Home. Where the knives are sharpest, the bed is most comfortable, and the cupboards are filled with familiar spices and boxes of tea. It’s also where the basement flooded, the peas in the garden became slumped and sad, and the dog was so lonely she forgot to eat, despite her nana’s attempts to jazz up her food with dollops of beef gravy. It’s good to be back.
Our vacation was wonderful. Relaxing yet busy, inspiring, mostly internet-free, and packed with plenty of memories for years to come. It was also peppered with Carolina barbecue, hushpuppies, made-to-order donuts, sweet tea, fried seafood and ice cream for lunch, lime-a-rita beer, and plantation peanuts picked up in rural Virginia on our way down south. To say we overate would be putting it mildly; to say we enjoyed every minute would be an understatement.
But, as we all know, what goes up (daily calories and cholesterol, I’m looking at you) must come down, and this week we’re on a “fast” to offset the effects of all the feasting. We’re not abstaining from all foods and drink, of course, and Rob was quick to remind me that he’s still planning on enjoying a drink or two, but you can bet our dinner table will be filled with bowls of salad, lean proteins, and plenty of fruit this week.
Our first meal back was a cherry and chicken salad. Remarkably, the dish made use of what I had on hand after a quick trip to the grocery store, and it was put together with the boys in mind. They hate salad, but love chicken; they also adore Asian flavours, so I included a simple 5-spice vinaigrette and crispy ramen noodles, which were pan-fried until golden brown. There is no denying that they were the key to making this meal a success for the kids, and admittedly, Rob and I loved the crunch they added to the plate.
Like most salads, this one is incredibly versatile. Use fresh cherries instead of dried if that’s what you have, and feel free to omit the noodles altogether if they aren't your thing. Swap whole almonds for the slivers, if you prefer, and consider replacing the mixed greens with Asian ones, if that's what your heart desires. Lastly, I'm thinking shredded or barbecued duck would make a mighty fine stand-in for the chicken, if your family approves of that sort of thing.
Cherry and Chicken Salad with 5-Spice Vinaigrette
This salad is inspired by at least four different recipes from Salad for Dinner, the book that's getting the biggest workout in my kitchen these days. Feel free to complete the first two steps at least one day ahead, covering the salad and storing it in the fridge, and tucking the noodles into a jar or baggie. Assemble the complete salad just before serving. The broccoli can be cooked at least 3 days in advance.
For the salad:
- 2-3 large handfuls of mixed greens
- 1 cup sliced celery
- 2 cups broccoli florets, blanched, drained, and cooled
- 2 green onions, end trimmed and thinly sliced
- 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
- 2/3 cups dried cherries
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 package ramen noodles, crushed (discard spice packet)*
For the 5-spice vinaigrette:
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon 5-spice powder
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
For the salad: Combine the greens, celery, broccoli, green onion, chicken, cherries, and almonds in a large bowl. If using the noodles, warm the olive oil in a medium skillet and add the noodles, cooking them until they are golden brown and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Place all of the vinaigrette ingredients in an empty jam jar, attach the lid and shake to combine.
To serve, divide the salad evenly between four plates. Sprinkle the fried noodles and sesame seeds over the top, and finish with a hearty drizzle of the salad dressing.
*Choose air-dried ramen noodles whenever possible. Reader Shawna reminded me that many brands are already deep-fried so you likely want to avoid those if you're trying to eat a healthy meal.