Photographs by Meadow Linn

Friday, July 2, 2010

Latin Lover Salad

My college friend, Anna, returned from her Junior Year Abroad madly in love and desperate to get her Chilean boyfriend to the States. When she wasn't having long and involved telephone conversations with him or researching ways for him to obtain a visa, she and I ate many great meals together. The most memorable dish we prepared was a recipe Anna had found, surprisingly, in a sports magazine. The salad, with South of the Border flavors, was touted as being low in fat and included ingredients like light sour cream, which I've never fully understood. Isn't sour cream made from cream? How can it be light? Unfortunately, many "light" products contain added sugars, stabilizers, and other unpronounceable ingredients to make up for the lack of fat. It's always been my philosophy that it's better to eat rich foods in moderation (though I don't always adhere to that!) or find a substitute that is naturally lighter. For this recipe I have chosen to use strained Greek yogurt and a bit of avocado for extra creaminess in place of the "light" sour cream. Over the years, I have altered this recipe so many times that I can barely remember the original, but I think this permutation is the tastiest of all! To tease Anna, I named the dish "Latin Lover Salad" in honor of her South American love, and I've been calling it by that name ever since, despite it being more Mexican inspired than Chilean. I can't guarantee that eating this salad will bring you a Latin lover--it hasn't worked for me--but it tastes so darn good, who cares?!

With summer now in full swing, I'm always craving salads full of big, bold tastes and anything that doesn't use the oven on these hot days. This salad is great served as an appetizer, but it also makes a hearty entree salad. As a main dish, you may want to increase the amount of chicken. If you're vegetarian, substitute rice, tofu, or avocado for the chicken. For extra crunch, try sprinkling the salad with thin tortilla strips.

Latin Lover Salad 
 Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
Serves 2-4 as a main course

Cumin Scented Grilled Chicken:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, preferably free-range
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground cumin

If you don't feel like bothering with the step of grilling the chicken, try using boiled chicken breast, leftover roasted chicken, or store bought rotisserie chicken instead. While the grill is heating, rub the olive oil evenly on both sides of the chicken breast and sprinkle with the cumin. I use a gas grill for this recipe because I have more control over the temperature, but a charcoal grill will give you more smoky flavor. I like to start with a very hot grill to get a good sear on the chicken breast and then turn the heat to medium/medium-high to cook the meat all the way through. When the chicken is cooked, remove from the grill and to keep it moist, don't slice for at least 10 minutes. If assembling the salad later, keep the chicken in the refrigerator until needed.

Red, White, Green, and Black Salad:

2 hearts of Romaine lettuce, chopped roughly
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium white onion, diced
1/2 avocado, in bite-size chunks
1 16 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained

Toss together in a large salad bowl. 

Who Needs a Latin Lover When You Can Eat This Dressing:

1 bunch cilantro, stems included
1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed (the majority of the spice is in the ribs and seeds)
1 clove of garlic
1/2 avocado
3/4 cup 0% fat Greek yogurt
juice of 1 1/2 juicy limes (use the remaining half lime to garnish your water glasses)
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup water

Blend all the dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. You may need to adjust the amount of water to reach the desired consistency. The dressing should be thick and unctuous (isn't that a great word?!) but pourable. Add more salt to taste if desired.

Toss the chicken (chopped), salad, and dressing together in a large bowl and enjoy! Or for a more elegant presentation, lay slices of chicken on top of the greens.
Buen Provecho!