Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Oven-Roasted Cauliflower and Chicken Salad

Now that Bastille Day is over, I feel free to eat healthfully (until the next excuse not to!) so I am returning to the idea of a cauliflower/chicken salad.    This idea originated with a potato salad on a cooking show I saw on TV last weekend; I cannot remember the name of the show to give proper credit, but I've changed it significantly enough that all I've gleaned from that show are the cooking methods and a few ingredients.  

In the name of reducing refined carbs and fat and increasing the proportion of vegetables, I replaced the potatoes with cauliflower, used turkey bacon instead of full fat pork bacon, and added shredded broccoli and two kinds of onions for crunch.  This gives us a fiber- and protein-packed salad that tastes great.

The thing I get excited about with this recipe is the infusion of flavors - the variety of complimentary flavors and the variety of healthy and effective means to infuse them.  The chicken is poached with fresh herbs and spices, the cauliflower is roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, and onions, and the pan-fried turkey bacon adds smokiness.  All this mixed with fresh green onions, thyme, and minced garlic gives you an aromatic salad that doesn't even need mayonnaise and mustard unless you're looking for something creamy.

This is easy to put together in 30 minutes or so, so here's the how-to's:

Oven-Roasted Cauliflower and Chicken Salad

2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
24 oz. cauliflower florets
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
5 slices turkey bacon
6 oz. packaged broccoli slaw
2 green onions, chopped
7-10 bunches of fresh thyme
2 small cloves or 1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 bay leaves
black peppercorns
olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper for oven roasting
optional: low-fat or fat-free mayonnaise and yellow mustard to taste, approx. equal parts each

Step 1:  Poaching the Chicken
Before preparing the chicken, preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a rack in the middle of the oven.  Place both chicken breasts in a sauce pan and sprinkle several peppercorns, the 2 bay leaves, and 2-3 bunches of thyme over both breasts.  Cover the chicken with water, place a lid on the pan, and set over medium-high heat on the stove.  Start step 2 while chicken is poaching.  Chicken should be cooked through after about 15 minutes; cut into one of the breasts to make sure they are cooked completely.  Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

Step 2: Roasting the Cauliflower
Using a baking pan with low sides, cover the pan with heavy duty aluminum foil.  Spread the cauliflower florets and 1/2 chopped yellow onion on the foil, cutting the larger florets into bite-sized pieces.  Once the salad is assembled you will want the chicken and the cauliflower pieces to be of similar size.  Sprinkle the cauliflower liberally with olive oil, which will permit it to brown well, and with sea salt and black pepper.  Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, checking for your preference of tenderness.  Set aside to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.  
Side note: This method of roasting vegetables results in a great easy side dish on its own! Cooking times will vary from 5-15 minutes depending on the kind of vegetable and desired tenderness.

Step 3: Assembling the Salad
Heat up a frying pan and brown the slices of turkey bacon on each side.  Slice up the bacon into small bits.  Cut the chicken breasts in bite-sized chunks.  In a large mixing bowl, combine bacon, broccoli slaw, chopped green onions, minced garlic, chicken chunks, cauliflower and yellow onions, and thyme leaves stripped off 5-7 thyme bunches.  Stir well.  Add mayonnaise and mustard to taste if desired.

Serve alone, in lettuce wraps, or in pita halves and enjoy!

(without mayo and mustard)

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