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Make a winter chicken salad with citrus

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The classic Italian grapefruit salad is the basis for a twist on taking advantage of the availability of citrus fruit in the winter. In my take on the citrus salad, you can use anything you like, such as oranges or Minneolas, which I saw and bought last week at Safeway in Tucson. Those great big tangerines are very juicy and sweet, and I don't think you could make a better salad with any other citrus.

The basic idea of this Italian-inspired salad is baby spinach leaves, graced with the orange, tangerine or grapefruit slices and accentuated with onions. Of course since you are not going to cook them, red onions are perfect for this dish with its colorful contrast to the white chicken meat.

You can also find the very small tangerines in stores right now, such as Cuties and others. They are easy to peel, seedless and very sweet, so you can treat them the same as Minneolas in spite of the considerable difference in size. Cuties would look appealing when scattered over a salad, while you can create a pattern of bright-orange slices with larger citrus fruit.

Then we consider the dressing. The classic Italian treatment of the orange-onion salad is olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. You could also use any good Italian oil-and-vinegar dressing, or create one of your own. Here is an approach to the winter citrus salad that makes it a meal.

To get very thin slices of onion--like transparent--use a mandoline, which will allow you to work quickly as well as creating those paper-thin slices. Slicing onions is not always critical, but using even the very sharp kitchen knife is still a hit-and-miss proposition, especially near the end when you are slicing very small pieces of onion.

WINTER CHICKEN SALAD

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken breast, cut into dice or slices
2 handfuls of baby spinach, stems cut off
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thin
1-2 citrus fruit, depending on size, sectioned, seeded and peeled
Olive oil

Place a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and heat it to medium-high. Add the chicken and toss it in the oil until it has cooked and browned slightly. Remove the chicken from the heat and set the skillet aside.

Cut the stems off the spinach and place 1 handful on each plate (this recipe serves two).

Slice the onions very thin and scatter them over the spinach. Do the same with the citrus sections. If they are large, however, you may choose to arrange them attractively over the onions and spinach.

Finally, top the salad with the warm chicken pieces/slices. Just before serving, top with a dressing.

Your dressing for this dinner salad might be the following:

CREAMY ITALIAN DRESSING

Ingredients:

1 cup plain yogurt
2 Tablespoons cottage cheese
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
Dried parsley, oregano, garlic powder, ground white pepper and sea salt to taste

Place all ingredients except seasonings in a mini-food processor or compact blender. Turn the machine on and watch to see when the ingredients are blended completely.

Stop the processor and taste the dressing for seasonings. Add the herbs, salt and pepper to taste and turn the machine on briefly just to combine. Serve over the salad and refrigerate the remainder in an airtight container.

A light red wine would go well with this dish, as long as it does not overpower the chicken. Crusty bread and butter will complement this dinner, which could be followed by a pretty dessert--you'll have some calorie room for it.

You could also prepare the dressing the day before and refrigerate it, so that the flavors have time to "bloom" in the container as the herbs get acquainted with the yogurt and cottage cheese.

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