Chinese Chicken Salad

Every once in awhile, I crave a good Chinese Chicken Salad. The salad is tangy, sweet, sour, and just a little spicy. And I don’t know what it is, but there’s something special about those little Mandarin oranges that makes me feel like I’m eating a treat. It’s a perfect full meal with your protein, veggies, and carbs. But the most beautiful part of making a meal like this is that you can easily double or triple the recipe to make awesome leftovers. Just pack leftover salad in containers and you’ve got easy grab-and-go work lunches. It’s an easy, quick, healthy, and delicious meal that’s always a big hit in my house!

Not only do I love the taste, but I love all those beautiful colors!

What you’ll need:

  • For the salad:
    • 4 chicken breasts or 8 chicken tenders
    • 1/2 head napa cabbage, thinly shredded (about 6 cups)
    • 1/2 head red cabbage, shredded (about 2 cups)
    • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
    • 5 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
    • 1 (11-ounce) can Mandarin oranges in water, drained
    • 1 package plain Ramen noodles, dry (seasoning excluded)
  • For the dressing:
    • 4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
    • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
    • 6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon minced fresh or dry garlic
    • 1 tablespoon minced fresh or dry ginger
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
    • 1/2 tablespoon hot sauce, like Sriracha

**A few tips on the ingredients: Buying heads of cabbage is very inexpensive, but if you want to save some time you can buy bags of already shredded cabbage instead. If you can’t find Mandarin oranges in water, buying  them in syrup is fine. Just drain and rinse them. Also, notice all my dressing ingredients are measured by the tablespoon… to save a dish! Just make sure you measure the dry ingredients first (ginger, garlic, brown sugar) before you measure the wet ingredients, and just eyeball the hot sauce.

What you’ll need to do:

Start by cooking your chicken in a large pan (see “Let’s Talk Chicken” for instructions).

While the chicken cooks, chop your veggies. Have a large salad bowl handy so you can toss your veggies in as they’re chopped. You’ll want to slice the cabbage thinly. I like to cut the head of cabbage in half, cut out the hard core, place it on the cutting board on it’s flat side for stability, and then just slice right to left. Then, peel and chop your carrot. Chop your scallions (green onions) thinly and toss them in the bowl. Drain and rinse your Mandarin oranges, then add them to the salad.

Your chicken is still probably cooking at this point, so move on to the salad dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together all salad dressing ingredients. Or, if you have a container with a lid (like a salad cruet or even a small Tupperware), add all ingredients, cover, and shake to combine. Make sure you read my tip about adding dry ingredients first and then the wet ingredients! Set the dressing aside.

Once your chicken is done, chop into bite-sized cubes and add to the salad. Toss the salad with the dressing. Lastly, crumble the dry Ramen noodles with your fingers and top the salad for an extra crunch.

Enjoy!

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Mediterranean Quinoa Salad Bowl

To date, Chicken, Pesto, and Spinach Quinoa is by far my most popular recipe. So I wanted to do another little spin on that bowl, this time with a Mediterranean twist. And instead of making a pasta bowl or a rice bowl like in the aforementioned recipe, I swap in still-incredibly-tasty-but-much-healthier quinoa. This dish is high on protein and fiber with all the flavors of the Mediterranean, so skip the line and cost at your local lunch place and make it yourself. Plus, it makes great leftovers!

This one is a big hit!

What you’ll need:

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
4 chicken breasts or 8 chicken tenders
2 cups spinach, chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2  red pepper, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
10 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tbsp basil
1 tbsp parsley
1 tbsp oregano
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

**Don’t be afraid of the ingredients list. You should already have the quinoa, chicken, olive oil, and herbs in your kitchen staples, and the herbs can be either dry or chopped fresh. The red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard are almost always in my kitchen anyway because they last forever and you can use them in other recipes. So all you really need to pick up is the spinach, tomatoes, pepper, shallot, olives, and cheese – that’s less than half the ingredient list!

What you’ll need to do:

Start cooking the chicken so that it’ll be done by the time the rest of your ingredients are assembled. For instructions on how to cook the chicken, check out my post “Let’s Talk Chicken.”

Right after you start the chicken, get the quinoa on the stove. Combine the water and the quinoa in a small pot over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, cover and turn the heat down to low. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes. For more detailed instructions and pictures, check out “Quick and Easy Quinoa.”

While the chicken and quinoa cook, chop all your veggies into similarly sized, smallish pieces. As you chop, throw them into a large salad bowl to get them out of the way.

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something relaxing about chopping veggies. It helps me unwind at the end of the day.

In a separate container or bowl, mix together your red wine vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard. Set aside.

When the chicken is done, cut it into small, bite-sized pieces and add to the large bowl. After the quinoa is done, add it to the large bowl with the veggies, chicken, feta cheese, and herbs (by this time, all your ingredients are in the bowl except the dressing). Lastly, toss all the ingredients with the vinegar, oil, and mustard dressing.

Enjoy!

Yum!

Avocado, Tomato, and Cucumber Salad with my Zesty Dressing

A few weeks ago, I posted about how much I love avocados, so much so that an avocado tree was my tree of choice when I was a kid. Well today you’re in for a treat, this recipe was made with avocados from that very tree.

This salad is one of my favorite summer dishes because it’s fresh and light. The ingredients are all in season, which makes them super flavorful. The avocados taste smooth, buttery, and rich with a subtle nuttiness; the tomatoes pop with a slight sweetness and acidity; the cucumbers add lightness and a crunch to the salad; and my zesty dressing adds the citrusy zing that brings this simple salad to the next level. Whenever I make this dish, I can’t help but go back for a giant scoop of seconds.

I love how fresh and delicious this is. And I love that it’s not your typical salad.

What you’ll need (makes 4 servings):

For the salad:

  • 2 large avocados
  • 3 vine-ripened tomatoes (or 4 plum tomatoes)
  • 1 cucumber

For the dressing:

What you’ll need to do:

For any salad, as I’ve mentioned, I always start by making the salad dressing because it gives the flavors some time to marry. In whatever container is good for salad dressing, start by combining your zesty Italian salad dressing mix, lemon juice, and sherry. Shake or stir, and then set it aside until you’re done preparing your avocados, tomatoes, and cucumber.

As I wrote in my guacamole recipe, start with ripe avocados. You’ll know they’re the perfect ripeness if they’re about the same density as if you press on the pad of your hand. Use your knife to cut your avocado all the way around length-wise, dragging your knife tip around the pit and being careful not to puncture it. Twist your avocado like an Oreo to release it. Then, use your knife to chop into the pit to get a grip on it, then twist your knife to release the pit. Slice your avocado vertically while it’s still in the skin, but be careful to not puncture the skin, then slice horizontally to make perfect chunks. Use a spoon to scoop the chunks out of the skin into a medium bowl.

**Tip: I found this awesome diagram of how to cut an avocado, which I posted on my Facebook page here. Like my Facebook page while you’re there!

See those beauties? Those were grown on the tree I planted years ago at my parent’s house. Delicious. My pride and joy.

Chop your tomatoes into the same-sized chunks as your avocado. Then peel your cucumber and slice into similarly-sized chunks. Add the tomato and cucumber to the bowl with your avocado.

Go back to your salad dressing and add the oil, then shake or stir to combine. Toss your avocado, tomato, and cucumber with about 1/2 cup of your dressing (you’ll have leftover dressing, perfect for any regular salad). The lemon juice in the dressing will help the avocados stay green and not brown. Most importantly, it adds an extra zing to your delicious dish.

Enjoy!

Yum.

Green Apple, Cranberry, and Feta Salad

Have you ever been invited to a BBQ or potluck last-minute and thought, “Shoot, what am I going to bring?” Sure, you can bring a bottle of wine or beer AGAIN, but you don’t want to be THAT person that only ever brings the booze. You want to bring something tasty, something that will make people want to keep inviting you back, and you don’t want that something to be store-bought. Well, that situation happened to me recently when I ran into a neighbor who said, “Oh hey, we’re going to BBQ at the pool tonight, do you want to join us?” That BBQ was to start in one hour.

With SeaJetCook’s reputation on the rise, I knew I couldn’t bring just a 6-pack of beer. But I had nothing in my fridge that I could throw together for a big group of people (I normally cook for a group of two). So I ran to the market and grabbed ingredients that would create a SeaJetCook-worthy salad in about 5 minutes – very little chopping involved.

Gotta love any dish that only takes 5 minutes to make.

What you’ll need:
1 16 ounce pack of mixed greens (if you can get already washed greens, even better)
1 cup dried cranberries
1 6 ounce pack of crumbled feta cheese
2 green apples

What you’ll need to do:

Chop your apples to about the same size chunks as the large chunks in your feta cheese (you’ll want to get all components on a fork for a perfect bite). Then dump your mixed greens in a large salad bowl. Add in your cranberries, feta cheese, and chopped apples. Toss, and you’re done! Add any dressing you like; this blush vinaigrette is my favorite, but a raspberry vinaigrette would also be tasty.

I love how simple this is because it involves very little chopping (that’s the most time-consuming part of any salad). But whenever I bring this dish to a potluck, no one ever leaves enough for leftovers! The creaminess of the feta and sweetness of the cranberries complement the crisp, tartness of the green apple. Enjoy!

Citrusy Kale Salad with Canned Peaches

Kale is one of those super-foods you’re always hearing about. It’s a dark green, leafy veggie that’s packed full of vitamins and nutrients. Because it’s also high in fiber and low in calories, I consider kale a “free” food (as in, one you can eat and eat to your heart’s content without a worry for your waistline). For those of you who haven’t had kale, it’s basically like spinach with the crunchiness of lettuce. And paired with a citrusy-sweet, homemade dressing and canned peaches, it’s a guilt-free yummy side that makes enough leftovers for lunch.

Two giant cups of this is less than 100 calories, so eat up and enjoy!

What you’ll need:

  • 1 bunch kale (save a few stems for kale chips, recipe to come!)
  • 1 can peaches in light syrup
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • For the dressing (all from your kitchen staples):
    • 2 tablespoons honey
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil

What you’ll need to do:

Okay, I know this recipe is going to sound complicated, but it’s not. Step 1, slice kale into thin strips. Step 2, massage lemon juice in with kale. Step 3, make dressing. Step 4, slice your canned peaches and add to the kale. Step 5, toss with dressing. It’s simple, really. But here’s an in-depth step-by-step…

After you’ve washed and dried your kale, tear the leaves off the stems and slice the leaves into thin strips. *Quick tip: have your salad bowl on the counter and your trash can on the ground next to you so you can throw your sliced kale leaves in the bowl and discard your stems as you go.

This is what kale looks like so you can find it at the market. You’ll want to remove all those stems by tearing off the leaves with your hands. Then you can slice the leaves into thin strips with your knife.

Toss your sliced kale with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and use your hands to massage the lemon juice into the kale for about a minute, kind of like how you knead bread dough. You want to massage the kale until it gets nice and soft – trust me, you’ll know when it’s done. Let it rest while you make your dressing.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey and remaining lemon juice. Drizzle in your olive oil while you whisk to see the dressing form.

Drain your canned peaches and rinse with water. Since the dressing has honey in it already, you don’t want to add any more sweetness from the syrup. Slice into bite-sized chunks and throw in with your kale. *Quick tip: the original recipe that inspired this dish uses mango. Mango is super delicious but is more of a pain to deal with than just a simple can of peaches. But if you have the patience to peel, slice, and chop a mango, then go for it! 

Lastly, toss your kale and peaches with the dressing and serve.

Enjoy!

For dinner, I served my kale salad with a basic lemon chicken (see “let’s talk chicken“) and sweet potato chips (recipe to come!). After I put my chicken in the pan and popped my potatoes in the oven, I started my salad. The timing works beautifully. 

Super Simple Pasta Salad

For the same reason I love making a big pot of soup on Sunday, I love making a giant bowl of super simple pasta salad. You can load it with whatever veggies you need to use up, add a little chicken, and throw it in pre-packaged lunch containers in the fridge for grab-and-goes all week. It’s delicious! And if you do it right, it can be pretty healthy, too.

I’m notoriously not a morning person and will sleep until the last possible second, so having lunch already made for the week let’s me get my precious Z’s and saves me from buying lunch.

The idea behind my pasta salad, if I haven’t emphasized it enough, is its simplicity. You just take a box of short pasta (like penne, rigatoni, or rotini), take whatever veggies you like (or need to be used), add a little chicken for protein (tofu would work, too), and toss in a light balsamic vinaigrette (or any olive oil based dressing). I like tomatoes and olives in every pasta salad, and both are really easy to grab at the market. Cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, celery, spinach, bell peppers, jicama, beans, or cheese would be good, too. You have a lot of wiggle room on this, so go nuts! Here’s what I did this week…

What you’ll need:
1 16 ounce box rotini pasta
1 pint grape tomatoes (about 2 cups, or whatever you have on hand)
1 can olives
2 cups arugula
1 1/2 cups light balsamic vinaigrette
2 chicken breasts

What you’ll need to do:

Get that pasta cooking according to the instructions on the box – after you add your short pasta to boiling water, it’ll take about 10 minutes to cook. Use the taste test to check if it’s done (my preferred method, of course).

Slice your chicken in small bite-sized chunks so they’ll be ready to pop right in the salad. Throw your bite-sized chicken chunks in a large pan over medium-high heat (don’t forget to spray with cooking spray!). Turn with a spatula to make sure all sides are cooked. After it’s done, just turn off the heat and let it sit until everything else is ready.

My chicken takes about as long as the pasta, so I figure I can pack in a little protein while I’m already in the kitchen.

While your pasta and chicken cook, slice your grape tomatoes in half and add them to a giant salad bowl as you go. Then drain your olives, and dump them in the bowl with the tomatoes. Add your arugula. Super simple, no?

I try to make my tomatoes about the same size as my olives so that I can get as much goodness on my fork as possible.

Once your pasta is done, drain and add back to the pot. Toss your pasta with about half of your salad dressing so it has a chance to seep into the hot pasta and so the pasta doesn’t stick (I really don’t measure this, I just add most of the bottle of salad dressing by the time all is said and done, tasting to make sure it’s good as I go). Let it briefly cool.

Lastly, add your pasta and chicken to the large salad bowl with the tomatoes, olives, and arugula. Toss with the remainder of the salad dressing and portion out into lunch-sized containers for the rest of the week. Or, save it as a special side for another dinner that week.

Enjoy!

Zesty Salad Dressing and a Salad Veggie How-To

This is definitely going to be more of my more “how-to,” “knowledge-packed” posts, so brace yourselves. But I promise it takes longer to say the title of this blog post than it does to make the salad and the dressing.

Clinton and I love salads. They’re so light and crisp and refreshing that for us, healthy is just a nice benefit. And I love having a nice, bright salad as a side dish to a simple chicken dinner, especially with summer right around the corner. Salads are such a simple addition to a potluck, BBQ by the pool, or picnic in the park. So the goal of this post is to take you step-by-step through what I like to buy for my perfect side salad, how I pick out my veggies, how to chop them, and how to make a super easy, homemade dressing.

While it looks like there are a lot of steps to this salad, it's really quite quick and simple. Not to mention, all that chopping is quite the stress-reliever!

What you’ll need:

For the salad (and how to pick it your veggies at the market):

  • Head of iceberg lettuce
    • Choose a head of lettuce that’s less rust-colored on the bottom. Also, choose one that’s the most tightly bound – that’s how you know it’s the freshest.
  • 2 bell peppers – I usually do 1 red and 1 orange for color
    • Choose the bell peppers with skins that look the waxiest.
  • 4 carrots
    • Carrots are carrots. Just choose ones that look good without blemishes.
  • 6 or so stalks of celery
    • Like the lettuce, choose celery that’s the most tightly bound and without blemishes.
  • 1 medium jicama
    • What’s jicama, you ask? It’s one of my favorite additions to salad ever. It’s just like watercress, but a little bit sweet. They kind of look like a really round, hairy potato or a less-hairy coconut. To pick out a good one, just find out with the most uniform skin without blemishes or bruises.
  • 2-4 Roma tomatoes
    • Choose tomatoes that are a rich red color and without blemishes. I find that a lighter red color means they’re less flavorful.
  • 1-2 cucumbers
    • Choose cucumbers that are dark green and firm when you squeeze them.
  • 4 or so green onions
    • Choose green onions that stand straight and don’t look wilted.

All my perfect veggies, ready to go. That round, beige-looking thing next to the lettuce? That's jicama. You'll usually find it near the Asian veggies.

For the salad dressing:

What you’ll need to do:

For a salad, I always start by making the salad dressing because it gives the flavors some time to marry. In whatever container is good for salad dressing, start by combining your zesty Italian salad dressing mix, lemon juice, and sherry. Shake or stir, and then set it aside until you’re done chopping all your veggies.

I have a pretty nifty salad dressing container that Clinton's mom gave me. If you have a container with a lid (like mine), just shake to mix. I leave the mix, lemon, and sherry in there for awhile so that the flavors can marry while I chop my veggies.

Next, have your veggies all out and ready to go with a good knife, cutting board, salad bowl standing by so you can throw your veggies in as you chop them, and your trash can sitting next to you. That’s right, have your trash can right next to you when you do this. In fact, I always have my trash can right at my feet whenever I cook so that I can toss tidbits right in as I go so I don’t have a big pile of garbage on my kitchen counter and in my way.

First, make sure you wash all your veggies that aren’t going to be peeled. Now on to chopping. I try to get rid of some of the bigger veggies first so that I can have more space on my counter as I chop. This is purely by choice, there’s no real order you need to chop the veggies.

Let’s start with the lettuce. Some people say it’s taboo to cut your lettuce with a knife or it’ll get that rust-colored look where you cut it. I find that it takes way too long to tear a head of lettuce by hand, and I almost never find that it gets rust-colored around the edges when I cut it with a knife. So I start by cutting the head of lettuce in half, and then cutting out the core by cutting diagonally into the head (throw the core right into the trash can next to you). Cut the rest of the lettuce in rough chops so you have big pieces.

You can see how I take out just the core of the head of lettuce by cutting diagonally into it. This saves as much of the lettuce as possible for my salad.

For your bell peppers, cut them in half and then use your hands to tear out the big bunch of seeds and stem towards the top of the pepper. Then, because I often find it’s easier, cut the bell pepper into quarters so that you can use your knife to cut out the ribs. Make sure you get rid of all the seeds and ribs of the bell pepper – they don’t taste so great. Then slice into big chunks.

It's easier to cut this by putting the outside part down on the cutting board (as shown) and slicing your bell peppers this way. One the half you see quartered, you can see I sliced out the ribs and seeds. Even though I used my hands to tear out the big bulk of seeds from the other half, you can still see the ribs I need to cut out.

Your tomatoes will be chopped similarly to your lettuce, actually. Cut them in half, and then use your knife to diagonally cut out the very top of the tomato – this preserves the most amount of yummy tomato meat possible. Then, chop into big pieces. I typically like to take out the seeds of the tomato because they make the salad runny (but instead of throwing them in the trash can, I pop them into my mouth as a treat!).

Like the lettuce, you can see how I cut diagonally into the tomato to save as much of the meat as possible.

Celery is super easy. Chop off the ends of the celery, and then chop into nice big chunks. I love the crunch of celery in a salad!

Your green onions are the last veggie you can chop without peeling. Make sure to cut off the ends, and then chop into smaller pieces since onions are a lot stronger tasting than many of your other veggies.

Peeling veggies isn’t my favorite, but for this salad it’s totally worth it. I start with my cucumbers because they’re super easy and because I don’t have to wash my peeler before I move onto my other veggies (jicama, on the other hand, can get messy). Completely peel your cucumbers, then cut in half lengthwise so you have a nice flat surface to work with. Then, flat-side down, cut off the ends of the cucumbers, and then slice in medium slices.

I put them flat-side down on my cutting board and then slice right through the rest of the cucumber. I like leaving the cucumbers in these bigger slices so you can really taste big bursts of them in your salad.

Now onto your carrots. Completely peel these, and then cut off the end that used to have the stem. Depending on how big your carrots are width-wise, you may want to cut them in half lengthwise like your cucumbers. But if they’re smaller, go ahead and chop in medium slices.

Lastly, onto the jicama. Now as good as jicama tastes, it’s quite the pain in the butt to peel – but so worth it. I start by cutting my jicama in half before I peel. This allows me to have a nice edge to work my peeler from because it’s definitely hard to get started. Make sure you get off all the jicama skin because it’s very hairy and not very good tasting. After it’s completely peeled, I chop it very similarly to how I chop an onion. Start by putting it flat-side down on your cutting board, and then slicing across the jicama vertically. Stack your jicama so that you can slice it again horizontally, making medium-sized chunks of jicama.

Here you can see it totally peeled and flat-side down on my cutting board. I slice all the way through the jicama (starting as shown), and then stack my slices and cut horizontally to make medium-sized chunks. Snack on a few of these pieces as you chop - it's so yummy!

By now, all your chopped veggies should be in your bowl and ready to go. Remember that salad dressing we made and set aside? Add the oil and then shake or stir. Toss with the salad, mixing up the dressing and the veggies. And you’re done!

While I normally throw my veggies in my salad bowl as I chop them, I laid them all out here so you can see what the finished product looks like. I generally like to chop my veggies in larger chunks so you get big bursts of flavor when you take a forkful.

It seems like a lot of work, but I promise it’s not. Once you get going with the chopping, it takes about as long to make this salad as it does to make a standard chicken dish (I recently made this with my Chinese BBQ chicken). And because it’s easier to make a salad like this in a large batch, you’ll have yummy, healthy, fresh leftovers all week that are a great compliment to any other dinner or are an easy lunch to bring to work. This salad is definitely a favorite in my house!