Monday, July 1, 2013

Chicken Salad with Preserved Lemons and Basil


Summer is sizzling in Seattle and I couldn’t be happier! The warm mornings find me slipping out back with my iced coffee to enjoy the sounds of the day as it comes to life. The squeals of neighbor kids squirting water guns, baby chickadees chirping in our bird house, float planes flying overhead and sprinklers whooshing are comforting sounds to signal that summer is truly here.


With these hot days come balmy evenings and a desire for lighter dinners. A perfect time to start chopping up some of the sunny preserved lemons we are cooking with this month for Tasting Jerusalem! Preserved lemons can be found at gourmet shops and specialty kitchen stores, but with some time, they can easily be made at home.


Fresh lemons are slit open and stuffed with salt.


After sitting in a jar for a week, the lemons are covered with lemon juice and olive oil (and, if you prefer, a hot chile or fresh herb). They are then tucked away for a month to do their magic. The lemons transform into a salty, citrusy punch of flavor to which you will quickly become addicted. You will start adding them to salads and grains and stews and ... well, you get the picture. Usually only the skin is sliced or diced to eat, but I like to use the whole lemon. These yellow orbs keep for months, as long as they are covered with olive oil. The longer they sit, the better they become.


As I slipped a lemon out of the jar, I caught a whiff of basil. My basil plant has been going wild in the sunshine and if there is a scent that captures summer for me, it’s fresh basil. We’ve been eating lots of leafy salads and I wanted to make something a bit more substantial, yet with minimal cooking. Chicken salad!


Chicken salad is terrific to make ahead or in stages. I poached some chicken breasts on the stove top in the morning, before the heat of the day took over. Later, I shredded them and added homemade mayo, fresh lemon juice, basil and half a preserved lemon.  The salad can be eaten right away or chilled for a few hours, making it ideal to stash in a cooler. The preserved lemon and chicken are beautiful together, with the lemon adding bright bursts of briny flavor to every bite. The basil rounds out the salad with its floral, anise-like taste. It made a simple, satisfying dinner for us, eaten to the sounds of a summer day settling into the evening.

Chicken Salad with Preserved Lemon and Basil
Serves 2-3 as a light supper

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (roughly 1 1/2 pounds)
1 fresh lemon, sliced in half to juice
2 tablespoons mayo (preferable homemade)
1/3 cup basil, roughly chopped
1/2 preserved lemon, rinsed and roughly chopped (for a less salty flavor, you can start with 1/4 preserved lemon)
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the chicken breasts in a single layer in a sauce pan. Add enough water to almost cover and squeeze in the juice from half a lemon. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Poach the chicken for about 20 minutes, until it is cooked and can be easily cut. Let cool in the broth. Shred the chicken and set aside or chill until ready to use.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the chicken with the mayo, basil, preserved lemon, pepper and the juice of the other half of the fresh lemon. Gently stir and taste for pepper. The preserved lemon will add plenty of salty flavor. Serve right away or chill for up to a few hours. You can serve on a bed of lettuce or make sandwiches.

18 comments:

  1. I am right there with you loving the sun!!! This chicken salad would be perfect for dinner tonight - now I am wishing I had some preserved lemons ready!

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    1. We are having a glorious summer, aren't we? I hope you're enjoying relaxing with your family this week! Preserved lemons are available some shops, too, if you want to give them a try sooner - I'm pretty hooked now. Have you been to PFI yet? It's a paradise of Mediterranean imports and they have them. Happy July 4th to you!

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  2. Great idea Hannah - I might even do this tonight but with a purchased chicken as my afternoon will be spent on the go. I'm also thinking about doing the okra but with fresh green beans as my neighbor gave me a huge bag of fresh ones that I can't wait to eat! Glad you are enjoying some lovely summer weather. We came back to a heat wave but I can't complain...

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    1. I saw your photo on FB, Beth! I'm so happy you made the chicken salad and enjoyed it. And I love that you subbed green beans for the okra - I'll definitely be trying that. I can't wait to hear more about your travel adventures! Happy July 4th!

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  3. This sounds delicious! I'm having trouble using my preserved lemons. I guess I just forget I have them sometimes...oops! This is a great use for them and so perfect for summer. I hope you're enjoying the good weather!

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    1. Thank you, Brianne! A nice thing about preserved lemons is that you can forget about them and they only get better. :) Hope you're enjoying summer and have a wonderful July 4th!

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  4. I love citrus in dishes, and I'm very attracted to this preserved lemons! I can see so many possibilities with these! The salad looks extra refreshing with them and my mouth water just thinking about it!! YUM!!

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    1. Thank you so much, Nami! Preserved lemons do offer many possibilities. I'm pretty hooked now, especially for summer dishes. Happy July 4th to you!

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  5. I learned about preserved lemons last year and never was sure exactly how to go about it. Turns out, it's a pretty simple procedure! My kind of recipe! Your lemons look small, are they Meyer?

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    1. These are Meyers, Brooke! I made them a couple months ago, and they only get better with time. Let me know if you decide to make a batch - I think you'll like them! Happy July 4th!

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  6. Perfect for the heat. I must cook more with preserved lemons.

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    1. Preserved lemons really are great in hot weather dishes, Lynda! Happy July 4th to you!

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  7. Preserved lemons really have such terrific flavor! I haven't made any in quite some time, and I need to again. Although I often make chicken salad from leftover roast or grilled chicken, I agree with you that poached chicken is the best. Anyway, great dish - thanks for this.

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    1. Thank you, John! Leftover chicken does make terrific chicken salad, or picking up a rotisserie chicken at the last minute does the trick, too. Hope you're enjoying summer!

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  8. Perfect meal for a hot summer day, I love chicken salad. I almost picked up a jar of preserved lemons in the store today but opted not to thinking I could try to make them myself. I will try to make them, I can just taste them in that chicken salad. I have a boatload of basil in the garden this will be on the menu. You slit the lemons stuff with salt and just let them sit in a jar, no water or juice? Then after a week you add lemon juice and olive oil? Or do the lemons give off their own juice and you just add olive oil? Just wondering.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, after you let the salt-stuffed lemons sit for a week, they will have released some juice and you can press them a bit to release more. You then add more lemon juice to almost cover them, and then a thin layer of olive oil to cover and seal. It's important that they are completely submerged - the oil will help preserve them. Then tuck the jar away and wait! Let me know how your lemons turn out. I think you'll love them! I hope you're having a wonderful summer!

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  9. This looks like a delicious salad, Hannah, and perfect for a summer evening. I'm totally addicted to preserved lemons, and although I love adding them to tagines, braises, etc, using them in salads and salad dressings is definitely my favourite way to use them.

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    1. Thank you, Sue! Now that I've discovered how simple they are to make, I'll always have jar around. They do jazz up salads and dressings beautifully!

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