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Warm Chicken Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

During the long, cold months of winter, some of us may have begun to notice that our best business or party outfits suddenly seemed to have shrunk in size. We strained to button them or zip them up.

Which leads, of course, to the most common decision: Lose weight.

But please let me propose amending that decision in a very important way: Lose weight - without sacrificing flavor!

Enjoying exciting tastes is such a major part of successful healthful eating. After all, just think of the number of people who give up on their diets because the food doesn't taste as good as what they're used to eating.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy healthful food is to have a main-course salad for lunch or dinner. It's easy to understand the difference it can make when you substitute a mound of fresh, colorful, preferably organically grown salad greens for a dinner plate's usual starchy roots or grains. Add a splash of vinaigrette dressing and every mouthful will delight you. And if you top the greens with some low-fat protein, such as a chicken breast or a fish fillet, you have a well-balanced meal guaranteed to appeal to your eyes and satisfy your taste buds while it fills up your stomach.

My recipe for Warm Chicken Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette follows just such an approach. It begins with a mixture of crisp, pale romaine lettuce leaves and peppery, dark-green watercress; but feel free to add or substitute other favorites, such as purple radicchio, ivory-colored Belgian endive, or one of the widely available medleys of packaged baby lettuces. My dressing is a simple blend of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, and fresh herbs, but you can change its flavor as you like by using different vinegars, oils, or seasonings.

To top the salad, I broil boneless, skinless chicken breasts brushed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Of course, you could substitute fillets of your favorite fish, such as salmon, sea bass, or red snapper. A little of the dressing spooned over the sliced meat on top of the greens helps its juices mingle with the salad.

As a bonus, I also surround each serving with some quickly sautéed fresh mushrooms. They add another dimension of flavor, temperature, and texture, enhancing the feeling that this salad is, indeed, a well-rounded and satisfying meal.

Mustard Vinaigrette: Chicken Salad: Directions:

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil, chives, or parsley

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 cups washed, dried, and torn baby romaine lettuce leaves

3 cups washed, dried, and trimmed watercress leaves

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, such as cremini, shiitake, or oyster mushrooms, trimmed, wiped clean, and thickly sliced

Finely chopped fresh basil, chives, or parsley, for garnish

First, make the vinaigrette: In a small mixing bowl, stir together the mustard, fresh herbs, vinegar, salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the oil. Correct the seasonings to taste, including the mustard and vinegar, and set aside.

Preheat the broiler.

Lightly brush the chicken breasts all over with a little of the olive oil and season them to taste with salt and pepper. Place the chicken breasts in the broiler pan or a shallow baking pan placed under the broiler and broil until cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes per side. (When the broiling time is almost over, cut into the center of one with a sharp knife to make sure that it is no longer pink at the center.)

Once the chicken has begun to cook, put the romaine and watercress leaves in a big salad bowl and toss with just enough of the vinaigrette dressing to coat them lightly. Set aside.

After you have turned the chicken breasts to cook on their other sides, heat a large skillet over high heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and saute over high heat until they begin to turn golden, about 4 minutes; season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the salad leaves among 6 serving plates, mounding them in the center. Arrange the sauteed mushrooms around the leaves. Cut each chicken breast crosswise and on the diagonal into 6 slices and arrange the slices over each bed of greens. Spoon a little more of the vinaigrette over the chicken, garnish with fresh herbs, and serve immediately.

Warm Chicken Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette