It was Friday.
A cold snowy day. My wife was home from work, sick with a cold and I was the dutiful caregiver – supplying her with ice cold drinks and extra blankets.
We decided that we wanted salads for lunch. My wife’s favorite salad is a Sante Fe style salad, with chicken, lots of crunchy tortilla strips and usually ranch dressing.
Luckily, I had cooked half of a package of chicken tenders two nights before (when I made a chicken pot pie), but seasoned with a homemade taco seasoning – comprised of chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, red pepper and cumin. These days, I am intrigued by the opportunity to play with the spices we have in our cabinet. Sure, it is more difficult than just using a packaged taco seasoning, but it appeals to the scientist in me.
Anyway, I had cooked those chicken tenders on Wednesday night. They were looking for something useful to do. I cut them into small chunks, and set them aside.
I pulled out a bag of Romaine lettuce. Now, you may ask, why didn’t you use a whole head of lettuce? Fewer things in the kitchen bore me more than chopping and cleaning a head of lettuce. This is interesting, because I will prep and cut onion, peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumber…even carrots, just about any vegetable. Lettuce bores me.
I poured the precut salad mix into a bowl and inspected it for undesirable components, rinsed it, and moved on. I chopped two Roma tomatoes (see comment above) and added to the lettuce. I grabbed a handful of grated monterey jack/cheddar cheese – this is about a cup – and mixed it into the salad bowl. Finally, I tossed in another handful-and-a-half of tortilla strips.
For the dressing, I mixed 2 parts of Country French with 1 part Chipotle Ranch and stirred. This gives the “right” combination of sweet and spicy. Flavor chemistry is an interesting subject. The Country French sweetness is detected by a combination of receptor proteins in the roof of the mouth and the back of the tongue. These receptors synapse with the glossopharyngeal nerve and the chorda tympani, which means the signals are transferred up the center of the neck as well as along the sides of the skull, through the inner ear.
Spicy flavors, on the other hand, are detected by the VR1 receptors in the mouth. What is interesting is that they are designed to detect heat, such that we don’t consume hot food that will burn our mouths. The detection of capsaicin (the chemical in most peppers) is accidental, but activates the “heat” response of the VR1 receptors.
I poured the dressing over the salad mixture and tossed liberally to coat the lettuce, cheese, tortilla strips and tomatoes. At this point, I heated the chicken in the microwave for about 90 seconds.
To serve, I scooped out a serving (or two) of the salad mixture onto a plate, then topped it with the warm taco chicken. What you get is a delicious, yet incongruous, mixture of ingredients.
Crunchy, yet smooth
sweet, yet spicy
vegetable, yet chicken-y
warm, and cold
Serves 3 to 4 people, was eaten by 2.
So, in summary:
5 or 6 chicken breast tenders, cooked with taco seasoning or similar spices, then chopped
1 bag Romaine Salad
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 Cup Monterey Jack/Cheddar grated cheese
1 1/2 cup thin tortilla strips
2/3 cup Country French Dressing
1/3 cup Chipotle Ranch Dressing
Soundtrack for making the salad:
Ramblin’ Man – The Allman Brothers Band
Smile – Nat King Cole