Cumin Chicken (Salad)

Two parts to this: the chicken, and the salad. First, the chicken. When you’re cooking chicken, you really have to think about the end product, because this will determine the cooking time. The important rule to remember is that cooking time is proportional to the ratio of volume to surface area. Basically, the bigger (the thicker, fatter) the piece of meat, the longer it will take to cook. If you want to save time, cut the meat into thin pieces. They can be long and thin, but the thinner, the faster to cook. Too thin, and they lose their “juicyness.” So, unless I’m going for a slab of meat, like a steak or a whole chicken breast, I cut the meat into fairly small pieces (I hate to wait). The other aspect to remember about meat surface area is that the impact of the sauce or spices is directly related to the amount of surface area of meat with which it makes contact. Thus, smaller pieces bathed in a marinade will absorb more of the flavor.
For the cumin chicken, I take a chicken breast, still cold but not frozen and cut it into bite-sized chunks. Not too thin and long because I will be putting it into a salad. In a bowl, pour some olive oil onto the chicken, just enough to glaze the pieces. Then take my favorite spice, cumin, and put a healthy amount into the bowl (again, we’re just using it to cover the chicken pieces, not as a stand-alone sauce). With your hand, mix the cumin, oil, and chicken until everything is covered. Then take the mixture and put it into a frying pan on a relatively high heat. We’re not deep-frying the chicken, but we are cooking it in oil. Cook until the chicken is fully cooked  – i.e. no pink inside.
For the salad, mix a tomato – cut into small pieces, with a combination of field greens and hearts of romaine. Of course, you could just use some iceberg lettuce, but let me explain. First, everyone knows that iceberg lettuce has only one redeeming quality: it’s crunchy. It has virtually no nutrition and no flavor. Dark greens,  like kale, spinach, arugula, have both flavor and nutrients, so why not mix them? They even sell mixed greens with all the healthy stuff. Take some of that and add some crunchy lettuce. However, don’t use iceberg lettuce. Aside from being devoid of value, you end up using only half the head – the middle is inedible, and the outside leaves you end up throwing away. Instead, use the (mini) hearts of romaine. You can eat almost all of it, the leaves are a perfect size, it has more flavor than iceberg, and it is just as crunchy.
In addition to the lettuces and tomato, add the stuff that will make this taste good but decrease its healthyness: onion bits, chow mein noodles (more crunch), and mayonnaise. The mayonnaise combines with the oil and cumin to form a wonderful salad dressing.
When the chicken is done, mix everything together.
A word about cumin: for those of you who like the taste of chili, it is generally nothing more than red pepper + cumin. You can adjust the spicyness by buying them separately and making your own chili powder. Cheaper, too.
Avocado and Tomato Salad
When I have this dish with rice, I often make an avocado and tomato salad with it. Avocados are wonderful fruits, but they are high in calories, if you care. The difficult thing about avocados is to eat them at exactly the right time. When they are not ripe, they are hard and the meat is dark green and wet. When they are too ripe, the meat is very mushy, sometimes stringy, and has a smoky flavor. The combination of avocado and tomato is beautiful – scoop out the meat of an avocado and cut it into small chunks. Cut up a tomato into small pieces and add to the avocado. Now you have lots of choices: 1) add some olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a simple salad 2) add onions (green or otherwise) to the salad 3) add onions, mayo, cumin, and jalapeño for a guacamole 4) add mayo and currie for an interesting variation on the guacamole concept.

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