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updated: 4/17/2013 7:42 AM

Spring chicken: Salads the way to lighten up warm-weather meals

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  • Spiced peaches brighten up chicken salad.

    Spiced peaches brighten up chicken salad.
    Courtesy of Workman

  • Apple, carrots and cilantro lighten the profile of this peanutty Thai Chicken Salad.

    Apple, carrots and cilantro lighten the profile of this peanutty Thai Chicken Salad.
    Courtesy of Ballantine

By Deborah Pankey
Daily Herald Food Editor

In January and February, heck even a few days last week, the idea of pulling a sagey chicken from the oven and carving it up with a side of roasted carrots and potatoes sounded like the perfect dinner.

But as the weather warms -- and it eventually will warm -- and we shed our winter sweaters, so too must our food shed its winter layers.

"Chicken is a good lean protein go-to all year long," says Lucy Danzinger, editor-in-chief at Self magazine and author of "The Drop10 Diet Cookbook" (Ballantine, 2013). And the way to dress chicken for spring is in salads.

In Danzinger's book, she reveals 30 superfoods that have been scientifically proven to tap into your body's natural fat-burning ability.

"These whole foods have properties that practically do the dieting for you by helping to rev your metabolism, fill you up on fewer calories and reduce hunger and cravings," Danzinger says in an interview. And that can't be a bad thing as tank top and swimsuit weather nears.

While not a superfood in its own right, chicken pairs well with many of the other superfoods for weight loss.

The tart and zingy Thai Chicken Salad, for example, perks up your palate and boasts six superfoods -- apples, broccoli, kale and peanuts among them -- in a one-bowl meal.

At Player's Pub and Grill in Prospect Heights, chef Tom Vertucci forth a Thai-influenced chicken salad that's more pasta salad than green salad, and refreshing with its gentle marinade and crunch of green onions.

You might also consider combining chicken with artichokes -- another SELF superfood. They're in season now, and frozen artichoke hearts are available year round. A half-cup of artichoke hearts carries 7 grams of fiber -- more than any other vegetable -- which digests slowly to keep you feeling full longer, Danzinger says.

Try adding fresh artichoke hearts to cooked, cubed chicken, chopped romaine, lentils and a lemony vinaigrette. Top it off with some shaved parmesan, the cheese Danzinger refers to as the king of calcium, and you get minerals, protein and a cheesy punch.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, a recipe developer for The Washington Post, favors balsamic vinegar in her chicken salad. "Chicken salad might be the easiest of the classic American salads to reinvent," she says in article for The Washington Post, sharing a version with carrots and white beans as evidence. "Here, I've used a balsamic-based dressing because it lends so much flavor."

If you prefer creamier dressings, drop the mayo and grab the Greek yogurt.

"Low-fat Greek yogurt (yup, another slimming superfood) is a satisfying spread instead of higher-cal mayo or sour cream," Danzinger says.

In writing for Mariano's Spring 2013 magazine, award-winning author Nina Simonds touts a Curry Chicken and Mango Salad with Cousous. "Everyday chicken salad can be turned into a sumptuous and tantalizing meal-in-one-dish by adding garnishes such as grapes and mangoes, and dressing the salad in a vibrant curry-ginger yogurt sauce," she writes. The magazine it available at the checkout aisles at Mariano's suburban stores.

If you hear the term chicken salad and automatically add sandwich to the phrase, try "The Drop10 Diet Cookbook's" Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich. Made with apples, dried cherries, Greek yogurt and edamame, it holds well in the refrigerator and makes a nice addition to picnics.

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