Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Very Green Dinner

With all the fresh greens I bought a week ago at the farmer's market, I've been making a lot of "salad + a bit of pasta" dinners this week.  Inspired by the increasing variety of fresh produce, I attempted to eat lighter and healthier, with fewer processed foods, although at the end of the day, I still need my carbs, hence the pasta.  It is also a fast weekday meal to prepare; usually I can make the salad and dressing in the time it takes to boil the pasta.  I made an unusually green dinner last night: we had avocados, butter lettuce, peas and pesto.  I made one of my favorite salads: a chicken, avocado, and grapefruit salad with sesame dressing, inspired by a salad at 17th Street Cafe in Santa Monica.  The following made 3 very large salads:
  • two small heads of butter lettuce: remove the core and chop up (doesn't have to be too small since the butter lettuce is so tender and easy to eat)
  • slice one avocado into thin slices
  • segment 1 grapefruit (try to avoid the rind as it will add bitterness)
  • Chop and toast half a cup of walnuts (keep an eye on the walnuts; we burned our first batch and had to start over)
  • Grill 3-4 breasts or thighs of organic chicken on the grill pan (chicken was marinated briefly in a little soy, rice wine, sugar, salt and pepper) and slice into strips (I sometimes cheat and use some rotisserie chicken from Costco)
  • Toss with sesame dressing: crush 1 tsp of sesame seeds and whisk together 1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar, 1.5 tsp of mirin, 3 TB of sesame oil, salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle with more sesame seeds
It's a really good combination full of contrasting yet complementary flavors and textures; I like the very soft and tender butter lettuce leaves, with a little grilled heartiness from the chicken, creamy avocado, juicy grapefruit, toasty walnuts and fragrant sesame dressing.  Each ingredient really shines on its own; it's just enough ingredients to keep the salad interesting, but not too much that ingredients get lost.  My salads usually follow the same general formula = greens + a protein + another veggie (i.e. cherry tomatoes, grilled peppers, summer squash; whatever is in season) + nuts for crunchy texture (I use sliced raw almonds and toasted walnuts the most; pinenuts and hazelnuts are usually too expensive) + vinaigrette (I use red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar the most, and add olive oil (a little less than the same amount of vinegar), 1 tsp of dijon mustard, salt and pepper).
I also finally used some of the pesto I made last week to make a simple pesto pasta.  I took 1/2 cup of pesto, 1/4 cup of low fat mayo, and a TB of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and mixed it all together, seasoning with a little salt and pepper.  I cooked half a pound of fusilli, tossing in 1/2 cup of frozen peas for the last couple of minutes, and then scooped the cooked pasta and peas into the bowl with the sauce and tossed it all together.  It was really tasty; the pasta was nice and creamy, with interesting herb notes from the pesto, a little zing from the bit of mayo and lemon juice, and fun pop from the peas.  Even though we only cooked half a pound, we still have plenty of pasta left, as the salad was quite substantial.

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