A few weekends ago, Manhattan experienced an early, unexpected heat wave. Windows were thrown open, AC's were hastily installed after their winter hibernations, and I found myself with a craving for chicken salad.
But it was too hot for something laden with mayonnaise (typically one of my more favorite things), and I decided to experiment a bit with the box of orzo that has been in my kitchen cupoboard for, oh, about a year now. Orzo always reminds of Greek and Sicilian cuisine, which leads me to think of lemons, and of cucumbers (though the latter are never far from my mind, admittedly).
I dressed a boneless chicken breast with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and grilled it on my well-seasoned grill pan (It's now about 1 1/2 years old and really coming into its own.). Then I seeded a plum tomato and half a cucumber, chopped a quarter of a red onion, and tossed it all with a little olive oil, lemon juice, and basil.
I added some cooked orzo, the finished chicken, cubed, and ate the salad at room temperature. I'm completely convinced that it would have been better had I let it hang out and allowed the flavors to meld a bit more, but it was still awfully good, and perfect for the weather we had that day.
I might just make it again this weekend - we've got a forecast for 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Queenie's Chicken and Orzo Salad
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3/4 pound)
3 tbs. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup orzo pasta
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 tbs. basil, cut crosswise into strips
2 tbs. freshly-squeezed lemon juice (about one lemon)
Pour 2 tbs. of the olive oil over the chicken breasts, and sprinkle with the salt and pepper to taste. Allow to sit for a few minutes while you pre-heat your grill or grill pan.
Grill the chicken breasts on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes on each side; cooking time will vary by grill/stove. Once cooked, set the chicken aside to rest for a few minutes while you prep the salad.
While the chicken cooks, prepare the orzo according to the directions on the package (making sure to salt the water in which it cooks). Once cooked to al dente, drain and set aside.
Toss together the tomato, onion and cucumber, adding the remaining olive oil, the lemon juice, and the salt and pepper to taste. Once that mixture is well combined, add half the basil and toss gently to incorporate evenly.
Add the chicken and orzo, and toss gently again to combine all ingredients evenly. Add the remaining basil, adjust seasonings, and serve.
Serves two as a main course