Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cherry Pecan Chicken Salad

Until the past year or two, I rarely put fresh fruit on my salads with the exception of the occasional canned Mandarin orange on a "Chinese" chicken salad, but now I've come to adore the contrast in texture and flavor that fresh fruit can add to a green salad. Apples, cherries, berries-they're all fair game when I'm creating new salads these days. When I'm putting together a main course salad, I typically pick an ingredient from each of the following categories-protein (meat, beans, or tofu/seitan), cheese, and nuts, plus all the fruits and vegetables that fit into my theme (my side salads are typically just a collection of mass quantities of veggies).

The all-too-brief Door County cherry season is in full swing right now, and I while I've eaten mass quantities of plain sweet cherries, I thought I should would be remiss if I didn't work them into any recipes as well. The sweet cherries blend beautiful with the assertive red onion and creamy, tart goat cheese, with the pecans lending a crunchy, toasty, rich element to the salad. The grilled chicken is mostly present to make the salad more substantial and filling, but this salad could easily be made vegetarian by increasing the amount of nuts and cheese or substituting tofu for the chicken. This  late summer salad bridges the flavors of summer and fall, easing the transition from the bright, sunny glory days of summer to the crisp, cool, comforting fall season.

Cherry Pecan Chicken Salad
serves 2

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
8 ounces mixed salad greens
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup sweet cherries, halved and pitted
2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
Salad dressing, for serving (I like balsamic vinaigrette or honey mustard dressing)

1. Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium heat. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Cook chicken breast until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F, remove from heat, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Slice evenly into thin slices.

2. Meanwhile, wash and dry greens and chop, if necessary. Distribute greens evenly between two large plates, topping each with half of the red onion, cherries, goat cheese, and pecans. Add the sliced chicken to the top, drizzle with dressing, and enjoy!

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