Grills and barbecues often turn out not to be the most balanced of meals, majoring in meat and then some more meat, maybe with a bit bread on the side. They can be a bit dull too, without any vegetables to add crunch and colour except a leaf of lettuce or two as an afterthought. A warm salad is surely the way to go – lean meat with grilled vegetables and ripe fruit, all of the juices melding together and forming their own dressing. The salad I made uses organic chicken breast, earthy field mushrooms and more of those beautiful figs from my garden but you could just treat this recipe as a basic formula. How does skinless duck breast, asparagus and cherries, or turkey, red onion and apricot sound?
The possibilities are endless as nearly all vegetables can be grilled successfully but you do need to toss them in a little tiny bit of oil to stop them sticking to the pan or rack. To keep it healthy I used olive oil with its high monounsaturated fat content and got my fingers into the bowl to spread the oil across the vegetables so that I didn’t have to use as much. Asparagus, peppers, mushrooms, fennel, squash, aubergine, potato, onion, sweet corn, courgette, sweet potato, parsnip, spring onion and tomato will all give good results. National Geographic’s Green Guide has a great article on how best to prepare each different vegetable for grilling and gives two particularly good tips. The first is to cook thin and watery veg like asparagus, tomatoes and spring onions whole. The second tip, to avoid blackened and charred offerings is to grill the vegetables for just long enough to give them those attractive golden grill marks and then to put them into a bowl with cling film over the top, letting them finish cooking in their own steam.
I haven’t grilled my fruit to maximise those vitamins that are lost during heating and to have that nice hot/cold contrast going on but you could also grill the fruit if you wanted. My recipe uses good quality dried mint in an effort to cut down those air-freight food miles I was talking about the other day but you could use finely chopped fresh mint if you have it.
You will have effortlessly eaten two of your five-a-day by the time you have finished tucking in to this, as well missing all that saturated fat that would have been in a sausage or a burger. This must make this a suitable recipe to add to Ilva and Joanna’s Heart of the Matter collection of heart healthy grill recipes!
Recipe for Warm fig, chicken and mushroom salad
Inspired by a recipe from Country Living
Serves 2 (easily scaled up)
2 skinless chicken breasts
2 giant flat mushrooms
2 large figs (3 smaller ones)
A few big handfuls mixed leaves
For the marinade
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp crumbled, dried mint
Combine the marinade ingredients together and pour half over the chicken breasts in one bowl and half over the mushrooms in another bowl. Use your fingers to rub the marinade into the mushrooms to make sure that there is a light layer of oil all over (mushrooms have a sponge like affinity for olive oil so don’t be tempted to keep adding more, they will still cook fine with less). Season the chicken and the mushrooms with fresh black pepper and leave to marinade for about an hour.
Grill or griddle the chicken, adding the mushrooms after about five minutes. Once the chicken is cooked through (about ten minutes, depending on the heat of your chosen cooking method), leave it to rest somewhere warm for five minutes on a plate that will catch any juices that come out. Either cook the mushrooms for a little longer while the chicken is resting or take them out to rest too.
Quarter the figs and distribute these and the salad leaves across two plates. Thickly slice the mushrooms and chicken and place on the salad. Catch as much of the juice from the chicken and mushrooms as you can to drizzle over the salad and toss it all together. The chicken, figs and mushrooms are all very juicy but go for a splash of olive oil if you think it needs it.