Grilling vegetables brings out the natural sweetness. The thin, spring asparagus in this salad cook up quickly on a medium-high grill alongside the chicken breasts in a cast iron skillet or grill basket. Tossing the asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper before placing them in the hot skillet creates a char that is full of fresh flavor. Here is a fun asparagus fact: Male asparagus are the skinny stalks and female asparagus are the fatties. I hate to use the word fat and female in the same sentence, but since we are talking asparagus, it’s OK. The female asparagus are easier to grill since they can be placed directly on the grill — those high-maintenance males make us wash another dish.
Asparagus is low in calories and high in potassium, folate, vitamin K, quercetin (cancer-fighter) and rutin, which helps protect blood vessels. Chicken is full of high-quality protein and the B vitamin niacin.
Marinating chicken before grilling is an easy way to improve the flavor and balance of the dish. Marinades include a mixture of oil, spices, herbs and an acidic ingredient such as fruit juices, vinegar or wine. Sounds just like salad dressing, right? The easiest marinade is a store-bought bottle of salad dressing, poured over some meat and let sit as long as your hunger can stand.
Low-fat chicken breasts benefit greatly from marinades since they can be dry and bland. Mixing your own marinade gives you the opportunity to add the aromatic ingredients you and your loved ones enjoy. Starting off with oil sets a great base that adds a little fat to your meat. Any kind of oil works. Add lemon juice and herbs, such as dill or basil, and salt and pepper and you have yourself a simple and fresh marinade.
The acidic ingredient in a marinade helps to tenderize the meat. Sodium makes the marinating process move quickly, so the more salt you put in your mixture, the quicker the meat will marinate. Quick cooking seafood benefits from marinating for 20 minutes while bigger cuts should sit longer. An overnight marinade for pork, steak and chicken intensifies flavor. But, if you didn’t pre-plan dinner, then marinate the meat as long as you can, and then brush the excess liquid onto the meat during the grilling process. If you are using sugar in your marinade, then the sauce will burn quickly so baste only at the very end.
Grilled chicken and asparagus salad
4 small chicken breasts (4-6 ounces)
1 pound asparagus
2 medium tomatoes
1 large head red leaf lettuce
4 ounces goat cheese
Raspberry dressing, recipe follows
Cover the chicken with the marinate and let sit for 30 minutes or overnight. Heat grill to medium-high (about 400 degrees).
Break off woody asparagus bottoms and discard. Cut asparagus into 3-inch pieces and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Place cast iron skillet (or grill basket) on grill. When the grill is hot, add chicken, cover and cook six minutes.
Cut lettuce with sharp knife into 2-inch pieces, wash and dry.
Flip chicken and add asparagus to skillet, cook six minutes, stirring asparagus once.
Wash and slice tomatoes. Crumble goat cheese. Remove chicken from grill and let sit five minutes, then slice.
Place lettuce on four plates and distribute remaining ingredients evenly, top with raspberry dressing.
Marinade: 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon minced tarragon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Raspberry dressing: 2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar*, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 4 tablespoons plain yogurt, dash of pepper
*To make raspberry vinegar, mash 1/4 cup raspberries, stir in 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, and strain.
Tracy Miller teaches cooking classes at Colorado Mountain College, hosts private cooking parties and is the in-house chef at TV8, Vail. Log onto colorfulcooking.com for more recipes and nutrition tips. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.