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Lean and lovin' it: Chicken salad a refreshing break from sandwiches

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• Editor's note: Don Mauer is taking some time off. This column originally appeared on July 2, 2003.

Bringing a turkey, chicken or ham sandwich to work every day can quickly get old. The slap-it-between-two-slices-of-bread-and-into-a-brown-bag routine makes lunch prep doable on a rushed morning but sometimes leaves me cold.

One morning, I opened my refrigerator door ready to gather up my sandwich fixins and then muttered in frustration, "Forget it, I'll go out for lunch."

I had the best of intentions, too. But, as my morning crept closer to noon I started cynically eliminating lunchtime alternatives. The rotisserie chicken place is really too far away; the Chinese joint's always crowded. That sub place works, but I really don't want a sandwich.

Finally, someone offered to bring back pizza from a new wood-fired place. I enthusiastically agreed and promised my conscience that I'd make up for it at dinner.

That same night, shortly after I'd kicked my keister over my lunch decision, I spied the last page of Gourmet magazine's June issue. Four variations on chicken salad appeared under the clever "Fowl Play" headline.

One required wild rice, but I don't have the time to make that. Another required tarragon vinegar and fresh tarragon leaves, neither of which resided in my kitchen.

The third used a whole avocado and a cup of sour cream in the dressing; hardly part of a lean eating plan.

The fourth, Asian Chicken Salad, appealed to me right away. This salad's ingredients could commonly be found at my local supermarket and the dressing, even though it had oil in it, could easily be spun in a healthier direction.

Since I enjoy roasting whole chickens on the weekend, leaving plenty of leftovers, this salad's appeal increased. I decided to prepare the salad for dinner the next night and make enough for a couple of near future lunches.

The following evening I washed, sliced, tossed together and chilled some Napa cabbage, snow peas, a seedless cucumber, scallions and cilantro. Going beyond the recipe, I also tossed in some fresh, organic mung bean sprouts.

Next, I made the dressing. Using my thickened chicken broth trick, I reduced the dressing's oil volume to less than 10 percent. As the dressing chilled, I pulled a chicken breast apart, following the grain, in long shreds.

I tossed everything together and speared some of my new salad with a fork. "Oh man. This may be one of the best salads I've ever tasted," I said. "And, fast-food restaurants think they know how to make a salad."

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at

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