She wore flowers in her hair, and carried magic secrets in the eyes.
-Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
It's August! Summer is in full swing, and the flowers stretch their lanky stems toward the morning sky. In the afternoon they bend and wilt beneath the barrage of August monsoons. The violent storms and oppressive heat make August in Colorado one of those months you either love or hate.
Recently, I've been waking early to write. I'm so inspired by the sound of the birds in the morning. It's as if they're calling to each other from treetop to treetop - "Did you make it through the storm last night? Did you see that brilliant sunrise?" - Or perhaps that's just my overactive imagination . . .
Before the heat begins to suffocate, I like to spend a few minutes working in the garden. That's it - just a few minutes. So it's always a tangle of weeds, most of which have such striking violet and yellow flowers they are too beautiful to pull, anyway. I let them grow, an eclectic rainbow of colours amongst the rows of beans and patches of carrots. In the afternoon, when the dark storm clouds creep down the mountainside, filling the valleys with mist and the aroma of rain, I love to throw open the kitchen windows. Damp afternoons are perfect for cooking; the sound of rain blends with the sizzle of the frying pan, the gentle cadence of the wooden spoon against the pot, the whistle of the tea kettle. A summer symphony! August is a month I love!
I make so many different salads in the summer. Some with pasta, others with rice, some with bread, and still others with beans. I never tire of them! Made in advance, they're pulled from the refrigerator spontaneously when everyone decides it's finally time for dinner. Relaxed, casual, and easy - just the way summer meals should be. This is one of my family's favourites. Since it's a mix of both chickpeas and chicken, my kids have become fond of calling it a Chick-Chick Salad, which I think is rather cute. I've had many requests for the recipe over the summer, so here it is.
I prefer to use dried chickpeas in this salad. The texture is firmer, and therefore, (to me) more satisfying, but you could certainly use canned and save a bit of time. If you'd like to take it to the next level, brine the chicken before you grill it. This is a simple process that I learned several years ago. It insures that the chicken breast stays moist on the grill, and adds a ton of flavour. Of course, feel free to omit this step. It's delicious, but certainly not necessary.
*A note on garbanzo beans: Garbanzo beans (or chickpeas), like all beans, are members of the legume family and, therefore, related to peanuts. The majority of peanut allergic individuals can eat them without problem; however, scientific evidence suggests that 5% of those who are allergic to peanuts will also react to other legumes. If you're at all uncertain whether you or your child can eat them, PLEASE consult your allergist first!
Chicken and Chickpea Salad with Mint
1 cup dry chickpeas (garbanzo beans), sorted and rinsed
1 - 2 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional, for soaking)
1/4 red onion, minced (or 1 small shallot, for a stronger flavor)
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 chicken breasts, brined (see recipe below), grilled, and diced
2.25 (63 g) sliced black olives
1 large sprig of fresh mint, leaves chopped
a large pinch of salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste
Place the beans in a bowl and cover with warm water by about 2 inches. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar, and cover. Allow to soak for at least 6 hours before cooking.
Drain and rinse the beans. Place in a pot with water to cover by 1-2 inches. (Do NOT salt the water.) Bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook for 45 - 60 minutes, until the beans are tender to your liking. (This is really a matter of taste. The longer you soak the beans, the faster they will cook.) Drain and cool before adding to the salad.
In a large serving bowl mix the white wine vinegar, onion, garlic and salt, and let sit for at least 5 minutes while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Whisk the oil into the vinegar and onions. Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, diced chicken, olives, cooled chickpeas, mint, salt and pepper. Toss well and taste for seasoning. Refrigerate for at least half an hour before serving. This only gets better as it sits.
Chicken Breast Brine (for 2 - 4 chicken breasts)
The purpose of a brine is to draw flavor and moisture into the chicken breast, keeping it moist while it cooks through. This insures that if you happen to over-cook the chicken it will remain moist and delicious. As a bonus, the sugar will caramelize as the chicken cooks. For a more in depth explanation on brining, click here. I always brine chicken breast before I cook it.
1/2 cup hot water
1 1/2 Tablespoons salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups ice water
Dissolve the salt and sugar in the hot water. Pour into a bowl. Add the remaining ice water and stir. Butterfly the chicken breasts and place them in the brine, making sure they are completely submerged. Cover and allow the chicken to soak in the brine in the refrigerator for 30 - 45 minutes (I wouldn't let it go longer than 45 minutes). When ready to cook, pat the chicken dry with paper towels and cook as usual.