Homemade Cajun Chicken Salad with Quinoa, Bulgar Wheat and Red Chard

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As those who have been sweetly following my blog for a while now will know, I adore healthy, appetising salads that combine and fuse together different meats, fish, vegetables, fruits and pulses. Whilst a simple green or rocket salad tastes sublime with a splash of lemon or a vinaigrette, I always like to prepare new flavour combinations that really lift a salad and take it to a new dimension. If you take a look under my recipe library above you will see a good variety of salads that I like preparing and eating. Purests may well say they are not salads as they are substantial meals unto themselves, but in my book they come under ‘salads that rock’, I hope you agree.

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At the moment, wonderful vibrant red chard is available so I bought a bunch hoping to do something creative with it. I adore the brightness of the stems – similar looking to rhubarb.  When it is young it is similar to spinach in that it can be digested raw or cooked. Rich in nutrients, it’s a winner in a salad from a health and looks perspective.

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When you make my Cajun rub, make sure you properly smother it over the chicken breasts. I find that making a few incisions into each breast helps release the flavours all through the chicken.

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I would be lying if I said that I have been eating quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and bulgar wheat for years, but the truth of the matter is that aside from health food stores, it wasn’t readily available. Today, however, it is accessable in most mainstream food stores, certainly in London. My packet looked like this. After rinsing it through with cold water it simply needs boiling for 12 minutes and viola it is ready to eat.

Have you got any great salad combinations that work well together? If so I would love to hear so leave a comment below so we can all share ideas.

Homemade Cajun Chicken Salad with Quinoa, Bulgar Wheat and Red Chard

Serves 4-6

to make the Cajun rub

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp rock salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 hot paprika

2 tsp of fresh thyme

1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg

2 tbsp olive oil

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500g chicken breasts (4 chicken breasts, skins removed)

120g red and white quinoa with bulgar wheat

1 litre fresh cold water

250g new potatoes

150g fresh red chard, chopped into fine short strips

2 handfuls of fresh seedless red grapes, halved

1/2 lemon juice

seasoning

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

2. Start by making the Cajun rub. Combine all the ingredients, except the olive oil. Stir together and if you have a spice grinder give them a quick whizz in there so that they are perfectly blended together.

3. Lay your chicken breasts in an ovenproof dish and make a few incisions into the breasts so that you can push the rub into the incisions to give it that extra flavour. Place the Cajun rub all over the chicken breasts on both sides and then add the olive oil so that that the chicken is not dry.

4. Place in the oven for 25 minutes, turning the breasts once during cooking.

5. In a pan boil the 1 litre of water and when it is boiling add the red and white quinoa and bulgar wheat and leave to simmer for 12 minutes. Then drain and leave to one side.

6. Boil the new potatoes for up to 15 minutes in a separate saucepan with boiling water. Drain and leave to one side

7. Wash the red chard and pat dry. Finely slice the shard – as if you were making coleslaw. Wash the grapes and slice in half.

8. Finely slice the Cajun chicken, making sure not to get rid of the Cajun juices that will remain in the ovenproof dish.

9. In a mixing bowl add a little of the chicken, chard, quinoa and bulgar wheat, grapes and new potatoes. Give them a gentle mix with your hands before adding the same ingredients again in small portions so that they all mix well together. Add the lemon juice and the Cajun juices in the ovenproof dish. Season as necessary.  Transfer to a serving bowl/platter.

It can be eaten at room temperature or when the chicken, potatoes, quinoa and bulgar wheat is still warm.

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Chipotles En Adobo – a store cupboard essential

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If there is ONE new thing you do this year I urge, beg and plead you to try making your own ‘chipotles en adobe’, homemade chipotle sauce to you and me. If you like chutneys, relishes and jellies, and chilli of course, then this is culinary nirvana. OK, you probably think that I am going a little over the top here, but seriously you will thank me once you have made some pots of this sauce. It’s addictive and tastes seriously good, so much so that it is not unheard of for me to have it with my breakfast (whether it be french toast/fried egg toastie/grilled tomatoes/bacon buttie – basically it goes with anything, well maybe not cereal!) and then again at lunch time by placing a little dollop of it in my sandwich.

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Chipotles chillies, originate from Mexico and are in fact a smoked and dried jalapeno chilli. They are not like their spicier cousins, such as the serrano or the chile de arbol, instead they have wonderful smokey notes that give warmth and a little spicy kick that beckons you back for more.  They are sold dried or in an adobo (sauce).

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Now I can just hear you all saying ‘where on earth can I get hold of those types of chillies’? Yes it does take a little bit of forward planning, but as I don’t have a farmers market next door or a store that holds them near by, I get mine online from a range of Mexican grocers including Mex Grocer. It takes literally a few minutes to log on and order and hey presto within a couple of days you have your beautiful dried chipotles chillies. I imagine if you live in the US they are likely to be even easier to source as I know that Mexican food and products are far more commonplace than they are here in the UK.

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Making the sauce is incredible straightforward and the sweet smells coming from the cooking pot are wonderful.
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The sauce itself lasts for months so it’s great to have a private hoard in the store cupboard for personal consumption, although I will probably give a couple of my pots away to those I deem worthy of such culinary pleasures – basically family and friends who I know like chillies.

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My life has been made so much easier since I invested in my kilner wide neck funnel (see photo above). I know it will get a lot of use with all the chutneys and jams I make over the course of a year.

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Chipotles En Adobo

adapted from Thomasina Miers’s recipe in Mexican Food Made Simple

Makes 6 jars

200g chipotle chillies

1 white onion, chopped

1 bulb of garlic, peeled and chopped

3 tbsp fresh oregano

2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed

4 tbsp olive oil

350ml white wine vinegar

50ml balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp black treacle

3 tsp tomato puree

6 tbsp demerara sugar

2 tbsp sea salt

1. Cut the storks off the tops of all the chillies and then place them in a colander and wash in cold water.

2. Transfer to a large pan and cover with water and simmer gently for around half an hour, by which time the chillies will be soft. Strain the water and place six of them into a blender along with the onion, garlic, herbs, cumin and 200ml of water. Blend until smooth.

3. Heat up a large pan (my Le Creuset pot is perfect for this) with the olive oil and when it is very hot add the blended chilli paste and stir continuously for a couple of minutes before adding the tomato puree, sugar, salt, vinegars, black treacle, along with 100ml of water. Turn the heat down and simmer for a few minutes before adding the remaining chillies.

4. Simmer gently for a further 15 minutes, stirring throughout.

5. Transfer the sauce to a blender (or use a hand blender) and blend once again until you have a smooth sauce.

6. Place into your steralised jars and store in a dark, cool place.

This amount makes 6 small kilner jars, as shown in the photos. Whilst it lasts for months, I can bet that it won’t last too long once you have tried it as you’ll be putting it in and on everything.

Best of luck, a little bit of effort will reward you royally.