For the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I prepared several salads for a large dinner party at PEEC on the theory that folks had consumed their fill of turkey, gravy, potatoes, and stuffing for three days and would welcome the change.
Menu planning was key. I wanted to include lots of the fall vegetables in one form or another, and to make the salads sufficiently tasty and filling that folks would not miss dessert. I decided on two salads with meat (a classic Cobb Salad and Chicken Pesto with Tarragon), and three vegetarian salads that featured butternut and zucchini squash, corn, peppers, carrots, spinach, beets, tomatoes and avocado. All were gluten-free, and all but the Chicken Pesto were available as dairy-free.
Two recipes this week: the Chicken Pesto Salad has become one of my go-to non-vegetarian salads for a crowd. Easy to make, best if made a day ahead to chill properly after cooking, delicious and filling, either on salad greens or as a sandwich. It’s the fresh tarragon that makes it special; when that earthy black licorice flavor of fresh basil has faded as part of the pesto, the tarragon brings it back.
The Moroccan Carrot Salad brings unmistakable and very bright flavors to any table. Although the classic pairing is with couscous (a form of semolina pasta), I prefer quinoa as a higher protein alternative. Both salads keep well for a few days in the refrigerator.
Moroccan Carrot Salad with Quinoa. Photo by Felicia Orth
Moroccan Carrots with Quinoa
The quinoa is spiced during cooking: rinse 1 cup quinoa, and place in a pot with 1½ cups water, and 1 teaspoon each of sea salt, paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground cinnamon and ground ginger. The salad is best with a little heat; add 1 teaspoon red chile pepper flakes or ½ teaspoon cayenne unless no heat is desired. Cover the pot and simmer 12-14 minutes (check to be sure no water is apparent around the top edges), remove from heat and let sit with the lid on for another 10 minutes. Fluff the quinoa with a fork.
Thinly slice ten medium-sized carrots (somewhat diagonal slices look nice) and place in a large bowl with one can (drained) chickpeas, ½ cup olive oil, the zest and juice of two fresh oranges, the quinoa, ½ cup currants or raisins, ½ cup sliced or slivered almonds, and a handful of chopped parsley or cilantro. Toss and serve at room temperature or chilled. Serves 6-8.
Chicken Pesto with Tarragon
Place four chicken breasts in a single layer without crowding in a baking dish deep enough to cover the meat with an inch of water. Sprinkle salt and ground pepper over the top; optionally, add a bit of chopped garlic to the water. Heat in 350 degree oven for approximately thirty minutes, until a cut breast is no longer pink inside, or a thermometer shows the meat has reached 165 degrees. Remove, and cut or shred into a bowl.
While the shredded chicken is still warm, toss with basil pesto, homemade or from a jar, until fully covered. I use approximately 10 ounces pesto for four large breasts. Mince the leaves from a bundle of fresh tarragon and stir in. Chill before serving, and present on salad greens with rolls on the side to make sandwiches. Serves 4-6.
Felicia Orth is a local home cook; she can be reached at email@example.com.