Do any of you remember the Barbara Streisand movie “The Mirror Has Two Faces?” In it, as Jeff Bridges watches with affection, she methodically tackles the disparate elements on her plate, uniting them in the right proportions until she has The Perfect Bite. This is how I cook–each element on the plate can be mixed together in perfect synchrony, or if you’re one of those people who’s food absolutely cannot touch, you can keep them apart and it’ll still be nice. I’m a Perfect Bite person. And that, my friends, is why I love salad. Each bite has the potential to be the Perfect Bite.
Potential? Yes, because salad can also be pretty lame. A good salad should have a mixtures of textures and flavors, and, I always prefer to cut it up and toss it around a bunch. I mean, I get food not touching, but salad is basically a casserole–everything is supposed to be eaten together (Side Note: I love my job and this makes me think of some of the more heated debates that take place in a university writing center, one of my favorites being what constitutes a sandwich). 🙂
I remember being out with a friend for lunch once, and she, being halfway done with her meal while I was still fastidiously cutting my salad, commented how she’d never thought to do that, but she supposed this made the salad more evenly distributed. Yes, yes it does. It makes, without fail, each bite the Perfect Bite.
Salad is amazing. It’s one of my favorite things in the world to eat. Seriously, is there anything better than a salad that has a glorious, tactile mixture of textures and flavors, where every single bite you eat is perfect on a warm evening? If rice and beans is my favorite food, salad is my favorite summer food. We eat it pretty much every day during the season. This salad is one of our favorites–an old standby from when Brian and I were still dating. In fact, it contributed to us getting married–I knew he was the one when he shared my passion for vegetables, especially lettuce. The picture shows it all pre-cut and toss, because let’s be honest, it’s hard to find a photo of a cut-up tossed salad pretty. But rest assured that this salad did indeed get turned into a series of Perfect Bites as soon as this photo was taken. 🙂
Santa Fe Salad
Yield: 4 servings
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
2 chicken breasts, chopped (see below)
1/2 C sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 C baked tortilla strips (recipe below)
chipotle-ranch dressing to taste (recipe below)
2 chicken breasts
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground chipotle powder
1/4 C lime juice
sea salt and pepper to taste
1 T olive oil
2 burrito-sized flour tortillas, cut into strips
1/2 C olive oil
1/3 C lime juice
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t smoked paprika
1/4 t ground oregano
sea salt to taste
1/4 C your favorite ranch dressing*
2 T your favorite salsa*
1-2 chipotle chiles, chopped (to taste)
1/2 t adobo sauce from can of chipotle chiles (to taste)
1 t strawberry or raspberry jam (to taste)*
*I will be sharing recipes for my homemade ranch, salsa, and jam eventually, but am not including them here at present because it makes the recipe seem super complicated. 🙂 For now, please know that I will happily use store-bought stuff if I don’t have homemade stuff made– it’s still delicious.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Prepare an iron skillet (or other heavy-bottomed skillet) with a tablespoon of olive oil and set it on your stovetop.
Prep the chicken–Cut the chicken across lengthwise, as you would to butterfly, and cut all the way across, giving you two whole-looking chicken breasts. Then, slice down vertically across each breast to cut it into 1 inch thick strips, then cut across horizontally to cut each strip into 1 inch cubes. Combine the spices together and toss over the cut chicken, tossing and coating the chicken all over. Let it rest while you make the dressing and tortilla strips.
Make the dressing–combine everything with a whisk in a small container with a lid and set in the fridge until ready to use. The jam adds a hint of sweetness to counteract the smoky heat of the chipotle (there’s that Perfect Bite balance of tastes and textures thing).
Make the tortilla strips–cut a burrito-sized tortilla in half, and then in quarters, and then take small strips off each quarter. In a medium bowl, combine everything but the tortilla strips and sea salt with a whisk. Add the tortilla strips and toss around to coat evenly. Lay-out the strips evenly on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake them in the preheated oven for 6-9 minutes, until browned and crisp to touch but not burnt (this can happen quickly, so keep an eye on it). Remove them from the oven and sprinkle well with sea salt. You may have to do two trays, depending on the size of your baking sheet and how thinly you cut your strips. Set the cooled strips aside until ready to use.
Cook the chicken–heat your iron skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat until rippling hot. Add the seasoned chicken pieces and cook, without disturbing, for 2-3 minutes. This is building a wall of flavor on your chicken and giving them a nice sear. If your pan isn’t big enough, consider doing this in two batches so that you don’t crowd the chicken in the pan (this will impact your sear and cause your chicken to steam. It’ll still taste alright, but the flavor will not be as intense and the texture will be off). Add the lime juice and scrape the chicken into it, scraping the bottom of the pan and turning the pieces over as you go–this is called “deglazing” and is making sure all the good bits from the bottom of the pan remain on the chicken. Cook another 2 minutes or so, until done, and remove until ready to toss the salad. Repeat if you needed to do two batches.
Prep the lettuce and cheese–cut one whole head of romaine into bite-sized pieces and wash it well. Let it dry, or spin it dry in a salad spinner. Shred the cheese with a block grater and set aside. Yes, freshly shredded cheese is worth it on so many levels. I invested in a block grater a decade ago and have been loving it ever since. I buy cheese in bulk blocks for so much less money than bags of pre-shredded, and there’s no need for any preservative coating since it’s being used immediately.
Assemble the salad–in the bottom of a mixing bowl, add the dressing, then the lettuce, chicken, cheese, and tortilla strips. .Use tongs to toss and mix until thoroughly combined. Serve immediately, as the lettuce will wilt in the dressing and the heat of the chicken.
Note: If you hope to make this salad ahead of time, you can layer it: dressing first, chicken and cheese enough to cover the dressing and protect the lettuce, then put lettuce in and top with the tortilla strips. Toss just before serving, whether to a crowd or for your lunch.
Goodness, that sounds like a lot of steps, but trust me, it’s actually very easy, I just broke it down into its components for ease of understanding. Now, quickly because this post is getting super long, let me give you the weekly meal plan. I’m late on it due to the long-weekend, but I want to make sure you all have it so you know what’s coming.
Weekly Meal Plan:
Monday (Memorial Day)–we had a cookout with my parents, naturally
Tuesday–Asian lettuce wraps and spicy noodles
Wednesday–tandoori chicken and naan bread
Friday–homemade pizza night
Sunday–another cookout (’tis Summer!)