The unrelenting humidity has arrived like a ton of wet blankets, making the thought of turning on the oven an evil prospect.
Still, you have to eat.
My go-to hot-weather meal starts with a cold rotisserie chicken. From that humble beginning, I can make a dozen salads to soothe the savage beasts. Or at least the hungry wolverines at the table. The subtle flavor of the chicken plays nicely with Asian, Latin and Greek ingredients, not to mention a myriad of herbs, vegetables, fruits and nuts.
I start with a chilled rotisserie chicken that's often $1 less than when it's hot. The cooked whole chicken can be purchased from under the lights and then chilled at home, but it's one less step on a busy weeknight if I can buy it cold.
You can always cook a few extra pieces of chicken when you're baking a bird, chill them and use those for cold salads. Cooked chicken will keep several days in the refrigerator. I recommend cooking breasts on the bone with skin rather than boneless, skinless breasts, which are more expensive and can taste as good as the foam container they're packed in. I know: Boneless, skinless breasts have become the go-to protein for dieters everywhere, but if you discard the skin and bones and blot the fat from whole cooked breasts, you'll come out just about even.
A rotisserie chicken yields about 4 cups of meat, equal amounts of white and dark. That's enough for a main-dish salad for four to six, depending on appetites. (Figure two cups of greens per person, too.) Some grocery stores, Sweetbay among them, sell rotisserie turkey breasts. Those also make good salads.
Make your own dressing or scour the grocery condiment aisles for interesting varieties to change up your usual fare. Vinegar-based dressings are more healthful than creamy, unless you can find low-fat and nonfat versions of them.
Rub them in the nose of the wicked summer weather.
Chicken Cobb Salad
In a wide, shallow bowl, place a mix of cold, chopped iceberg and Romaine lettuce. Arrange piles of sliced hard-boiled eggs, crumbled blue cheese, chopped tomatoes, crumbled turkey bacon, sliced avocado and scallions. Dress with light ranch.
Israeli Couscous Chicken Salad With Olive Vinaigrette
Israeli couscous is a large, pearl-like pasta made of semolina flour. It's a cousin of the much smaller-granule couscous that we are more familiar with. Israeli couscous can be toasted before using, which gives it a nutty taste. For this salad, it adds body and soaks up the flavors from kalamata olives and capers.
Waldorf Chicken Salad
Waldorf salad doesn't have to be for Thanksgiving only. Traditionally, it's chopped apples and celery mixed with toasted walnuts and dressed with a sweetened mayonnaise. Add sliced red grapes and cubed chicken to bulk it up for a hearty deskside work lunch. Make a dressing from mayonnaise mixed with a little honey.
Tarragon Chicken Salad in Lettuce Cups
The licorice zing of fresh tarragon pairs well with chicken. For 4 cups of chicken, you'll need about ¼ cup chopped fresh tarragon. Dress the salad with mayonnaise and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, then add some crunch in the form of sliced celery. Keep it simple or add halved grapes, dried cherries or chopped nuts. A few scoops in an ice-cold lettuce cup fancies it up for a meal.
Honey Cranberry Chicken Salad
Mix 4 cups cubed chicken with 1 cup dried cranberries, 3 chopped celery ribs and ½ cup toasted pecans. Make a dressing of 1 ½ cups mayonnaise mixed with ? cup honey and seasoned salt and pepper. Serve on a bed of lettuce.
Asian Chicken Salad
Fresh cilantro, cashews and shredded cabbage bring a host of flavors and textures to this salad. The recipe calls for a homemade vinaigrette, which is simple to put together.
Tex-Mex Chicken Salad With Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette
The salad fixings aren't special in this salad — lettuce, corn, black beans, chicken, Jack cheese, avocado. It's the dressing that provides the pow. Among the ingredients are honey, lime juice, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and fresh cilantro. Serve with flour tortillas.
Chicken Salad With Peaches and Goat Cheese
Combine equal amounts of shredded or cubed chicken with fresh sliced peaches, plus slices of red onion to taste. Dress with a balsamic vinaigrette and dot with knobs of goat cheese, either plain or herbed.
Chicken Panzanella Salad
Bread — such as focaccia, French or Italian — that's past its prime (that means a bit stale) still has life in an Italian panzanella salad. Cube the bread and mix it with chopped tomatoes and basil plus sliced red pepper and red onion. Dress with a red wine vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. The liquid from the dressing and tomatoes will revive the bread. Before serving, mix in shredded chicken.
Chicken Pasta Salad With Gorgonzola and Nectarines
Cook a bag of whole wheat fusilli pasta according to package directions. Drain, transfer to a bowl and dress immediately with balsamic vinaigrette. Bring to room temperature, then add 8 ounces of crumbled Gorgonzola, the shredded meat from an entire chicken, a pound of thinly sliced nectarines and a handful of torn basil leaves. Season with lots of ground pepper.
Moroccan Chicken Salad
A dressing powered by orange juice, fresh mint and cilantro, cayenne pepper and cinnamon mingles with cooked rice (white or brown, your choice), chicken, shredded carrots and scallions in this refreshingly different salad. Can be served warm, cold or at room temperature. Its lack of mayonnaise makes it a great potluck or picnic offering.
Chinese Chicken Noodle Salad
Make a salad of shredded iceberg lettuce, torn mint leaves, sliced cucumbers and shredded carrots. Top with still-warm cooked vermicelli noodles and cold shredded chicken. Dress with a ginger vinaigrette (Annie's makes one) or Girard's Chinese Chicken Salad Dressing and garnish with chopped peanuts.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.