Roasted Tomatillo Salad Dressing

My neighbors know that the Morrison Wong household has officially declared it the start of the warm weather season when we start eating dinner out on our front porch. All through spring and summer, both the dog and the cat get excited when they see John uncork the wine and I start moving out of the kitchen with our plated meal. The pets usually beat us to the front door, just as eager as us to absorb the late sunlight and our small but beautiful view of the Cascades and Lake Washington.

Why bring this up now that we are on the cusp of winter? Am I just rubbing salt into the wound that has been ripped open by the sun setting around 4:30 each afternoon? Well, it’s only because it’s been brought to my attention that the dog does not correlate warm weather with our eating outside, but apparently thinks we eat outside based on what’s being plated for the meal. Yesterday, I was composing “big ass cobb salads” using leftover Thanksgiving turkey. When I started to bring the plated salads out of the kitchen, our dog excitedly raced to the front door expecting that this meal would be eaten outdoors despite the overcast skies and low 40’s degree temps. Huh… is Truman perhaps commenting that John and I eat too many large salads during the summer months?

It’s true– large salads are generally not on my mind once the weather turns colder. All I want are comforting, warm meals, something that lots of ice cold lettuce does not do for me. But if I remember correctly, I made this salad on a really cool September evening. I think that the warm, broiled chicken combined with the spices in the dressing and marinade might actually make this a good salad for a cool weather night.

This salad was inspired by one thing: I had more tomatillos and simply could not face making another batch of salsa. My mind immediately went to the fabulous Mexican inspired large salads at a chain in Utah, a lunch time staple, actually. So I took lots of crisp, green lettuce and topped it with fresh corn, bell pepper slices, carrots, and of course, creamy avocado. The chicken was broiled after soaking in a marinade made with lemon, a splash of gin (would have been tequila for a smokey quality but our bar was lacking), red pepper for heat and garlic. I then made a rich salad dressing from oven roasted tomatillos, lots of lime juice and cilantro. I wanted to top it off with some crispy fried tortilla strips but had to scratch that idea when mine burned. But you know– I honestly didn’t miss having that added bit of crunch. The dressing was nicely emulsified so it was creamy but had a bright acidic tang. It enveloped the vegetables and chunks of warm chicken, making this comforting while the crisp fresh vegetables was a cooling but satisfying memory of summer with each bite.

Chicken

  • 1 lb chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 cup gin
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Dressing

  • 1 lb tomatillos, husked and rinsed of sticky goop
  • 1 tbsp olive oil and another 1/3 cup
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 tsp cumin

Salad

  • 1 head red butter leaf lettuce
  • 1 ear of corn, stripped of its kernels
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 avocado, thinly sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, sliced
  • 3 radishes, sliced
  • 2 scallions chopped
  • chopped cilantro (optional)

Mix together the ingredients for the marinade (everything under “Chicken” except the chicken breasts) in a bowl or in a plastic bag and let the chicken sit in that mixture for 15 minutes, turning the chicken every now and then. Don’t be put off by the discoloration– the acid from the lemon juice is cooking the chicken which is why you don’t need to marinate this for too long. Broil or grill the chicken for about 5 minutes on each side then remove to a plate tented with foil to keep the chicken warm while the juices redistribute.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut your tomatillos in half and lay them out on a foil lined baking sheet. Mix them around with 1 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper then roast them for about 20 minutes or until they’re soft and a little charred looking. Blitz them in a blender or in a food processor with the cumin, lime juice, and cilantro, adding the olive oil in a steady stream through the feed tube. I think I added about 1/3 of a cup but you’re looking for the dressing to turn a light, creamy green color when it’s emulsified with enough oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble your salad ingredients then cut up the chicken into bite sized chunks and use it to top your salad. Drizzle the dressing around and add a sprinkle of more cilantro. Crispy tortilla strips (or crumbled tortilla chips) would be tasty, but aren’t necessary.

CSA Count: 6

Tomatillos, corn, garlic, cilantro, red butter leaf lettuce, radishes

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