Thursday, 27 March 2014

Chickpea, blood orange, kale & almond salad with tangy chargrilled chicken

Blood oranges make winter worthwhile. Grey rainy mornings are a little bit brighter as you take your sharp serrated knife and gently slice the skin off these reassuringly weighty citrus fruits, revealing the stained-glass segments within. Marigold orange with blushing tinges of red, through to the dark scarlet of lifeblood, every blood orange is different, and part of the enjoyment is taking a moment to admire the individual tones of the specimen you’re about to eat. You can eat them as they are, of course, but I like to mix them with other ingredients, particularly where their gorgeous colouring can be fully appreciated. 

With rhubarb, for example: dramatic wedges of orange look clashingly beautiful against the hot pink of early season stalks, and this combination is something I love to spoon over a bowl of comforting porridge. Mackerel, too: the silvery flesh of a plump, oily fish is fabulous both in taste and in appearance when teamed with sharp oranges. I also love to simmer slices of these fruits in sugar and honey syrup until they are soft and melt-in-the-mouth, then use them to decorate a cardamom-scented cake drenched in the syrup, their ruby and marigold tones beautifully dramatic against the golden cake crumb. 

I often use blood oranges in salads with earthy pulses like lentils or sturdy grains like quinoa or couscous. They provide a welcome bite of fruitiness against the richness of the other ingredients. Beetroot, smoked mackerel and roasted carrots all work well in this combination, but the other day I came across a Waitrose recipe for a chickpea, kale and blood orange salad, and I was intrigued. Not the most obvious combination, oranges and chickpeas, but the photo of the finished dish was beautiful and I thought it worth a try. It made sense: the earthy, grainy bite of chickpeas against the slight bitterness of kale, all given necessary fruity lift by segments of orange. Cook everything in a little butter and oil, add a little red chilli for colour and bite, and some orange zest and juice…it seemed like a delicious medley.

I made it my own, though. The recipe called for walnuts, which I hate, so I swapped in blanched almonds (from JustIngredients). These were incredible; toasted in butter and oil for a few minutes, they lend a delicious crunch and fragrant nuttiness to the finished dish; in my opinion a far more sensible addition than bitter, oily walnuts. The combination of kale, chickpeas, oranges and almonds is slightly magic. It might sound odd, but it’s a very satisfying plateful, feeling both comforting and bolstering and light and fresh at the same time. 

To make this more substantial, I combined it with some chargrilled chicken, marinated in an incredibly flavoursome mix of garlic, lemon juice, lemon salt, paprika and dried thyme. This tenderises the chicken (I think it’s the acid in the lemon juice) and also makes it gorgeously tangy and moreish. Slapped on a hot griddle pan and left to sizzle until bearing those aesthetically pleasing char marks, it’s perfect with the fruity chickpea salad. There are lots of lovely citrus notes going on, as well as smokeyness from the paprika, crunch from the almonds and the nutty blank canvas of chickpeas. It’s one of the best things I’ve made this year so far: bold, bright, healthy and a real keeper of a dish. 

Chickpea, blood orange, kale & almond salad with tangy, smoky chargrilled chicken (serves 2):

For the marinade:
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of half a lemon
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp lemon salt
½ tsp dried thyme
3 tbsp olive oil
2 chicken breast fillets, cut into strips

3 blood oranges
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
200g curly kale
20g butter
1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
60g whole blanched almonds
400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

First, marinate the chicken. Mix the marinade ingredients in a small bowl and add the chicken strips. Toss well to coat, then leave for half an hour.

When ready to make the salad, grate the zest from two of the oranges. Place in a bowl with the chilli. Cut the skin off all the oranges with a sharp serrated knife, then cut the orange segments away from the pith. Do this over a bowl to catch any juice, then squeeze any remaining pith into the bowl too to get all the juice. Set aside.

Blanch the kale for 2 minutes in boiling water, then drain well and set aside. In a large non-stick frying pan, heat the butter and oil over a medium heat. Add the garlic and almonds and cook for a couple of minutes until both are starting to turn golden. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the kale to the butter and oil and stir-fry for a minute until starting to soften. Add the chickpeas and two thirds of the orange segments along with any orange juice, and cook for another couple of minutes until everything is warmed through. Add the garlic and almonds back to the pan along with the chilli and orange zest, and half the parsley, and stir everything together.

To cook the chicken, chargrill on a hot griddle pan for around 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. (You can also bake it in the oven in its marinade for around 20 minutes, or cook it in a frying pan if you don’t have a griddle pan).

Serve the salad with the chicken on top, garnished with the remaining orange segments and parsley.

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