Two Years Ago: Baked Falafel
This is a sophisticated salad that's incredibly easy to throw together in the time it takes to toast some almonds. But there are a few somewhat unusual ingredients that are key: Manchego cheese, smoked paprika, piquillo peppers and really good sherry vinegar. Manchego cheese is a Spanish cheese similar to Gruyere that you can find in most good cheese shops. Smoked paprika can be found in some spice aisles and at Penzeys, my favorite spice store. Smoked paprika is very Spanish and makes the salad much more interesting so don't be tempted to substitute regular paprika. Piquillo peppers can be found in most grocery stores next to regular jarred roasted red peppers. I think they have a brighter and more interesting taste than regular roasted red peppers but if you can't find them, regular roasted peppers would be fine.
And finally, sherry vinegar. Sherry vinegar is my favorite vinegar ever since I had the opportunity to sample a really good quality one from Spain, and I'll never go back. Please don't buy one of those little bottles from the grocery store. Take the time and effort to get a high-quality bottle from your local gourmet store or online - the difference in taste is amazing. I bought this one online from iGourmet.
Anyway, after you buy the Spanish ingredients it's a very quick salad to assemble because you use precooked deli chicken. The only cooking you do is to toast the almonds. Stay nearby and stir frequently while they toast because they can burn fast.
Spanish Chicken Salad with Manchego and Smoky Almonds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup sliced almonds
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 cups salad green, preferably red and green
½ cup drained piquillo peppers from jar, cut into thin strips
4 cups shredded deli chicken meat
1 cup Manchego cheese, cut into cubes or strips
Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Watch closely so they don’t turn too dark. Transfer almonds to paper towels and sprinkle with smoked paprika and salt. Let cool.
Whisk shallot, vinegar and oil in a small bowl (or shake in a small jar with lid) to blend. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Place salad greens in a large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat. Divide among plates, then top with rows of chicken, peppers, cheese, and almonds. (Alternately, toss everything together except the almonds and divide between plates, then sprinkle almonds on top.)