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Simple Sides: Last Night’s Chicken & Red Grape Salad

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Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.

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Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.

One of the tastiest side effects of the August grilling season is that bowl of leftover chicken pieces, chilled overnight in the aromas of last night’s fire. No matter what “secret sauce” was used, that day-after goodness is almost better than the original serving! While enjoying these leftovers out of hand, cold right from the bowl, is one deliciously messy option, another is this salad recipe that the family can prepare together for a lunch or light summer dinner. The recipe is also a good example of a little culinary creativity by approaching that bowl of chicken as an ingredient rather than a meal. For this dish, the chicken is combined with just three other ingredients: the juicy goodness of this month’s grape harvest, as well as the crunchy textures of jicama and celery. Then all is tossed in a creamy-good dressing! Your kitchen crew will learn to transform a simple bowl of leftovers into a new dish that is fun and easy to make! Not to mention that this is a great recipe to prepare with the kids during those lazy, hot days of August -- no cooking required!

This stripped down version of the classic chicken salad is perfect for the beginner cook. Preparing the chicken by separating the meat from bone is a hands-on job that requires no precision, so even your youngest helper can get involved. Have your assistants also remove the chicken skin and discard; then either use the shredded chicken as is or assign a child with some knife experience to dice the chicken into smaller, bite-sized pieces. While another job for the youngest of kitchen assistants can be the separating of the grapes from their vines and measuring out the needed amount. An older child can then be tasked with slicing the grapes in half. NOTE: be aware that this halving of the grapes is the only tedious part of the preparation, so adult supervision is critical, as a sharp knife and boredom is a bad recipe.

While the halving of the grapes and slicing of celery are easy enough for a novice cook, the jicama is an entirely different challenge. Even peeling the tough outer skin of this tuber with a potato peeler is a pretty awkward job for small hands. Slicing into the whole jicama itself is even tougher. My recommendation is that the supervising adult peel and then slice the jicama into 2-inch thick rounds using a mandolin. A child with prior knife skills can then do the final rough chop of these rounds into bite-sized pieces safely. While the tasty dressing for this salad does have a little lime juice in it, I also like to add a touch more lime juice directly to the jicama – the two are just a naturally good pairing. So, once your assistant has chopped the jicama into pieces, place them in a bowl and coat with lime juice before combining the jicama with the other ingredients. That is, if your kitchen crew agrees! This is a good opportunity to ask your kitchen helpers to first taste pieces of jicama with and without the extra lime juice to decide if the whole batch should be treated. Of course, it’s a small inconsequential decision to the success of the dish, but the process gives your helpers more ownership of the preparation process. Plus a novice cook needs to get into the habit early of test tasting throughout the prep and be able to make adjustments based on those tastings.

The dressing that transforms the four simple fresh items in the ingredients list into a cohesive dish is a real jewel! Yes, there is a cup of mayo it and we’re sticking to it! There are other less caloric options, which the reader can sub based on taste preferences if desired. While I usually opt for the healthiest of ingredients for this blog in particular, a little mayo in moderation is one of life’s joys. So enjoy! Plus it really is the best tasting condiment for the cold chicken. Yogurt just doesn’t cut it here! Actually, the original recipe called for another ½ cup of mayo, which I did think went over that line of “moderation”. This dressing has plenty of slather power without that superfluous extra half-cup! A good cook can never have too many dressing formulas in his or her culinary toolbox and this one is a real keeper! There are just enough ingredients to make its preparation interesting in a chemistry class sort of way without being overly complicated. Making a tasty salad dressing is a real confidence builder for the beginner cook since the transformation happens so quickly i.e. from a simple cup of mayo to an altogether different and delicious sauce in seconds! The process is always a fun and satisfying lesson for the beginner cook, who also gets to lick the spoon! Enjoy the summer grilling season and all the leftovers it has to offer!

Last Night’s Chicken & Red Grape Salad
Serves six
Image of Ingredients

3 cups chicken, cooked & diced
1 cup jicama, rough chopped
¼ cup celery, thin sliced
1½ cups red seedless grapes, halved


1 cup mayonnaise
4 TBS fresh parsley, chopped fine
3 TBS lime juice
1½ tsp onion powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

What the kids can do:
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Prepare, measure out and combine the chicken, jicama, celery and red grapes in a large salad bowl.
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In a small mixing bowl, measure and add in all the dressing ingredients, then whisk together to make a smooth dressing.
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Pour dressing over chicken mixture and toss gently to coat thoroughly. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until cold, at least 30 minutes.

What the supervising adult should do:

Prepare – peel and slice – the jicama so that your helper can safely chop. Of course, also oversee all knife work closely.
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