Friday, April 9, 2010

Salad days

Fresh salads with crisp new greens, with just a light dressing, with nothing else to hide the taste of Mother Nature's first offerings, are truly a gift to gardeners and friends of gardeners.

You can't make a meal out of them alone, but they do make a good basis for a simple supper: the warm salad.

The greens and the cheese are cold here; everything else is at room temperature or slightly warm. The coq au vin refers not to the classic slow-cooked dish, but just that the chicken breasts are cooked in wine.

Warm Coq au Vin Salad
Serves 2 as a main dish

2 cups of torn greens
1 cup red wine
1 cup chicken broth
2 dried hot peppers or 2 teaspoons hot pepper flakes
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 bay leaf
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat and any ligaments
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
12 grape tomatoes, cut in half
2 ounces feta cheese cubes
1 red bell pepper, roasted, skinned and sliced
Salt, pepper and extra oregano to taste

Wash, dry and tear the lettuce; wrap in paper towels and put on a plate. Chill.
Combine the wine, broth, dried hot peppers or flakes, peppercorns, teaspoons of oregano and salt, and bay leaf in a saucepan big enough to hold the liquid and chicken breasts. Bring to a full rolling boil. Add the chicken breasts. Cook for 10 minutes, turn off the heat and leave in the warm liquid for about 5 more minutes or until firm. Remove from the liquid to a plate.
As the breasts are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and season with a little pepper. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes. They should have released their liquid when you uncover them; cook until the liquid evaporates, then remove to a plate to cool.
In the salad bowl, place the tomato halves and feta cheese cubes, and the rest of the olive oil. Add salt, pepper and oregano to taste. Add the sweet red pepper strips, and the mushrooms when cool. Slice the chicken breasts against the grain into rough strips and add to the bowl. Add the chilled lettuce. Toss, adjust seasoning if needed and serve.
If you want a heartier dinner, use a cup of arugula instead of the lettuce and toss with a cup of cooked tiny green lentils and 4 ounces of pasta (shells, bowties or orzo) cooked and cooled a little. You may need to increase the amount of olive oil a bit, and perhaps add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.
If you have time, coat the chicken with lavender salt and marinate a couple of hours before poaching; decrease the salt in the liquid.

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