Dominican Papaya Chicken Salad
I have been letting Jillian Michaels punish me for about two weeks now. It all started after a tiresome, tedious, strenous long week. I hadn’t slept in about 30 hours and after a few glasses a cheap bottle of wine (or two) I was well lubricated and at the drunken internettin’ stage…which is always dangerous ground. I had started thinking about my life, specifically my sedentary lifestyle and our upcoming nuptials (it could be that I had gone wedding dress shopping earlier that week. It could be that not a single dress I tried on fit me. It could be that I started to cry when I got home that day, and have been in a bit of a funk ever since). I was pining and typing, and minutes later I had sent a tearful missive off to a Twitter friend, asking for her advice on how to lose weight.
I immediately regretted having done that. Because hey, you know what I don’t like? Feeling weak and vulnerable, in general, and forcing other people to deal with the fact that I might be weak and vulnerable despite myself is the worst possible form of acknowledgment. I like to be in control. I am a driver. Exposing a fat white underbelly to a virtual stranger, a funny, smart, patient and kind one, but a stranger nonetheless, is enough to make my toes curl and keep me blushing for days. Within hours I had sobered up enough that I was just getting ready to type a nonchalant, “Hey, so, ignore that last email. I…uh…..typed in the wrong address”. You know, the garden variety sort of apology for a drunk-send, when I received the first response: a blast of compassion, encouragement and empathy, chock full of helpful hints and things that had assisted her in her own personal journey of fitness and weight loss. I got slightly verklempt and then promptly passed out.
A few days later I was still thinking about the kindness of strangers and the vagaries of modern interaction, when I got a second note. This one had AN ATTACHMENT (I get really excited about attachments), where she ran the gamut of advice from books to read, activities to try, nutrition suggestions, and every day inspiration. At the bottom part of the letter, the piece that really dug itself in me, was a final bit of encouragement. She included a picture of herself at her wedding, beaming like she could bring down the sky, and a picture 2.5 years later — after her weight loss journey. The change was startling, touching, and that last little nudge that I needed to remember that weight loss is something attainable. It is something that people have done, will continue to do, and something that I can do.
For that lovely lady, who I think of as my Team Tina Training Coach and source of waist-line wisdom and inspiration, I have nothing but grateful, heartfelt thanks. Elsewise, you are a gem. And by the way – your letter? I printed it and taped it to the inside of my cabinet at work. I read through your guidance every time that I think about indulging in the free and plentiful donuts and cookies, *just this once*. Thank you. And every time my legs start to quiver and my eyes glaze during my 20 minute shreds, I think of you and I push through it. Again, thank you.
So. Enough of that feelings crap. Let’s talk about food.
I have always been a big fan of salad. Crispy or tender, sweet or savory, I love it all. A few years ago I spent my vacation time at a lazy all inclusive in the Dominican Republic, sipping on cerveza by day and Bahama Mamas by night, feasting on the fresh fruits and grilled meats. On my second or third day there I went for lunch at one of the casual restaurants, just two steps up from a snack bar, where I tried what they called “Dominican Papaya Chicken Salad”, and fell utterly in love. I mean, c’mon, we have sweet mango, soulful black beans, creamy avocado, and a bright, flavorful but not overwhelming chicken breast splayed on top. What’s not to like? I really can’t say whether this is a traditional Dominican meal, and frankly, if I were to hazard a guess I would say that it’s not, but it is vibrant and bright like the Dominican people, and since it did become my daily staple, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
I might be back in Canada where the mangoes don’t taste as sweet, the chicken seems blander and we won’t be wearing tank tops for another four months, but this fresh and vibrant salad can still bring a bit of that sunshine to brighten up my day. So here goes, with my rendition of Dominican Papaya Chicken Salad.
Dominican Papaya Chicken Salad
Serves 2 perhaps too generously, or 4 for a light lunch
- 2 full and voluptuous boneless and skinless chicken breasts
- 1 lime
- 1/4 large papaya (about 1 cup diced)
- 1″ knob fresh ginger
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 tbsp soya sauce
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 sprigs fresh mint (about 1.5 tbsp chopped)
- 1 lime (1.5 tsp lime zest + juice of whole)
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 4 tbsp light oil *
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- salt to taste
- 1 head Bibb lettuce (or your favorite variety)
- 3-4 radishes
- 1 ripe mango (about 1 cup diced)
- 1/4 large papaya (about 1 cup diced)
- 1/4 red onion
- 8 oz (~ 1/2 can) black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 avocado
* Use a light oil that won’t overpower the bright flavors. If you have grapeseed oil, break it out. If not, a good vegetable oil will do the trick.
Dice the papaya rather roughly and put it into a blender or food processor along with the juice of a lime, soya sauce, honey, red pepper flakes and fresh mint. Peel the garlic and ginger. Give both a rough chop so that your mixer doesn’t need to work too hard, and add them to the rest of the ingredients. Puree the mixture until it is smooth.
Rinse the chicken and pat it dry before pouring the marinade over top.
Slather the chicken in the marinade and leave it to get all flavor-tastic in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.
For the dressing, finely mince the garlic clove until it is pulpy, or pound it into a paste with a pinch of salt. I grate the garlic using a rasp, because I know that I’ll use it again to make short work of that lime zest. Add the garlic and lime zest to a small bowl and squeeze in the juice of the full lime (about 2.5 tablespoons). Pour in the white wine vinegar and sprinkle in the cumin. Whisk this together and continue whisking while you slowly drizzle in the oil. Season the dressing with salt to taste, but don’t have too light of a hand because remember that you need the dressing to season the lettuce and other ingredients in the rest of the salad.
Preheat the oven to 450ºF with your rack set in the middle. Lift the chicken out of the marinade but don’t scrape off the marinade which is stuck and coating the meat, because that’s good stuff. When the oven is nice and hot, tuck the chicken inside to roast for 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350ºF and continue cooking for an additional 15-18 minutes, or until the chicken is firm and springy to the touch and the juices run clear. Tent the chicken with foil so that it can rest while you prepare the rest of the salad ingredients.
Tear the lettuce into bite sized pieces before rinsing and patting (or spinning) it dry. Halve the radishes vertically and slice them thinly into half moons. Peel the mango and papaya and cut into hearty cubes, about 1/2″ in size. Finely chop the red onion and give the black beans a good rinse and drain. Combine all of the salad ingredients (except for the avocado) together in a large bowl and toss with the dressing. Give a nibble to a piece of lettuce and season the salad with more salt if necessary.
Halve the avocado and discard the pit. Slice the flesh lengthwise about 1/4″ thick and use a large soup spoon to skim around the flesh of the avocado and loosen it from the shell in a single unit. Divide the avocado up among however many plates will be served (this is a BIG SALAD for 2, a mediocre but hearty salad for 4, or a light appetizer salad for 6) and fan it out. Lay the dressed salad greens, slightly offset, on top of the avocado. Slice the chicken breasts and fan them out on the very top.
Or, you know, just plate it up because the beasts, they be HUNGRY.
Light but immensely satisfying, this is the kind of meal that makes me feel virtuous in spite of myself. I can feel my thighs getting leaner, the avocado making my hair glossier and skin glow while the mango boosts my immunity and the lime adds a last ditch effort against scurvy. And yes, of course that’s all in my head, but I am totally my favorite person to trick with mind games. It feels like more of a challenge if I already know what’s going on.
P.S. – There is a possibility that while eating this salad I *might* have thought to myself, “Aw, shucks. Elsewise AND Jillian would be proud.” But don’t make me say that again, because I won’t, and the mere thought or craving Jillian Michaels’ approval makes me want to hoover up a bag of Cheetos in a dark corner of the basement. My old habits don’t die, they just lie latent until someone brings home a six pack. But I do crave Elsewise’s approval, because she’s pretty stout, so you might see an influx of healthy dishes on Choosy Beggars in the coming months. But don’t worry; in my dying breath I will still ask for cheese, so we’re not getting all spa-zen-like on your arses or anything. I just need to lose a bit of weight.