Sunday, 27 May 2012

Grilled Thai Chicken Breasts and Roasted Vegetables with a Walnut Dressing

SmartCooks here.

Ah, yes, Saturday.  'Twas indeed glorious.  The Main Street Farmer's Market was packed with fresh, local asparagus and other leafy and local vegetable offerings.  

It was also Ottawa Race Weekend, and tens of thousands of fit folks ran in fine form almost past our front door in their 5, 10, half or full marathon quests.  I used to do the 10 km race every year (50 minutes was my best time so I'm not exactly fast).   Alas, I haven't run in the past few years but would love to do so again.

I digress.  In addition to Ottawa Race Weekend, Saturday was the perfect weather opportunity for an impromptu back deck BBQ with friends, and some healthy, Asian, low-fat and in-season, local food.  I pulled out Thai-Inspired Grilled Chicken Breasts and Roasted Spring Vegetables with a Walnut Dressing.  

I put photos of both of these dishes on my Pinterest boards as 'Recipes to Try' and they were immediately repinned by dozens of people who had the same thought -- interesting to try soon. Saturday night was my go at them.   Both are originally from Food and Wine magazine and adapted by me to reflect local vegetable offerings and tastes.  

Perfect Frying Pan for Roasted Vegetables 

The chicken went on the grill but the vegetables were cooked to perfection on the gas stove in a brand-new monster-sized 16" frying pan (similar to the one pictured on the right), a 25% off treasure I picked up at Paradis, the perfect (amateur and professional) chef's paradise/store.  

The frying pan almost covers two burners but is perfect for cooking vegetables because the quicker cooking ones can be easily moved to the back of the pan sitting on the second burner.  It's also a breeze to clean, always a bonus for me.  I can't count the number of woks I've ditched over the years because they rusted despite lots of seasoning.

Wild French Asparagus for Roasted Vegetables 

Also on Saturday, I walked into the local organic food produce store, Herb and Spice, to find a front counter display of local asparagus.  And, then, alongside it was a sign saying 'Wild French Asparagus'.  The price was of course almost triple that of a local bunch.  Ever curious, I decided to try one.  

Wild asparagus is a cousin of the cultivated kinds.  It is thinner and longer and has a delicate flavour.  It does not take long to cook or stir fry.  It was made famous by a book called "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" that was written in the 1960s.  Wild asparagus is difficult to find, primarily on coastal dunes and cliffs of the UK and Western Europe, including Ireland, the Channel Islands and Northern Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and North-West Germany.  It's an endangered species and steps are underway to conserve it, grow it carefully and use it sustainably.  

All in all, a welcome, interesting addition to a spring vegetable stir-fry. 

Thai-Inspired Grilled Chicken 
(Inspired by Food and Wine but adapted) 


3 T unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
4 tsp minced garlic, or can do a bit less depending on taste
2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp Asian sesame oil
Four 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded to a 1/2-inch thickness (organic, hormone free, if possible) 
Lime wedge (to garnish)


In a small saucepan, mix the rice vinegar with the sugar and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Add 1 tsp of the minced garlic and the crushed red pepper and let cool.

In a large bowl, combine the rice vinegar/sugar mixture with the remaining 3 tsp of garlic and the soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil. Add the chicken to the marinade in the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Light a grill and bring to medium-high heat (400 degrees). Remove the chicken from the marinade and let it drain, then grill for about 2 minutes per side, until browned and cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut the chicken into half and arrange on a platter, with the lime and roasted vegetables (see below).

Roasted Vegetables with a Walnut Dressing

(Serves four) 


2 zucchini, sliced diagonally 1/3 inch thick
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, stems cut off
1/2 lb thick asparagus, peeled
1/2 lb French asparagus (optional)
1 red onion, sliced 1/3 inch thick

1 red pepper, sliced
1 sweet potato, boiled, and cut into chunks
Other vegetables, your choice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Ingredients for Walnut Dressing:

1 cup walnuts
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tsp thyme leaves

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1/2 cup olive oil 
Salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 350°, put a small amount of olive oil in the frying pan and warm it to medium-high.  Peel skin from the sweet potato and parboil it for 15-20 minutes in a pot of boiling water.  Check for doneness as it does not have to be completely soft.  Rinse well and cool. 

Brush the zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, red pepper, cooled sweet potato and red onion with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Stir fry the vegetables and potato in the frying pan over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly charred in spots and tender, 15 to 18 minutes. As each one is done, transfer to a serving platter.

Meanwhile, spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast in the oven for about 12 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool completely.  Put the toasted walnuts in a food processor. Add the shallot, thyme, lemon juice, lemon zest and 1/2 cup of olive oil and pulse until the nuts are coarsely chopped. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.  

Arrange vegetables, sweet potato and chicken on a platter. Place the walnut dressing in a small bowl in the centre of the platter.  

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