Monday, August 13, 2007

Training Meals, Part 2: Chicken and Nectarine Salad

One of my very favorite fruits is the nectarine. I may even like it better than the peach, which is saying a lot. But it's close. The thing about nectarines is that, to me, they are the perfect element in a fruit salad. No fruit salad can be bad if there are ripe, juicy, sweet nectarines in them.

Chicken salad also lends itself well to nectarines. I've played around with lots of chicken salad recipes, and I generally like them best if they contain a fruit and a nut (chopped apples or grapes with smoked almonds, for example).

I came across this recipe when my friend Elizabeth made it for a small cooking group we used to have. She'd taken it from Cooking Light, and I've altered it just a bit. It doesn't have any mayonnaise, so it's terrifically light, sweet, and healthy. Other than the sugar, it's probably a perfectly nutritious meal. It's also very light on calories, so I recommend serving it with some bread if you're going to be running or biking the next morning. White bread is delicious, a whole-wheat baguette would really round out the meal nicely.

Chicken and Nectarine Salad

1 1/2 lbs. (about 3 large halves) chicken breasts, trimmed of fat
1 lemon
1 c. loosely-packed fresh mint leaves
1/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. white wine vinegar
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced (a generous cup)
1/3 c. chopped pecans, toasted
3 large nectarines, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups, at most, if you have a 3-year old helper)
1/4 c. finely minced red onion

To poach the chicken, fill a medium saucepan halfway with water. Add 1 t. salt and a few slices from the ends of the lemon. Place the chicken breasts in the water, being careful not to stack them. Turn the heat to medium and bring the water just to a simmer, just until you barely see bubbles rising to the surface. Turn the heat almost to low and keep at a low simmer for 8 minutes. Turn the heat off, remove the saucepan from the burner, and let the chicken rest for 20 minutes. Remove from the water to a plate and cool completely in the refrigerator. Cut up into chunks for the salad; you should have about 3 cups.

In a food processor, blend the mint leaves and sugar until the leaves are finely ground. Add in the vinegar, 1 T. lemon juice, 1/2 t. salt, and a few grinds of pepper, then process another few seconds.

In a bowl, combine the chicken, cucumber, pecans, onion, nectarines, and dressing. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Chill and serve.

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