chicken feta and melon salad
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The right combination is the whole secret to a salad: tomatoes and soft cheese, feta and cucumbers, walnuts and apple, anchovies and Parmesan. So I really didn’t think that my random assortment of chicken, melon and avocado would taste divine – let’s be honest; it was what I had in the fridge and I was in need of dinner.
It started with a chicken fillet; all right as chicken fillets go and boring as hell. I didn’t fancy another creamy chicken; it was too hot for fried and I wanted to minimise cooking. Roast the chicken then – that’s easy, just throw some sharp flavours over it. What next? I was bored senseless of the polite sliced chicken sitting atop green lettuce, with a tomato half here and there for only company.
In the fridge I had a melon. I had some feta. I had a just-ripening avocado in the fruit bowl. Why not, I thought. Feta and watermelon is a done thing in Greece so melon won’t be far off. And both the melon (cantaloupe) and avocado were green so that was all right.
Unless smothered in mayo, roast chicken fillet will only sing if paired with tarragon – it’s such a good flavour. Fresh chopped tarragon on warm, just sliced chicken works wonders. And then the feta, so it warms up a little from the warm chicken; and the green stuff, fancy-balled or just diced.
The melon juice makes the dressing, and the crunch (must have crunch on a salad) is provided in an ordinary manner by toasted pumpkin seeds and extraordinarily well by filo crumble – which is such a good simple invention I’ll be writing about it much, much more on other, perhaps sweet, occasions.
A random salad – so good I made it again and again.
chicken feta and melon saladServings: 4 as a starter, 2 as a main courseTime: an hour
- 500g (just over a pound) chicken breast fillets
- 1 tsp mild chili powder
- 3 tbsp. sweet chili sauce
- 1 lemon
- 2 sheets filo pastry
- olive oil, for brushing
- a small bunch of rocket leaves (optional)
- a few sprigs of fresh tarragon, leaves stripped
- 3 small cucumbers
- 1 medium cantaloupe melon, chilled
- 1 medium Haas avocado
- 3 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
- 150g (5 oz.) feta cheese
- 2-3 tbsp. walnut or olive oil
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Season the chicken fillets with the chili powder, sweet chili sauce and juice from ½ lemon; reserve the other half. Place on a baking tray and roast for 30-40 minutes. Let them rest while you prepare the other salad ingredients.
Brush the filo sheets with oil and layer one on the other; fold them in half. Bake on a dry baking sheet for about 10 minutes until golden and crisp throughout. Let it cool completely, then crumble the pastry into a bowl.
Spread the rocket leaves, if using, over the bottom of a large serving dish – arguably the salad can happily do with no leaves at all but if you like leaves in your salads, go for it.
Chop the tarragon leaves finely; slice the cucumbers. Halve the melon horizontally, remove the seeds and scoop balls with a melon baller or just dice the flesh, trying to collect the juice in the skin while you do it. Cut balls or dice out of the avocado. Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry pan until scorched and fragrant.
To assemble the salad, slice the chicken breasts, preferably when still warm, and arrange over the rocket/platter. Sprinkle with tarragon. Crumble feta over the chicken, follow with cucumber slices, avocado balls and melon balls. Drizzle the salad with walnut oil, juice from the remaining ½ lemon and any melon juice collected in the empty shell.
Scatter the pumpkin seeds over the salad and serve, with the filo crumbs in a small bowl, to add directly onto plates; otherwise they too quickly turn soggy.