Food & Drink

Mediterranean flavors add zip to chicken salad

Have you noticed family food preferences showing up in children and grandchildren? I was delighted when I found that my granddaughter, Kaylee, loves olives as much as I do. But she doesn’t like potatoes. She might have inherited that from my dad. Too many meals in his childhood featured a lot more potatoes than meat and he grew tired of them. I am not sure how this managed to pass down through the genes.

My mom used to catch me drinking the vinegar brine directly from the olive jar. She always insisted, “It isn’t good for you.” However, olives have excellent antioxidant qualities, and the brine can be a zesty addition to salad dressing. Foods such as lemons and vinegar, as well as fermented foods such as sauerkraut, can help maintain the acid/alkaline balance in your body. Most of us tend to be too acidic which encourages bacterial growth.

I found a recipe for Chicken Salad with Orzo that has wonderful Mediterranean flavors – including my favorite, kalamata olives. Begin the recipe by cooking a half cup of orzo pasta following package directions. Drain it so it is cooled by the time you are ready to toss everything together. Swish out the pasta pan and add a half cup of raisins. Then just barely cover them with water and heat until it comes to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover and let it sit while you continue with the prep work.

Make a dressing with a quarter cup of olive oil, 3 tablespoons tarragon vinegar, a tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard. Whisk to blend.

Tarragon grows well here and has a lovely licorice flavor. I have had a pot on the step outside the kitchen door for many years. Every other spring or so, I take it out of the pot, knock off the dirt from the roots, carefully pull out two or three stems and replant them in fresh soil. Otherwise the center of the plant just becomes too woody.

Cut sliced deli chicken into half-inch cubes to make three cups. (Ask the deli clerk to cut the chicken into half-inch thick slices.) Depending on the size of the piece of chicken, two slices should be enough. If it is the end of the roast, the slices will be smaller and you might need three slices. You could also use roasted turkey.

Cut a cup of cherry tomatoes into halves and add to a large bowl along with a 6-ounce jar of artichoke hearts, drained. Coarsely chop a cup of pitted kalamata olives and add to the bowl. When Trader Joe’s opens this Friday, you will be able to buy a jar of pitted kalamata olives there for just $2.99. This cuts the time it takes to prepare this salad by a good 20 minutes. If you are using pitted olives, slice around the pit and then hold them tightly between thumb and forefinger and squeeze. Most of the time, the olive halves will pop away from the pit. The rest of the time, well, you can eventually cut the olive away from the pit.

Add the chicken and the drained orzo to the bowl. Drain the plumped up raisins and add them as well. Add a couple of tablespoons of drained capers and the dressing and toss to mix thoroughly. I added a couple of tablespoons of the vinegar brine which added enough salt. However, you can just add salt and pepper to taste.

This salad will last in the fridge for a few days and makes a great lunch or dinner meal during hot weather.

Shopping List

Tarragon vinegar (3 tablespoons)

Fresh tarragon (1 tablespoon)

Lemon (1 tablespoon)

Dijon mustard (1 tablespoon)

Deli chicken or turkey (3 cups)

Orzo pasta (1/2 cup)

Cherry tomatoes (1 cup)

Artichoke hearts (6-oz jar)

Kalamata olives, pitted (1 cup)

Raisins (1/2 cup)

Capers (2 tablespoons)

Pantry Items

Olive oil

Salt & pepper