A healthy new way to use rotisserie or leftover chicken, this Yucatan-Inspired Spinach Salad with Chicken and Citrus features fresh produce like oranges, jicama, and avocado tossed with a chipotle-citrus vinaigrette. This healthy, flavorful spinach salad can be on your table in less than 30 minutes!
"Twenty pesos! You couldn't even afford corn tortillas anymore on twenty pesos. The Americans were buying all the maize for fuel, and none of the rancheros could afford to use it for food. What did come down to the people was too expensive to purchase. So Nayeli danced on down the street to her second job, serving tacos and soft drinks at La Mano Caída.~~ Luis Alberto Urrea, Into the Beautiful North, 2009
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks - Leftover Chicken and Yucatán Recipes
Self-proclaimed "foodies" have a difficult time getting excited about leftovers, and I am no exception! My refrigerator hides a veritable arsenal of microscopic fungi in the form of colorful mold on uneaten food that seemed less than appealing the next day.
I am, however, working hard at being a better steward, and creating less waste. Urrea's novel provided yet another reminder of the excesses of our "first world" culture. We waste - a lot!
A few days ago, my husband Mark and I entertained close friends to celebrate the completion of Fred's much-anticipated doctorate. I did tostones with a garlic and citrus dipping sauce, and Yucatán-Spiced Chicken with chayote squash and chiles. The flavorful roasted chicken was marinated in ancho chile and citrus. As usual, I made too much food.
I was pretty intent on not wasting the delicious leftover chicken, but the thought of reheating leftovers for dinner the following night made me shudder 😜. Instead, I relied upon my knowledge of Mexican cooking and flavor profiles in creating a quick and delicious spinach salad with the spicy citrus flavors found in Yucatán cuisine.
This recipe uses a few of the typical, healthy ingredients found in Yucatán cooking - pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds), jicama, oranges, avocados, and chiles. When I originally created this recipe, I lived in New Mexico, and ripe or nearly-ripe avocados were hard to come by. This was a "leftovers" recipe and planned at the last minute, the original photos do not have avocado. However, they do include julienned jicama.
However, the more recent photos in 2020 include the avocado, and an abundance of citrus, but in the midst of the 2020 health crisis, I couldn't get the jicama. Be flexible as you plan the dish, and use the ingredients you love and find locally!
🍊 What is Yucatecan Cuisine?
Former New York City Chef David Sterling describes Yucatecan cuisine as a "Maya platform with European influences on top." In addition to European influences, you'll find Caribbean as well.
Achiote (aka annatto), sour oranges (naranja agria), chiles, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and exotic spice blends are ubiquitous in Yucatecan cooking. This is the land of moles, cochinita pibil, and tamales, with an emphasis on fresh and local ingredients. I might add it is my favorite regional Mexican cuisine!
One of my first food adventures in 2015 when we moved to McAllen, Texas was with chaya (aka Mexican tree spinach). Long used by the Mayans for both food and medicine, chaya is an obscure super food loaded with vitamins and minerals. I have used it in Mexican fried rice and Mexican cauliflower "rice" bowls.
I have never found sour oranges in the US, though we have enjoyed them often in Peru. I find that a mix of citrus gets close to the flavor, as they are more tart than our sweet oranges. For the purposes of this recipe, I typically use orange or grapefruit sections in the salad, and use a mix of orange or grapefruit with lime juice in the vinaigrette.
These two articles provide a good overview of the cuisine: Cooking in the Yucatan: Bright Flavors and Unique Ingredients and Food in the Yucatan.
This hearty main dish salad recipe comes together in minutes if you're starting with already-cooked chicken. Keep in mind the chicken (with the original recipe) was already marinated in citrus juices and ancho chile, then roasted. You can marinate your chicken in citrus, garlic, and ancho - ingredients found in the recipe noted above - and grill it, or even use the breast from a rotisserie chicken to save time. The dressing will provide the flavors...
📋 Ingredients You'll Need
Chipotle Citrus Vinaigrette
- citrus zest and juice - I use a mixture of orange, grapefruit, and lime in the dressing and the salad.
- olive oil
- dijon mustard
- red chile powder - You can use ground chipotle powder or a little adobo from canned chipotles. They're hot, so add carefully. I have also substituted both ancho and New Mexico red chile powder.
- agave nectar - Agave nectar is sweeter by volume than honey or maple syrup. They're both good substitutes, but you'll want to taste and adjust.
- cooked chicken - This is a great way to use rotisserie chicken, meal prep chicken, or leftover chicken.
- spinach -
- citrus sections -
- jicama -
- red pepper
- red onion
- pepitas -
- fresh mint sprig -
- Chipotle-Citrus Vinaigrette
- Prepare the vinaigrette - Combine all ingredients in a small food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning.
- Prep the salad ingredients - Cube the chicken, section the citrus, thin-slice the red pepper, julienne the jicama, toast the pepitas. Slice the avocado last! (To avoid browning).
- Toss the salad - I put the chicken, spinach, red onion, and red bell pepper in a large salad bowl, and toss well with about half of the vinaigrette. I then add the avocado, avocado, and jicama and toss lightly. This may help keep all the "goodies" from migrating to the bottom of the bowl.
- Serve the salad - Using salad tongs, place salad in an appropriate bowl or plate. Drizzle with a little more vinaigrette, and sprinkle with fresh mint. Enjoy!
- Keep ancho chile powder, pepitas, and citrus on hand if you love these flavors! See well-stocked pantry.
- What kind of chicken should I use? This is a great way to use leftover chicken, but even an hour or two in a marinade and the time on the grill make this a quick and healthy dinner salad. This is a great way to use rotisserie chicken. If you're into "meal prep," consider marinating chicken breast in citrus juices, achiote, garlic, and chipotle or ancho before cooking. I'll work on a recipe soon!
- A "bullet" or "ninja" type small food processor works really well for salad dressings. Blenders work fine, but they're a pain for a small batch of dressing. Small food processors don't handle liquids very well.
- Think about "flavor profiles" and be creative! Mango and other tropical fruits would work well in place of the citrus. Cilantro and jalapeno can substitute for the mint and ancho.
🍾 Pairing Suggestions
We usually enjoy this salad with a viognier (if we have one in the rack) or a chardonnay that isn't too heavy on the oak. If you're a craft beer drinker, try the salad with a saison (farmhouse ale) or a fruit-forward wheat.
This spinach salad with chicken and spinach is a healthy "one dish meal," on its own, but if you need more carbs, tortillas are delicious alongside!
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