time. But I have been craving salad a lot, perhaps as a corrective, and especially those dotted with the drool-worthy stone fruits we’re wolfing down at the moment (none less than Henry, whose enthusiasm should strike fear into the stony hearts of peaches everywhere).

Salads are pretty low on fuss as far as dinners go: no hours of oven, reasonably few timing problems, accepting of stops and starts. These are all the qualities that drew me to Jeanne Kelley’s cookbook Salad for Dinner. You may well wonder why you would need recipes for salads, let alone an entire cookbook on the subject. I felt the same – isn’t the whole charm of the salad its accommodating nature, the fact you can toss this and that into a bowl and come up with a meal? This book proves that wrong on two scores. First: there are some really quite inventive dishes here, things you might not have thought to make into a form you would later characterize as a “salad”. That’s partly what really makes them dinner worthy and the book so much fun to read. Second: the dressings make all the difference. A drizzle of this oil, and dash of that herb: the dressings complement their ingredients just so, to heights that my regular oil-vinegar-seasoning combos don’t quite reach. The notion of salad isn’t typically, instinctively comforting but it got me back in the kitchen and, as always, the kitchen is where I find my ground again. Dinner by dinner.

Summer Chicken Salad with Peaches and Blackberries
Adapted from Salad for Dinner by Jeanne Kelley

For the marinade/chicken:
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. hazelnut oil, or extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1lb/500g boneless chicken breasts, ideally with skin (about 2 large or 3 small breasts)

For the salad:
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. minced shallot
12 cups mixed greens (see note below)
2 peaches, pitted and sliced
1 cup/1 punnet fresh blackberries
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (I didn’t toast mine as I was rushing. Nobody died)
2 oz/50g blue cheese, crumbled

* I have thought about how to quantify 12 cups of salad for a non-US market and have decided that all you need to know is that you need enough salad greens for 4 people to make this recipe. Use your eye/judgment.

Start by marinading the chicken. Combine 2 tbsp. vinegar, 2 tbsp. oil, 1 tbsp. honey, the chopped thyme and 1/2 tsp salt in a small bowl or dish and stir to blend. Add the chicken breasts and coat in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

When you are ready to start the salad, preheat a stovetop grill pan or cast iron saut̩ pan to medium heat. Grill the chicken until browned and cooked through Рthis was about 6 minutes per side for my chicken breasts. Transfer to a cutting board to rest while you prepare the rest of the salad.

In a large bowl, combine 2 tbsp. vinegar, 1 tbsp. honey and 1/2 tsp salt. Slowly whisk in the 1/4 cup/60ml oil until well combined. Stir in the shallot. Add the greens, peaches, and blackberries to the dressing in the bowl and toss to combine. Divide among 4 plates.

Thinly slice the chicken and arrange atop the salad plates. Sprinkle the salads with the hazelnuts and cheese and serve.

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