Winter-spring meals


Entertaining: A hearty-refreshing dish makes the transition.

March 18, 2001|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

As the calendar announces spring's arrival, I long for new vegetables to appear in the markets and start to think of lighter menus. However, in many parts of the country (including my own New England), winter often lingers longer than everyone would like. So, during this transitional period of "seasonal limbo," I plan meals that are satisfying (to stave off the chill outdoors), but that also have a refreshing touch (to acknowledge spring).

One such dish, which I made recently, was particularly successful on both counts. I pounded chicken breasts until thin, then marinated them in lime juice and olive oil with seasonings of red pepper flakes and cumin. The breasts were quickly grilled in a stove-top pan, then garnished with dollops of sour cream combined with quartered grape tomatoes and chopped green onions.

The grilled chicken, succulent and flavored with robust spices, was lightened by the accompaniment of the bracing tomato and green onion-sour cream garnish.

Since the Academy Awards ceremony falls during this "in-between" time of changing seasons, I have decided to play host to a small Oscar potluck party and use the grilled chicken as the main attraction. When I called friends and described this entree, they insisted on continuing my theme by offering to bring side dishes and desserts with both winter and spring accents. Quesadillas with asparagus and Jack cheese, a salad of sliced avocados and shrimp in a mint vinaigrette, and white chocolate custards topped with strawberries were some of the delicious creations mentioned.

Spicy Grilled Chicken

Makes 6 servings

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3 pounds total)

2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice (2 to 3 limes)

1 / 4 cup olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 / 4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 / 4 cup light or regular sour cream

12 small grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered, with seeds scooped out and discarded

3 green onions, including 3 inches of green stems, finely sliced

1 lime, cut into 6 wedges

With sharp knife held parallel to work surface, cut through each chicken breast so that you have 2 slices of equal size. Repeat with remaining chicken so that you have 12 pieces. With food pounder or rolling pin 2 / 3 pound chicken between 2 sheets of wax paper until about A inch thick. Place chicken in large, shallow nonreactive dish.

Whisk together lime juice, olive oil, cumin, 1 teaspoon of the salt and red pepper flakes. Pour over chicken. Cover and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight, turning several times.

When ready to cook, heat stove-top grill pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add enough chicken to fit in single layer and grill until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn chicken over and cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes more. Chicken is done when juices run clear when chicken is pierced with knife. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

You can also saute chicken. Use enough olive oil to coat bottom of large skillet and place over medium-high heat. When hot, add enough chicken to fit comfortably in pan in one layer and saute 2 to 3 minutes per side until golden on both sides and juices run clear when chicken is pierced with knife. Repeat with remaining chicken. Remove chicken and set aside, covered loosely with aluminum foil.

In small bowl, mix together sour cream, tomatoes, green onions and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Arrange overlapping chicken breasts on warm platter and garnish with lime wedges. Pass sour cream sauce separately.

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