Every now and then I search for meal inspiration in my old green recipe box. In the pre-internet days I was an avid collector of recipes which I clipped and glued on index cards, or I hand-wrote the recipe onto the cards. I have several hundred recipes, most of which I don’t make. But all of them sound good in some way. Sometimes I try to be faithful to what’s on the card and the rest I keep just for inspiration.
It’s 90 degrees and humid and I’ve been eating Asian-inspired dishes pretty solid for a month. This week I went to the recipe box and pulled out the card for Southwest Turkey and Rice Salad, a recipe I copied from Bon Appetit magazine in 1991. A half-assed Google search did not turn up this recipe, giving you an idea of how the editors felt about it as time passed. I made just a couple changes and I really liked what I came up with.
For the salad part, I went with chicken because I had turkey last week. The only substitution I made was a poblano pepper for the green pepper. This is a common ingredient switch for me in many recipes. I think poblanos have more flavor and are less water-logged than green peppers.
The only addition I made was to add a can of black beans (rinsed and dried) for color and volume. I need the final dish to last five lunches.
I kept the dressing pretty much the same, too except I added a squeeze of lime.
But…I also used some cooking tips I’ve learned through years of cooking.
First up, I lied about the dressing. Hear me out. Since it’s August and my tomatoes were farm fresh, I seeded them into a strainer. The seeds I threw away, but the tomato water got added to the dressing. I only had about two TBS of the water which was enough to prevent the dressing from coming together in a traditional emulsion but I think the added flavor was worth it. Rice salads (pasta, too) can continue to soak up liquid and if the liquid is flavorful, that makes the rice or pasta taste even better. The problem is adding too much watery substance makes the carbs mushy. I added the dressing a bit at a time to make sure I wasn’t flooding the dish.
Second, when I have a recipe that calls for cooked chicken, I usually poach it as my go-to cooking method. Poaching means simmering the meat in a small amount of water. My poaching liquid is the “garbage” from whatever else I’m going to use in the recipe.
To cook the chicken, my water had the ends of the poblano and of the red onion. I tossed in a crushed garlic clove and a cascabel pepper (which I keep in the house just for poaching chicken and for when I make fresh beans). Also, since I used fresh corn from the cob, I took the shucked corn cob, broke it in half and put it in the simmering water. There is tons of flavor in a corn cob that I don’t want to throw away. I brought this funky, brothy water to a simmer with a tsp or so of salt and cooked the chicken for about 15 minutes. I used boneless, which I cooled and shredded.
I use this technique all the time because I think it adds flavor. For some recipes, though not this one, the strained poaching liquid can get incorporated into the main dish.
I was very happy with the way the recipe turned out. I think it would work well without the rice, too, as more of a traditionally textured chicken salad. I will make it again.