It’s spring time! April is here, which marks the beginning of spring in my mind, even if it still looks like winter outside (which it does, and probably will for a while yet, here in the mountains!). After months of warming cold-weather dishes, I don’t think I could even look at another stew or pot of chilli. I’m more than ready to trade winter’s hearty fare for the lighter, brighter and fresher recipes of spring. This vibrant main course salad is full of the good-for-you, in season produce arriving on store shelves now. Crisp Romaine lettuce, tender asparagus, sweet peas and refreshing cucumber make a fresh green base for tender roasted chicken, cooling mint leaves and salty feta cheese. Drizzle it all with the most delicious lemon dressing for a satisfying and elegant meal. Short on time? Pick up a fresh rotisserie chicken from the grocery store for a meal that’s fast and simple enough for a weeknight, but pretty and special enough for company.
Spring Salad with Chicken and Lemon Dressing
Time: 30 minutes Servings: 4-6
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 small clove of garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
- 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp honey
- 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cups of fresh or frozen green peas
- 1 bunch (about 454 gr/1 lb) asparagus, washed well to remove any grit and woody ends removed (*see recipe notes below)
- 1 cup of sliced English cucumber (about half of a cucumber, sliced lengthwise, then cut in half moon shapes)
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 3 cups of torn Romaine lettuce leaves
- 1 roasted chicken or fresh store bought rotisserie chicken (about 1.3kg or 3lbs), warm or chilled
- 3/4 cup of Feta cheese, diced
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
- Lemon slices for serving
- Freshly ground black pepper
1- Prepare the lemon dressing: Add the lemon juice and garlic to a jar with a tight fitting lid. Allow the garlic to soak in the lemon juice for 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest, olive oil, honey, mustard and salt to the jar, and screw on the lid. Shake the jar until the dressing is fully combined. Set aside.
2- Blanch the peas and asparagus: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While you’re waiting for the water to boil, lay a clean kitchen towel out on a work surface. Lay paper towel over the kitchen towel. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl half way with ice. Pour cold water over the ice to cover and submerge the ice. Place the ice bath near the stove so it will be handy once you start blanching the vegetables.
Add the peas to the boiling water and cook for just 60 seconds until bright green. Using a slotted spoon with small holes or a fine mesh stainer, scoop the peas out of the boiling water and immediately plunge them into the ice bath. This will quickly stop the cooking process, preserving the peas’ bright green colour and fresh, sweet flavour. Let the peas sit in the ice bath for 2 minutes until chilled, then use the slotted spoon or fine mesh strainer to remove the peas from the bath. Allow the excess water to drain back into the ice bath, then spread the peas out on the paper towel lined kitchen towel. Gently pat dry. Add more ice to the ice bath if needed. Next, plunge the asparagus into the boiling water and allow to cook just until the asparagus is tender, about 3 minutes for thin stalks and 4 minutes for thicker stalks. Remove the asparagus from the boiling water and immediately plunge it into the ice bath until fully cooled. Transfer the asparagus to the paper towel lined kitchen towel and pat dry. Peas and asparagus can be blanched a day in advance and stored in the fridge until ready to use.
3- Prepare the Chicken: Remove the meat from the chicken, leaving the golden skin attached to some pieces if you’d like. Discard the chicken bones or reserve to make chicken stock for another use.
4- Arrange the salad: Place the Romaine lettuce leaves on a large rimmed platter. Tuck groups of asparagus and cucumber slices in amongst the lettuce. Distribute pieces of chicken evenly around the platter, tucking them into the greens. Add the peas, letting them collect in groups inside the Romaine leaves and amongst the chicken and other vegetables. Scatter feta cheese, green onion slices and mint leaves over the salad and top the salad with a few cracks of freshly ground pepper. Tuck in a few lemon slices for garnish and serve the salad immediately with dressing on the side.
Full of chicken, vegetables and feta, this salad is a complete meal on it’s own, so it doesn’t need much else, other than maybe some warm bread and Fresh Herb Butter on the side.
With this salad’s lemon flavour and light, fresh feel, I would opt for a chilled Pinot Grigio.
- The first step in making the dressing for this salad is to soak the garlic in the lemon juice for 5 minutes. The reason for this is that the acid in the lemon juice will help neutralize any harshness in the raw garlic. Harshness is less likely to be found in very fresh garlic, Look for bulbs that have tight, papery skins and that feel hard when gently squeezed. Avoid garlic heads that have loose, peeling skins,. or green sprouts emerging from the top, or those that feel soft and spongy when squeezed.
- Salting the blanching water: Be sure to add plenty of salt to the blanching water; about 1 Tbsp of salt for 5L of water. The salt will season the pease and asparagus throughout and will help preserve the bright green colours.
- Washing asparagus: Fine sand and debris can hide in asparagus tips, so pay close attention to the leafy tops when cleaning asparagus to avoid grit. To wash asparagus, start by removing the rubber band holding the bunch together. Working with a handful of stalks at time, rinse the asparagus under cold running water, paying close attention to the leafy tips. Use your fingers to loosen any dirt if necessary.
- Removing the woody ends:. Asparagus stalks will naturally snap where the tough part meets the tender stalk, so no need to use a knife. Working with one asparagus spear at a time, hold the middle of the stalk in one hand. Using the other hand, grab the woody end and bend the stalk until it snaps. Repeat until all the woody ends have been snapped off.
- Use the chicken bones to make stock now, or freeze them in a resealable bag to make chicken stock later. Here’s my recipe for Simple Golden Chicken Stock. Use the stock now to make soup or freeze it for later.