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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

*unsalad.

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I have a particular talent for unsalading a salad, the sweet gift of turning something that is supposed to be healthfully holier-than-thou into a lovely mess of delicious calories. The Cobb salad is an ideal starting point for this sort of bastardization, in part because it doesn't do a very good job of masquerading as a salad in the first place. It's basically a deconstructed fatty sandwich. (I don't think I need to reiterate my love for the fatty sandwich.)

I have a soft spot for Cobb salad, too, standing out there yelling, "I'm a salad, I swear!" when it's really something you might make when you're in tears. Anyone who has ever thought that chicken and hard-boiled eggs are not enough without avocado and cheese and bacon on top is a) someone who has had some emotional wreckage and b) my kind of people.

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Alas, my local market (once again) failed me, neglecting to stock half of the ingredients for a decent Cobb salad, and I was left trying to steer things in my favorite direction: south ... west ... ish?

I decided that if this salad was not—tragedy!—going to have the benefit of avocado, I'd replace it with a black bean/corn salsa. Having determined that beans + chicken + eggs + cheese was probably enough protein for my lithe form, I forwent the bacon.

(Or possibly, because I can't tolerate anything other than the apparently FANCY center-cut style, I'm just way too cheap to spend six bucks on bacon. True story. BaconIloveyou.)

After that, it was just a matter of gathering all my favorite South of the border flavors, or what I imagine them to be—red onion, cilantro, jalapeño—and after that ... well, things got a little crazy.

Because I was intoxicated by hunger while I was at the grocery store, I was too under the influence of my weaker brain cells to pass by the Snyder's buttermilk ranch pretzel pieces. But no matter; I'm confidently reassured that calories don't stick when you're suffering the effects of rabid starvation.

But as I was staring at the little nuggets of yum in the bowl I'd poured half the bag into (portion control, people), I got a wild hair to crush some of them up with a mortar and pestle and crust the chicken in the crumbs.

I am nothing if not resourceful, and also determined to cover everything in my life with ranch. (Those of you who look REALLY REALLY closely will note that I had less than zero patience and/or attention span for the crushing, and mostly just slapped some gigantic pieces of pretzel all over the chicken.)

To be honest, I wasn't as thrilled with the results as I'd hoped. Yes, the pretzels gave the chicken a pleasantly crispety crunchy crust, but most of the salty buttermilky ranchy potential got lost in the cooking. I see absolutely no reason why you shouldn't have pretzel-crusted chicken on your path of salad destruction, but it's probably not ultimately worth the effort.

My advice? Just pour some ranch on top before eating. NO ONE HAS TO KNOW.

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Composed Southwestern Cobb Salad with Pretzel-crusted Chicken
½ cup low-fat sour cream
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
Salt, to taste
Pinch of granulated sugar
Hot sauce, to taste
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves, divided
1 lime, divided
¼ (15-ounce) can low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
¼ cup diced red onion
Pinch of ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ chicken breast, pounded to an even thickness
½ cup Snyder's buttermilk ranch pretzel pieces, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ head iceberg lettuce, chopped
¼ pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 ounce Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
Garnish: lime wedges

1. Combine first 5 ingredients, ¼ cup cilantro, and juice of ½ lime in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Combine black beans, corn, onion, cumin, garlic powder, and juice of remaining ½ lime in a medium bowl. Set aside.

3. Dredge chicken breast in pretzel pieces. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat; cook chicken about 4 minutes on each side or until browned and cooked through.

4. Combine lettuce and remaining ¼ cup cilantro on a plate; top with reserved sour cream mixture. Arrange black bean mixture, tomatoes, cheese, egg, and chicken alongside lettuce. Garnish, if desired. Makes 1 serving.

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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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