Summertime chicken

Strips of roasted red pepper and grilled purple onion strewn among chicken give the dish an inviting look and delightful touch of sweetness.

fajitas 88  (photo credit: Courtesy)
fajitas 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On a recent hot California day I enjoyed a plate of chicken shwarma at Hadia's Mediterranean Home Cooking in Tarzana. I reflected on what made this entree so enticing when the weather was warm, and I realized it was the vegetables. I'm not talking about the salad at the side of the plate, which is pretty standard. What was special about this shwarma was that vegetables were mixed with the meat - strips of roasted red pepper and grilled purple onion strewn among the chicken strips gave the dish an inviting look and delightful touch of sweetness. In short, they made the main course lively and refreshing. I find that dishes of grilled or sauteed chicken enhanced with vegetables are perfect for summer. Cooks around the world have developed their own interpretations. When asparagus is in season, I like to make a French chicken saute with asparagus and carrot sticks. In summertime I prepare a Tunisian-inspired chicken saute with okra, tomatoes and hot peppers or a Chinese almond chicken stir-fry with red peppers and green onions. A spicy Korean chicken-vegetable saute I enjoy combines the meat with sauteed mushrooms, zucchini, celery and carrots, a light dressing of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and chile paste, and a garnish of toasted sesame seeds. According to Elizabeth Andoh, author of At Home with Japanese Cooking, a traditional Japanese dish of chicken cubes with vegetables calls for heating sauteed chicken with carrots and several Japanese vegetables and seasoning the mixture with soy sauce, sugar, sake (rice wine) and Japanese seven-spice hot pepper. Louisiana cooks saute diced chicken and sweet potatoes with onions, green peppers, green onions, hot paprika and garlic, writes James Villas, author of The Glory of Southern Cooking. Each of these dishes looks different but the basic concept is the same: a generous proportion of vegetables for the amount of chicken, and a light seasoning mixture rather than a sauce. You can serve any of these chicken-and-vegetable medleys over rice or couscous. For a lighter dish, you might like to spoon your entree over lettuce and, if you like, call it a warm salad. Another option is to spoon the chicken and vegetables over flatbread, as is done with fajitas, a popular Mexican-American style dish of grilled marinated chicken strips served on tortillas and topped with a lavish amount of grilled onion slices, roasted red and green pepper strips, avocado wedges and a salsa of diced tomatoes, hot pepper and green onion. You can vary the vegetables to your taste. Add grilled mushrooms, as in the recipe below, or substitute strips of grilled zucchini or eggplant or kernels cut from grilled corn. CHICKEN FAJITAS WITH SWEET PEPPERS, MUSHROOMS AND AVOCADOS Serve this medley of grilled chicken and vegetables on flat Mexican tostadas (toasted tortillas) or with pitot, or spoon the mixture over strips of romaine or mixed baby lettuces to make chicken fajita salad. Slice the avocados a short time before serving so they won't discolor. 4 tsp. fresh lemon juice 4 or 5 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil a few dashes cayenne pepper 2 garlic cloves, minced 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin 1⁄3 cup chopped fresh coriander 900 gr. chicken breasts, boneless and skinless 350 gr. ripe tomatoes, chopped 2 or 3 fairly small hot green peppers, seeds removed if desired, minced 2 large green onions, chopped salt to taste 2 sweet red peppers 1 sweet yellow or orange pepper 2 sweet green peppers 2 large onions, peeled and cut in rounds about 1 cm. thick 6 large mushroom caps 3 avocados, sliced thin Combine lemon juice, 3 or 4 tablespoons oil, cayenne pepper, garlic, cumin and 2 teaspoons of the chopped coriander in a bowl as a marinade. Pound chicken until about 1 cm. thick. Put in shallow dish. Pour marinade over chicken, and rub on both sides. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to overnight. Make tomato salsa: In a bowl combine the remaining coriander, tomatoes, hot peppers and green onions. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Preheat grill or broiler. Grill or broil red, yellow and green peppers, turning several times with tongs, until their skins are blistered and charred, about 15 minutes. Transfer peppers to a plastic bag and close bag. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel peppers using paring knife. Halve peppers; be careful because they may have hot juice inside. Discard seeds and ribs, and pat dry. Do not rinse. Cut peppers in strips about 1.25 cm. wide. Brush onion slices and mushroom caps lightly with remaining oil. Grill or broil them 3 or 4 minutes per side or until done to your taste. Cut each mushroom in 2 or 3 slices. If you like, sprinkle chicken lightly with salt. Grill or broil chicken about 10 cm. from heat for 3 to 4 minutes per side; chicken is done when no longer pink when cut. Transfer to a board and cut each piece in 5 or 6 diagonal strips. Serve chicken topped with grilled mushrooms, pepper strips, onions, tomato salsa and avocado slices; or serve each element separately on a platter and salsa in a bowl, for each person to add to taste. Makes 6 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy's International Chicken Cookbook.