Ah, spring has finally sprung.
More like insta-summer ’round these parts.
One week ago today, I was walking the normally fragrant, flower-studded showcase campus that is my alma mater, Indiana University (Bloomington), with my son, listening to our tour guides wax awesome on all the school has to offer – while shivering in 38 degrees of wind and rain.
Barely a tree was in bloom; most had only started leafing. I had talked up how it’s the toughest week of the year for IU students, as the trees and flowers are out in full-force, it’s basically summer, you have a week of no classes - and you have to study for finals when you want to frolick in the sun.
Um…no problem keeping the nose to the grindstone this year.
Fast-forward a week and we’re down with SUMMER! Okay, let’s roll with this and hope it continues, with a special request for cool mornings for a while so we can work out and adapt to warmer temps without losing our minds and all our electrolytes in the process.
Warm temps turn my mind toward picnics and parties. That means food – colorful food, that doesn’t require my head to be ever-stuck in a hot oven.
Enter some adorable, happy little sweet peppers I couldn’t resist at the store the other day, a crazy-busy week and two Pyrex containers holding broiled, seassoned chicken breasts and brown rice (two staples I try to have stocked in the fridge at all times), respectively.
I wanted something fast with no oven time, chop-aheadable ingredients and of course great flavor and the highest quality nutrients. And did I mention color?
This springy salad packs a host of healthy eating A-listers – complex carbs, antioxidants, complete protein, Omega3s. It’s best served room temperature, I have found, and for a controllable cheese fix, try the bite of crumbled blu or gorgonzola cheese on top (I usually go blu).
The biggest challenge, which is also an advantage, to this meal is making sure you have its entire ingredient list on-hand. One glance at it, though, and you’ll likely find you normally stock 90% of them. (Or you should!)
What I love is that this salad can be served as a side sans protein or customized with shrimp or a whitefish instead of chicken. Get creative! It’s also great to make ahead and take to picnics, potlucks and parties. This recipe will serve 4-6 as a main dish and 8-10 as a side dish.
Tip: broil up a bag of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (sprinkled on both sides with a mixture of 1 TBSP each salt and garlic powder, 1/2 tsp black pepper – broil in oven six minutes or so per side) and boil 1 cup (uncooked) brown rice and store in fridge ahead of time to make this dish whip up fast.
See ya, winter.
Spring Chicken and Rice Salad
4 cups cooked brown rice
3 large or 4 small cooked, seasoned chicken breasts, cubed
4-5 red, yellow and orange sweet mini peppers, chopped
1 cup shredded carrot
1 15-oz can whole kernel corn, drained
1/4 cup fresh, snipped parsley
3 (entire) green onions, chopped
1/2 cup whole or 3/4 cup slivered, roasted almonds
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1 tsp minced garlic (two cloves, minced)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 TBSP lemon juice
black pepper to taste
Crumbled blu, gorgonzola or goat cheese, as desired
In a large bowl, combine brown rice through sunflower seeds. Stir.
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, soy sauce, minced garlic and lemon juice. Pour over salad mixture and toss to combine. Season with black pepper and serve with crumbled cheese of your choice.