Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Grain Free Couscous Salad with Baby Kale and Artichoke Hearts from Meatified

There are so many great paleo food sites out there and Meatified is one of them.  I came across this site on twitter when @Meatified followed me.  I've picked out a few recipes that I'm going to try from the site, but the first is this Grain Free Couscous Salad with Baby Kale and Artichoke Hearts.  I used to love eating couscous, so the idea of using chicken to mimic it really intrigued me.  It ends up I have another reason to like Meatified, its author is also named Rachael!    

First, I gathered my ingredients.

After melting some coconut oil in my 12 inch ceramic skillet over a medium low heat, I added the ground chicken and spread it into a thin layer.  
While the chicken slowly cooked, I started to prepare the vegetable components of the salad.  The package of baby kale I bought was 5 ounces.  I chopped it in a few batches and added it to my large 3.5 liter bowl.  

I then took a small handful of  washed and dried cilantro and chopped it.  I'm not a huge fan of cilantro flavor.  I'm sorry for not measuring my handful but I'd say it was a little more than 1/8 of a cup.  

While chopping, I monitored the chicken, stirring it occasionally.  After about 7 minutes, it really didn't appear to be cooking much, so I raised the heat to medium.  Meatified explains that the point of keeping the temperature low on the chicken is to maintain moisture.  I watched the skillet more carefully after turning up the heat to make sure it didn't overcook.   

The chicken was done cooking at 11.5 minutes.  I carefully spooned the chicken onto a paper towel covered plate carefully reserving the juices from the pan.  I'd say there was about 2-3 tablespoons of juice.

While the chicken cooled and drained, I continued to chop and slice.  I stripped 4 sprigs of mint leaves and chopped them before adding them to the bowl.    

After draining and rinsing one cup of artichoke hearts, I sliced them thinly.  Before I started slicing, I wondered which direction to slice them in.  I discovered that really there is only one way you can slice artichoke hearts.  If you try to slice them perpendicular to the base of the choke, you'll make a fibrous mess, so parallel to the base of the choke it was.   

I chopped up 1/4 cup of red onion and added it to the bowl.  

I squeezed the lemon juice into the salad and added the chicken juice to my bowl. And gave everything a good stir.  

Finally, I turned to processing the cooked ground chicken into a couscous consistency.  I carefully used the paper towel the chicken had been draining on to move the chicken into the food processor.  My food processor bowl size is 14 cups.  I carefully pulsed the processor in 1 second bursts.  

After 10 pulses, here is what I had.  It looks pretty couscous like.

After adding the chicken to the salad, I gave it a good stir.  

The recipe says to add extra virgin olive oil to taste.  I added 1/6 of a cup and then decided on another 1/6 for a total of 1/3 cup of olive oil.  After stirring the salad well, this amount seemed to give the salad a good coating of oil.  After making the salad, I commented on the recipe asking Meatified how much she used, and she indicated about the same amount.  

Here is the finished salad.

Accessibility and Cost of Ingredients:  Before making this salad, I had never noticed baby kale at any grocery store I frequent.  My "big box" store certainly didn't have it.  I called Whole Foods, and they only had it in a mix with other greens.  A store called Central Market in town had baby kale in the pre-washed salad department.  It was a bit pricey at $3.49 for at 5 ounce box.  

Before taking a good look at the recipe, I had asked Meatified if regular curly kale would work and she said yes, but it would need to break down in lemon juice for a while.  Based on reasons I'll go into below, I'm going to say that regular kale won't work for this recipe unless you like your salad really chewy.  You should be able to find the rest of the ingredients fairly inexpensively at your "big box" grocery store.  

I actually ground my own chicken for this recipe in my food processor.  I've detailed how at the bottom of this review.  I saved about $2.00/lb by doing so.  

Preparation and Cooking Time:  The stated preparation time is 10 minutes and cooking time 10 minutes for a total of 20 minutes.  I cooked and prepped at the same time.  My total cooking and preparation time was 34 minutes and 21 seconds.  The chicken was done cooking 11 minutes and 26 seconds into that total time.  To get the most flavor out of the recipe, I recommend refrigerating over night.  

Clean Up:  The clean up was not bad at all for this salad.  Because your chopping greens, you will end up will little bits of greens all over the place and floor (or maybe that's just me).  I recommend having an empty dishwasher, if you have one, ready to fill with your food processor parts, and other preparation materials.  I hand washed my skillet and spoon. 

The Paleo Review:  Thumbs Up!  After about 1.5 hours in the refrigerator, I tried the salad.  It was crisp and lemony.  I added a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Decided to wait and try more after it had been in the fridge over night as Meatified says its divine after a night in the fridge.  After a little over 24 hours in the fridge, I tried the salad again.  It was still very crisp and now a bit dry.  I added a little oil and lemon juice to my portion. The flavors were great, but still a little crisp for my liking.

Meatified says to use 4 ounces or more of the baby kale.  I used my entire box of kale that was 5 ounces.  Personally, though I love having as many vegetables as possible in a dish, I wouldn't add more than 5 ounces of kale or the other fine flavors of the dish, in my opinion, would get lost.  

The recipe as written makes about 11 cups of salad.  There was no way I could eat all of this salad on my own, so I decided to take this to work with me the next day (2nd day post salad prep) and have my friend Martha join in on the tasting.  Martha isn't paleo, but she loves food.  Martha agreed with me that the salad was dry and needed additional oil.  I added an additional 4 tablespoons of oil and another 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to about a 2.5 cup portion of the salad.  After adding a sprinkle of salt and pepper, I let Martha taste the salad.  

In the middle of our office kitchen, I believe her quote was, "Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmm MMM."  I asked Martha if she needed a moment alone after that.  After a few more bites, she said that the salad was "so fresh, crisp, and lovely."  She too is not a cilantro person either but thought it gave a nice kick to the flavor.  She also thought the red onion provided a nice flavor base.

I agree with Martha, that the flavor of this salad is awesome.  For me, even after 2 days in the fridge, the texture of the baby kale was still a bit too crisp for my taste.  I am definitely going to make this again, but I will substitute baby spinach.  I think that will preserve the awesome flavors but will give me a texture my mouth likes better.  

As for the appearance of the salad, the ground and processed chicken really does fool people.  I had people ask if it was couscous or cheese in my salad.  I lost 2 facebook fans the day I posted a teaser picture without explanation of this salad and I reasoned that they likely thought I'd gone off the paleo wagon and left in disgust.  I will be using this ground chicken faux couscous method in other dishes.  Excellent.  

If you're looking for a fresh salad with an innovative use of chicken, I recommend this dish!   

Blog Extra- Making Ground Chicken:  My garage freezer is getting kind of full, so I've decided to make a concerted effort to eat the meat I have stored in there rather than buy more at the store for a while.  When I saw that I'd need ground chicken for the salad and I had some whole chicken breasts in the freezer, I decided this was the perfect opportunity for me to try grinding my own meat. 

I had seen a few videos and the process seemed pretty easy.  I was mainly concerned that I'd end up with something more of a pâté rather than ground meat consistency.  

After rinsing and drying my chicken, I cut it into roughly 1 inch cubes.  I ground 3 chicken breasts because that gave me a little over  the weight I needed for the salad.   

I added the cubed chicken to my food 14 cup processor bowl.   

I pulsed the chicken in 1 second bursts. And watched for the consistency to look like ground chicken. 

I stopped, took the lid off and checked the consistency erring on the side of the chicken not being processed enough.  It looked pretty perfect to me.  

Just in case this experiment went wrong, I had purchased some store ground chicken thighs.    Side by side, I think my home ground chicken looks pretty darn good.  

Store bought thighs on the right and my ground breasts on the right.
Accessibility and Cost of Ingredients:  This section seems a little silly as you can find chicken at any grocery store.  Of course its easier and quicker if you buy boneless skinless cuts rather than bone in.  

Preparation Time:  It took me 6 minutes 35 seconds to cube and grind the chicken.  

Clean Up:  All of the parts of my food processor are dishwasher safe. As I needed to use the processor again for the salad, I hand washed my processor bowl, lid and blade with extremely hot water and soap by hand before making the salad.  

The Paleo Review:  Thumbs Up!  I am so glad I tried this.  Despite my desire not to buy meat, I went ahead and bought some store ground chicken thighs just in case this experiment went wrong.  They were $3.99/pound.  Grinding my own chicken, even if using boneless skinless cuts, will save me money.  I want to say the last time I was at the grocery store, I noted that boneless skinless chicken breasts were $1.99/pound.

After doing this, regardless of how much ground meat I need, I likely wont process more than 3 breasts (about 1.5 pounds) at a time to avoid over crowding my processor bowl.  My largest bowl on my processor is 14 cups.  If you have a smaller processor, I'd recommend processing in even smaller batches.

I need to do a little more investigation into whether or not it makes sense to grind my own beef before I give that a try, but I might do it anyway so I know whether or not it works.  I'll update this post once I try.  

If you have a food processor, give grinding your own chicken a try.