Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Recipe: Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbed Chicken & Orzo Salad

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I am very close to my mama. From a very early age I always considered her my best friend (and apparently introduced her as such to everyone I encountered; never did clarify that she was also my mom, lol), and I consider myself truly blessed to have a mom that's not just a mom, but a tremendous friend.

Like most BFFs, there are situations in which we realize we kind of share a brain. Sometimes we'll finish each other's sentences; sometimes we'll both surprise each other with the same present; and yes, sometimes we even crave the same meal. Which is exactly how this awesome little recipe came about.

I love stuffed edible things, something else that's quite evident after a good perusal of ye olde blog. If it's food and can be turned into an edible container, then I'm probably not too far away, figuring out what to stuff into said container. I'm all about efficiency and love a dish that can pretty much serve itself without much help from heavy dishware. But except for the occasional stuffed pepper or squash, I've only done this with breakfast (wait, I lie; there was that one very ancient stuffed tomato appetizer I posted years ago. I'll have to give that one a photo makeover).

Since summer is in full swing and tomatoes of all colors & sizes are popping up everywhere, I thought I'd break out of that rut and stuff a tomato for lunch instead. My original idea was to use some quinoa in there (and I still plan to do so; that recipe's going in the book, though), but when Mom told me she was also craving a stuffed tomato for lunch, she had an entirely different vision from mine. And it sounded really good.

Stubborn mule that I am at times and still deep in New Recipe Developing Mode, I was quite adamant about the quinoa idea. But then Mom suggested I try remembering what it's like to eat something other than quinoa, since it had been a while since I'd posted something with a different grain. As usual, she was right (why are moms always right?!); while it's not a bad thing, I do use quinoa quite frequently, so it's nice to change things up a bit. After doing some mental food math with her stuffed tomato idea and mine, I came up with this lovely idea and its fantastic results.


With its sweet, juicy tomatoes and pile of fresh herbs, this little dish is pure summertime. A nice break from the usual mayo-laden pasta salads that seem to dominate warm weather meals, this little salad gets its flavor from cool herbs like basil and cilantro, and tender chicken. I happened to have some fresh chicken thighs I needed to use, so I cooked those especially for this orzo salad. However, this is really meant to be one of those Use Your Leftovers meals, so if you have leftover cooked chicken from the night before, be sure to use that in this recipe, rather than cooking up a whole new batch of chicken.

I've gotten into the habit of whisking together vinaigrettes to go with whatever salad I'm making, and I've included a super basic one in this recipe. But again, this is a leftovers dish, so if you're putting this together on a weeknight after a crazy day and don't want to deal with making your own, feel free to use your favorite bottled vinaigrette. My favorite bottled dressing is Wishbone Italian, and I have no problem giving this lunch an extra drizzle of that for added zip! Since this is a tangy vs. creamy salad, I wouldn't recommend using ranch or blue cheese dressings, but if that's all you have on hand, use it. It definitely won't detract from the flavor.

Last thing to note: unless you have absolutely zero choice but to buy regular grocery store tomatoes, please don't. At least not until the summer winds down and tomato season wraps up. This is prime tomato harvesting time and tomato fans should take advantage of any and all tomatoes they can get from the farmers' market, CSA boxes, or their own backyards. Since they're in season right now, many varieties are running about $1.50 to $2.00 per pound at farmers' markets, and you can score some phenomenal deals if you shop wisely.

Remember, buying produce in season not only gives you the best flavor & quality, it also saves you money by cutting out all those extra costs associated with storing or transporting produce that isn't quite ready to consume. Of course, come wintertime that gets a little more challenging, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, enjoy this awesome little taste of summer. : )



Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbed Chicken & Orzo Salad (makes 3-4 servings; average cost per serving: $1.85)

Depending on the size of your tomatoes, you may have a lot of the orzo salad left over. Don't fret, though! You can always use it in a different meal, or save it for more tomato stuffing. Speaking of tomatoes, when you're done hollowing them, don't throw away the tomato flesh and juice! Mix them into a salsa or use it as the base for gazpacho or pasta sauce and you're good to go with zero wasted food!

Ingredients
3-4 medium to large tomatoes (Beefsteak, heirloom, Shady Lady, etc. all work)
1 c cooked orzo
1 c cooked chicken, cut into bite-size cubes
1/4 c finely chopped herbs of your choice (any combo of parsley, cilantro, basil, chives will be lovely)
1/4 c finely chopped scallions
1/2 c vinaigrette (recipe to follow) or bottled vinaigrette dressing of your choice
Simple Vinaigrette
1/4 c olive oil
1/3 c white wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions
1. If you're making the vinaigrette, whisk together the last four ingredients in a bowl until mixed thoroughly. Set aside.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the orzo, cubed chicken, chopped herbs & scallions and mix well. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld together.
3. In the meantime, slice off the top of each tomato (about 1"-1.5" should suffice). Using a spoon, carefully scoop out the flesh, seed pockets and juice, making sure not to break the sides of the tomato. (If the tomato innards are being uncooperative, feel free to use a knife to help you loosen it out. Just be careful not to cut through the sides.) Spoon generous amounts of the chicken & orzo salad into each tomato, top with extra chopped cilantro or basil, and enjoy!

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