Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mexican Chicken Salad (Cafe Rio Style)

I've posted this recipe before, but my food photography has gotten slightly better over the years and I thought I'd re-post with a little more appetizing photo this time. ;) And I've made a couple more notes in the recipe since I've made it a few times since then. This recipe is a favorite in our house. I like to prepare the bulk of it a day ahead and then assemble everything right before I serve it. Armando and I could eat this every day for a week and not get bored of it. So many fresh flavors and textures.

For those of you who don't know what a Cafe Rio Salad is - #1 you're missing out and #2 you probably won't appreciate the value of this recipe until you've tried one #3 try it, you'll love it.

I've decided that the only instructions in this recipe that you really need to follow with exactness (almost) is the dressing. If you have the dressing, you have it all! So experiment, build the salad to your liking and top it off with the creamy tomatillo / cilantro ranch dressing and you'll be in heaven!

Creamy Tomatillo / Cilantro Ranch Dressing
1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix (or 3 Tbsp dry mix)
1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 to ½ cup buttermilk
3-4 tomatillos
1 cup fresh cilantro lightly chopped
½ tsp pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno (or less if you don't like spice, but this pepper is what gives the dressing just the right kick)

Take the papery layer off the tomatillos, wash, and chop. Chop the garlic. Wash and cut the cilantro into 1-2” segments. Put all ingredients in the blender and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate. Best made the day before. Keeps covered for several days. Makes 2 cups.

Shredded Lime Chicken
4-5 boneless chicken breasts (about 2.5 to 3 lbs of chicken)
1 ½ cups of 7-up or Sprite (12 oz. can)
½ to 1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
2 limes

Cook in crock pot on medium heat for 8 hours or 6 hours on high heat until chicken falls apart and shreds with a fork. Stir in the juice of 2 limes before serving. Serves 10 with ½ cup servings.
**I've been known to skip the whole chicken portion and just pick up a rotisserie chicken. I prefer grilled chicken on my salad.

Cilantro Rice
2 cups uncooked rice
2 cups chopped cilantro
1 tsp salt
1 cup Salsa Verde (Green salsa found in Mexican food aisle of grocery store)
2 Tbsp dried minced onion

Wash and chop cilantro. Blend cilantro with 2 cups of water and pour in the pan for cooking the rice. Add two more cups of water, the salt, Salsa Verde and onion. Bring to a boil. Stir in the rice in the boiling water. Cover and turn down heat to very low and steam for 30 minutes. Makes about 10 servings. *I personally just used some rice I had cooked for my salad, but looking at the recipe, I think it might need just a little chicken broth to balance out all the other flavors.

Black Beans
Warm canned black beans in a pan on the stove, including all the liquid from the can, until beans are simmering hot. Plan on 1/3 to ½ cup of beans per serving. Serve with a slotted spoon to drain out the liquid from the beans. *I usually make my own black beans in the crock pot with a few cloves a garlic, plenty of cumin and a tablespoon of salt to two cups of dried beans.

To Assemble the Salad
Final Ingredients:
Fresh Flour Tortillas
Chopped romaine lettuce
Fresh Cilantro sprigs
Queso Cotija (Mexican cheese), finely shredded
Corn tortilla strips
Pico de gallo
Lime wedges

For each serving warm a flour tortilla in a microwave or on a griddle. (I prefer the griddle!) Melt shredded chees on the tortilla while warming on the grill. Layer on rice, beans, chicken, and about 1 ½ cups chopped romaine lettuce, fresh cilantro sprigs, parmesean cheese (I prefer queso cotija from the Mexican food dairy section of the grocery store), a few fried corn tortilla strips, and creamy tomatillo dressing. Add pico de gallo, guacamole and juice from a lime wedge to taste.I found that I made a much smaller salad than the one from Cafe Rio which made it so that I could actually finish it!

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