A hearty chicken and lentil salad for days when you crave something green

This salad is delicious in so many ways, and lentils have never tasted so good

Puy lentil salad with buttered chicken

Puy lentil salad with buttered chicken

 

With this mild autumn weather we’ve been having, I’ve been hesitant to let go of salads altogether. Salad leaves work really well when there are warm components added, be it a golden baked falafel and some hummus nestled in a bed of leaves, or a boiled egg with tuna and salad. It’s really transitional food as we still need the goodness from all of those greens, but we also need something warming.

This chicken salad is delicious in so many ways. The buttery, lemon-kissed pan juices are folded through the puy lentils, bringing them to pure comfort food status. Lentils have never tasted so good. I first came across chicken bathed in butter this way while in Florence, in a really lovely family-run restaurant. It had a very simple menu, and butter chicken was one of two main-course options. It was famous for this chicken and it was easy to see why. The fresh lemon juice is an ideal balance for the rich butter.

The dessert in that little trattoria was wild strawberries with cream or wild strawberries macerated in red wine. It was hard to choose between these two delicious options, so we had both. 

I regularly make a batch of the pink pickled onions that I’ve used in this recipe. They’re so quick and easy to rustle up and are perfect on top of salads, soup and curries, or in sandwiches. I make a big jar and dip into it over the course of a month or so. The flavours will only develop. A few coriander or fennel seeds add a further flavour dimension. 

I’ve used tinned lentils here, but dried Puy lentils can of course be cooked and used. Chickpeas, butter beans and cannellini beans are all ideal in this salad, too, so make it your own.  

PUY LENTIL SALAD WITH BUTTERED CHICKEN

Serves four

Ingredients

1 red onion
1tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
30ml boiling water
100ml apple cider vinegar
6 fennel seeds (optional) 
2-4 chicken breasts
4tbsp butter
Juice of 1 lemon
1tsp Dijon mustard
2 x 400g tins Puy lentils 
4tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
4 handfuls of salad leaves
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil

Method

1 Cut the onion in half, then thinly slice into half moons. Place in a sieve over the sink and pour over some boiled water. This removes that raw onion sting. Leave to drain. 

2 Meanwhile stir the sugar with the salt and boiling water in a jar until dissolved. Add the apple cider vinegar and fennel seeds. Place the lid on and shake. Add the onion slices to the jar and keep in the fridge until ready to use. Ideally make these a few hours before you plan on eating them.

3 Butterfly open each chicken breast and flatten until they are all the same thickness. Heat the butter in a pan until just melted. Add the chicken breasts and cook on each side over a medium heat for three to four minutes. Turn each one and squeeze the juice of half lemon over them.

4 Remove the chicken once cooked and leave to rest on a chopping board. Keep the buttery juices in the pan. Squeeze the remaining lemon juice into the pan and stir in the mustard. Add the lentils and warm through. Fold in the chopped parsley. Taste for seasoning and add salt as necessary. 

5 Divide the salad leaves between four bowls. Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar and oil. Spoon the lentils on top, followed by the sliced chicken breast. Top with pink pickled onions and serve right away.

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