Recipe: Deconstructed Salad with Chicken

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Liz Berget for Design Mom

What’s for dinner tonight? How about a salad that everyone in your family will love — even if they’re usually salad averse. If you don’t think you’re a salad-for-main-course sort of family, keep reading, because this recipe could very likely win you over.

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I went to Liz with a request for an easy, flexible, use-what-you’ve-got sort of dinner idea, and she came back with this Deconstructed Salad. She makes this pretty much weekly and this is why:

– It comes together super fast. You can start this and be eating it within a half hour.

– It’s got a light flavor and is packed with health, but still fills you up (if you think salads do not constitute a meal, this salad will change your mind).

– It’s totally flexible. In the recipe notes below, you can read about the myriad substitutions you can make based on what you’ve already got at home. It’s also a great way to use up leftovers.

– The fact that it’s deconstructed makes it family friendly! Rather than a mixed salad that your kids might pick through and complain about, you can keep the salad components you know they’ll eat in their preferred separate little piles on the plate, throwing on a new component or two for them to try each time.

– It’s all all about easy clean-up. Beyond plates and forks, you only have to deal with a knife, cutting board, and the pan you bake the chicken in.

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Intrigued? Let’s eat!

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Here’s what Liz says:

The hour of 4:30-5:50 p.m. has changed drastically throughout different periods of my life. When I was a kid, this hour is when I’d be getting home from school, starting homework, and snitching what I could from the kitchen as my mom cooked dinner. In college, this time would typically find me drinking my eighth cup of coffee for the day, gearing up for a night of studying or an evening debating which ultimately regrettable hair change to try next with my giggling roommates. When I was a teacher, I’d get home around 4:30 and promptly eat sixteen handfuls of popcorn, effectively ruining my appetite until my husband and I shared dinner a few hours later.

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And now? Now this time period is what the Internet calls The Witching Hour: the hour when my otherwise enjoyable children turn into hangry little monsters who want to do nothing more than to grab onto my legs and whine. This is the time when I should be getting dinner ready, but instead, I find myself trying to engage my little ones in a dance party set to Destiny’s Child circa 2000 in an effort to distract them from their doneness with the day until dad gets home.

These few years of motherhood have quickly taught me to prize easy weeknight meals, the ones that come together with minimal effort, the ones that can be done quickly, the ones that create few dishes, the ones that can be easily assembled during The Witching Hour…or even better, very quickly after my husband comes home. And while soups and casseroles easily meet these requirements, I also find myself craving some lightness and color during these dark depths of winter…especially when our house has been completely beleaguered by unending sickness and we desperately need some germ-fighting goodness in our bellies.

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Enter this deconstructed salad. As Gabrielle mentioned above, it’s a meal eaten at least once a week around here. This salad is just full of flavor and texture. I love to make it with baked chicken because it’s outstandingly easy and remains moist. The grain element is often filled by leftover rice that I’ve frozen, though a toasted and buttered piece of bread is an easy substitute. I love to keep some of the salad elements fresh — the greens, of course, but also a few veggies to give the dish some crunch. But I love adding roasted vegetables to the mix too; roasting really brings out the flavor of the vegetables and adds another interesting texture. And cheese. I love the tangy feta in this mix, but really, any cheese makes just about any meal better, right?

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As for the homemade vinaigrette, you really can’t go wrong if you use 3 parts oil to 2 parts vinegar — balsamic, apple cider, white wine, red wine — whatever you’ve got around. Or if it’s been a particularly rough day, there’s nothing wrong with pulling out your preferred store-bought bottle (my own kids are literally Ranch-a-holics).

I hope this recipe becomes one that you can pull out of your back pocket on a night when there’s not much time to think about dinner…or that trip to the grocery store didn’t happen, and you are staring at the contents of your refrigerator, willing them to give you inspiration. I hope it saves you from ordering take-out some night. I hope it eliminates one difficulty from what has already been a hard day, or allows you to get down to some Jumpin Jumpin with your littles during The Witching Hour because you know you’ve got dinner covered.

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(serves 2 as a meal, easily multiplied)

Recipe Note: What I love about this meal is how flexible it can be. We often use leftovers to build its components: veggies, cheese, grains, protein. Instead of rice, use barley or quinoa or wheat berries, or toasted and buttered bread. Instead of feta, use goat cheese or parmesan or a few slices of brie. Use any veggies you have on hand, and skip the roasting if you are pressed for time. Instead of chicken, use pork or turkey or even steak, or keep it vegetarian with a pile of garbanzo beans. The idea is to use what you have and to make it come together quickly. The recipe details what is pictured in the post, but really, make this salad your own!

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper (I used kosher salt and freshly ground pepper), divided
1 bell pepper, cored and cut into ½-inch pieces
½ a red onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup broccoli florets, the larger florets cut in half
2 cups salad greens*
app. 10 cherry or grape tomatoes
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
4 radishes, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup cooked rice

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
pinch of dried thyme

*Greens of your choice: spring mix, baby kale, spinach, romaine — whatever your preference

(Preparation note: I like to put the chicken in, then quickly chop my veggies to roast. While they’re in the oven, I prep the ingredients for the rest of the salad and vinaigrette. No need to prep everything ahead of time for this easy meal!)

Bake the Chicken:
Preheat the oven to 375*F. Place the chicken breasts in a baking pan prepared with a quick spritz of cooking spray. Generously sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides, then pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil over both breasts. Bake for 30-35 minutes until done.

Roast the Vegetables:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (hooray for easy cleanup!). Place chopped bell pepper, onion, carrots, and broccoli on the sheet. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Toss vegetables to coat. After the chicken has been in the oven for TEN minutes, place the vegetables in too. Roast, stirring every 5 minutes for about 20-25 minutes until vegetables are tender-crisp.

Make the Vinaigrette:
Pour all vinaigrette ingredients into a container with a tight-fitting lid (like a mason jar). Shake vigorously to combine. Set aside.

Assemble the Salad:
While the chicken and vegetables cook, assemble the salad. Place greens, feta, radishes, and celery on the plate. A few minutes before the chicken and vegetables are done in the oven, add your hot rice to the plate and then the roasted vegetables. Quickly slice the chicken and add to the salad plate. Give the vinaigrette one last shake and pour over the plate. Enjoy!

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What do you think? Would your kids be into this? Maybe you could have little serving bowls of each ingredient, and they could choose their own. Such a smart way meal for using up whatever is in the fridge/pantry! Thanks for the great idea, Liz.

Credits: Images, styling & recipe by Liz Berget. Assistance by Amy Christie.

7 thoughts on “Recipe: Deconstructed Salad with Chicken”

  1. This looks like an absolutely beautiful dinner that would let you leave the table feeling full but not heavy – which is often the goal and rarely the result in my kitchen!
    I wonder, though… you say that all you have to clean up is the knife, cutting board, and chicken roasting dish. What about the rice? How are you cooking that?
    Lizzie |

    1. Good point, Lizzie! I often use frozen rice that I reheat – so I’m usually just dealing with that bowl, but you’re right – you’d have to clean the pot for rice if you cook it.

  2. We basically do this often, but we call it “bear salad”! We started when our son was about two, “deconstructing” it because of that typical issue kids have with mixing stuff and to give him some choice, and named it that to get him excited, the logic being that bears are awesome, and bears like fish, and usually we make it even easier and use salmon or tuna. It stuck, and regardless of what protein we use, we still say “LET’S HAVE BEAR SALAD!!! YEAH!!!” :)

  3. What a genius idea! We have salads all the time, and I’m constantly telling my kids to just eat around the parts they don’t like. I never thought to separate it out. We’re actually having a Southwest Salad tonight, so I’ll have to give this a try tonight and see how it goes.

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