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Throughout the cold-weather season, we rely on pantry ingredients like dried herbs and spice blends to transport our kitchens to a warmer place. That’s why we’ve partnered with The Spice Hunter to bring you bright ideas for winter salads.
The best recipes are the ones that can effortlessly morph into something new and reinvent themselves again and again. They’ve got your back when you’re low on dinner ideas, trying to make do with what’s on hand, or feel like experimenting with an ingredient, technique, or combination of flavors that’s new to you. They work every single time, no matter your whims or constraints.
Merrill’s Warm Chicken Salad is one such recipe. It’s perfect as written, with shredded chicken and tender potatoes crisped in a skillet and then strewn over crunchy Bibb lettuce with red wine vinaigrette. It can be tweaked to embrace virtually any vegetable (or leftover roasted vegetable), herbs, or greens you have kicking around in the fridge. And with just a few simple adjustments, you can easily change the whole flavor profile, as I discovered with this Indian-inspired Warm Garam Masala Chicken Salad with Crispy Naan Croutons.
I came up with the dish when looking to satisfy a craving for Indian food while also trying to use up leftover chicken (many weekends, my husband roasts or smokes a whole bird to provide protein for the week). With fresh spinach, a bright citrus vinaigrette, juicy red grapes, chickpeas, and naan croutons toasted in garam masala, it doesn’t disappoint; the big jumble of textures and flavors creates a salad that tastes far from leftover. We have to count out the crispy naan croutons in my house to make sure everyone gets an equal share.
Best of all, it takes just 15 minutes to get this warming, satisfying dish on the table. In place of leftover chicken, shredded rotisserie chicken from the grocery store stands in nicely for an even easier preparation.
Here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when you try out the dish for yourself:
- Swirl and toast garam masala in the lemon vinaigrette for about 30 seconds to wake up and intensify its flavor. This technique is called blooming; it’s a step more familiar for whole spices, but it works wonders for ground spice blends, too.
- Use a nonstick skillet when toasting the naan and the chicken and chickpeas. A regular skillet also works; just make sure to frequently stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking.
- For the best, crispiest naan croutons, start with day-old naan. If you’re working with fresh (or thawed from frozen), lightly toast the naan to dry it out before making the croutons.
- Feel free to make substitutions (this salad is open to improvisation, just like Merrill’s). For example, you could use raisins, currants, or dried cranberries in place of red grapes (warm them with the chicken and chickpeas so they’ll plump and soften in the lemon vinaigrette)—or arugula or kale instead of spinach.
For the salad
- 2 1/2 teaspoons garam masala, such as The Spice Hunter's garam masala blend, divided, plus more to taste
- 1 piece day-old naan bread (about 3 ounces), torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 1/2 cups shredded chicken
- 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
- 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup red grapes, halved
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups loosely packed baby spinach, roughly chopped or torn
For the lemony vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Like this recipe idea? Stay tuned for more. We've partnered with The Spice Hunter to bring you several new recipes for winter salads. Each one highlights the way a spice or spice blend—like the warming, fragrant garam masala featured here—can bring a dish to life, as well as smart tricks and tips to make your cold-weather salads better than ever.