Monday, March 26, 2012

Asian Toasted Sesame Chicken Pasta Salad

Every Wednesday night, I begin to stress a bit as I try to figure out what to make for my dinner group on Thursday evening. Some months I'm smart enough to plan ahead, but lately, there's just no inspiration. I have the hardest time trying to figure out what to make. Inevitably, since I've waited until the last minute to plan my meal, I need something quick and easy with ingredients I have on hand.

Thank goodness for Pinterest. I had pinned this recipe a while back and while looking for some inspiration for last week's meal, I spotted this, read over the ingredients and decided it sounded perfect.... I had all the ingredients on hand, it looked quick and simple and the flavors sounded like they would be reminiscent of my favorite Toasted Sesame Salad at Panera Bread. 

And I have to say that I'm only sad I waited so long to try this recipe. It was delicious!  I loved the combination of the Asian sesame dressing and cilantro and green onions. The dressing was slightly sweet and balanced perfectly by the Asian inspired chicken and bright cilantro flavor.  I did complicate the recipe just a bit by marinading the chicken in one of my favorite Asian inspired marinades first, but it only enhanced the flavor and really, marinading chicken doesn't require a lot more time.  Whether you choose to add that extra step or not, just be sure to try this recipe.  It's perfect for this time of  year and I'm pretty sure it's going to be become a regular sight in this house!

Recipe Source: Blog Chef (Salad) and Our Best Bites (Chicken Marinade)
Servings: 4 large servings (More than enough to feed my family of five... three of whom are under the age of 10)

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 T lime juice (about 1 lime)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp curry powder
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fresh grated ginger (I only had powdered, and I used 1/4 tsp)
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I used 4 large boneless, skinless, chicken breasts instead)

16 oz. (1 pkg.) farfalle or bow tie pasta
3 cups cooked chicken, cut into chunks (Marinaded and prepared as described below)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup green onions, sliced
Toasted Sesame Dressing (recipe follows)

Toasted Sesame Dressing:
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable or olive oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
3 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 cup sesame seeds

1.  Combine all the marinade ingredients except the chicken in a small bowl.  Whisk to combine and dissolve the brown sugar.  Pour the marinade into a large Ziploc bag or other container and add your chicken.  Refrigerate a minimum of four hours or longer if you have the time, turning the bag often to cover the chicken.

2.  Preheat your grill and spray with oil.  Grill the chicken over medium heat, turning regularly and cooking until the chicken is done.  Allow to cool and then chop into medium sized bites.  Set aside.

3.  Heat a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the sesame seeds and cook, stirring frequently, until the sesame seeds are golden brown.  Remove from heat and set aside.

4.  Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling.  Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions to al dente.  Drain your pasta and transfer to a large serving bowl.

5.  Combine all the dressing ingredients except for the vegetable oil and sesame seeds in a blender or food processor.  With the blender running, slowly add the oil in a small stream, until well incorporated.  Add the sesame seeds.

6.  Add your grilled, chopped chicken to the pasta and add the dressing.  (Note: You may not need all the dressing.  Add a little and stir as you go.  I didn't end up needing all the dressing and it was nice to have some extra on hand the next day to toss with my leftovers!)  Add the cilantro and green onions and toss to combine.