It was Mother's Day 2007. Stephen and I had been married just over a year and living in a spacious but sketchy apartment in the suburbs of Chicago. We invited my parents, my brother and his wife, and both of my grandmas into our apartment for a three-tiered tower of various bruschetta and an absurd amount of this salad.
California Pizza Kitchen had been a family favorite in my childhood home, and despite the extensive pizza offerings on their menu, my mom always gravitated toward this salad. I was able to hunt down the recipe, and it was a perfect choice for Mother's Day lunch.
Stephen and I decorated our tiny table with a lovely, yet stolen, bouquet of purple tulips. I do not condone stolen tulips, but our budget barely left room for chicken breasts let alone fresh flowers. So we got creative - or perhaps unlawful. There was a community of "luxury" townhomes nearby with an enormous display of tulips surrounding their entrance sign. On our way home from church (from church!), Stephen pulled into the entrance and u-turned around the large island of tulips, setting up our car for a quick getaway. He sprung into action, flying out of the driver's side door and yanking up tulips in a manic fashion. He dove back into the car with a mass of flowers clutched against his chest, threw them in my direction, and squealed out as he shut his door. I was stunned by the speed and agility I had just witnessed.
I started to wonder if he had stolen tulips before.
We were so cute. You see those purple tulips? I didn't pay for those...
BBQ Chicken Salad: Adapted from California Pizza Kitchen
Serves 4 as a main dish
The chicken in this salad is best served cold, so I would recommend grilling it the night before or earlier in the day. However, I don't always plan ahead that well. The salad will still be delicious if your chicken is warm or room temperature.
Also, the fried tortilla chips are fun to make at home and can be made ahead of time; however, if the idea of making your own tortilla strips is a total turnoff, you can buy these in bags at the grocery story. No shame.
4 boneless chicken breasts
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons salt
about 1/4 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
Get your grill set for medium heat.
Mix the olive oil, garlic, soy sauce, and salt. Pour over the chicken and let it marinade at room temperature for about 15 minutes.
Grill the chicken until cooked through, about 5-6 minutes on each side.
Let the chicken cool and cut it into cubes. Toss with BBQ sauce and keep chilled.
about 12 corn tortillas, cut into 1/2 inch wide strips
vegetable or canola oil for deep frying
Using a heavy frying pan, heat a couple inches of oil. Carefully add strips and submerge into the oil with a metal slotted spoon. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden brown, 1-2 minutes. Carefully lift out of the oil using a slotted spoon and let them drain on a paper towel.
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cleaned, dried, and chopped
1/2 head Romaine lettuce, cleaned, dried and chopped
12 large basil leaves, chopped
1 pound jicama, cut into matchsticks (see below)
1-2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can sweet corn, rinsed and drained (even better if you grill some corn alongside the chicken!)
big handful chopped cilantro
1 pound tomatoes, diced - or cherry tomatoes cut in half
about 1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
about 1 cup of your favorite ranch dressing
***I buy jicama in the produce section at Kroger, so hopefully you can find it at your grocery store. It is a large, round root vegetable that looks similar to a turnip. However, its flavor and texture is somewhere between a potato and pear. Just try it. You'll like it.
To assemble the salad, mix the lettuce, basil, jicama, cheese, black beans, corn, cilantro, ranch dressing, and half the tortilla strips. Top the salad with tomatoes, chicken, the rest of the tortilla strips and drizzle with BBQ sauce.
And I would like to formally apologize to the fancy townhome community down the road from Country Glenn Apartments in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
We should not have stolen your beautiful tulips, even if there were hundreds.
Even if we had no money.
Even if it was Mother's Day.
Even if the entrance sign by our apartments only had cigarette buds and old condoms.
I'm sorry, and I owe you some tulips.
Or some BBQ chicken salad.
P.S. This is another except from the book I am writing for my children.