Whether it is too hot to cook or you would simply rather be at the pool, summertime cooking begs to be easy. With a few fresh ingredients, a grill, and a versatile, make-ahead dressing, dinner can truly be as effortless as it is delicious.
One of my friends mentioned a few months ago that she finally trained her husband not to throw away the random, liquid-filled jars lurking in their fridge. She now places a label on them saying, “One of Ann’s Dressings—Don’t Pitch.” I had to laugh. I now use masking tape for a makeshift label and a friendly warning to my husband not to toss. After all, a mere quarter cup of leftover vinaigrette can really enhance dinner!
Finding one or two homemade dressings that you enjoy and keeping them on hand will facilitate easy meals that taste flavorful and fresh. Moreover, making your favorite condiments from scratch will likely offer cost savings and reduce the amount of additives and preservatives otherwise consumed via store-bought versions.
The following balsamic vinaigrette is a year-round staple that I recently discovered to be a flavorful marinade for chicken. We enjoy the recipe as is, although for a tangier kick, I have occasionally swapped one tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar with one tablespoon of red wine vinegar.
Using feta cheese creates a tasty twist on a traditional Caprese salad, which traditionally consists of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese. Both versions pair beautifully with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. Converting the salad to a simple salsa and spooning atop the marinated, grilled chicken creates a memorable meal.
- 4-6 boneless chicken breast halves
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinaigrette per pound of chicken (recipe follows or use your favorite store bought)
- 1 cup seeded and chopped tomatoes
- 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Additional balsamic vinaigrette for serving and basil leaves for garnish, optional
Place chicken in a large, resealable plastic bag. Pour the vinaigrette over it, seal, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight if possible. I like to flip the bag a few times to distribute the marinade.
When ready to eat, prepare the grill. Gently mix the tomato, feta, basil, and a few grinds of fresh pepper in a medium bowl. Allow to sit at room temperature until the chicken is ready.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, discarding the remaining marinade, and cook the chicken over medium heat for 7-8 minutes per side, depending on thickness, or until the chicken is just cooked through. Remove from the heat and allow chicken to rest for 5 minutes. If you do not wish to discard the leftover marinade, be sure to simmer it for a few minutes on the stovetop before serving alongside the chicken.
Conversely, coat a large skillet with oil, and place over medium to medium-high heat. Sauté the chicken breast halves for 5 minutes each side, or until the meat is no longer pink in the center.
Arrange the chicken on a serving platter or individual plates. Spoon the tomato/feta mixture over top of each piece. Drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over the chicken and garnish with extra basil, if desired. Serve and enjoy!
- Although it is not necessary, pounding the chicken breasts to an even thickness will allow them to cook more quickly and evenly. For added ease, any butcher will do this for you. Likewise, boneless, skin-on chicken is a terrific option if available. The skin will form a protective layer, keeping the chicken extra moist and juicy while cooking. To reduce extra fat and calories, simply remove the skin before eating.
- As an option to the salsa, feel free to layer sliced tomatoes, basil, and feta—or the more traditional mozzarella cheese—on a platter, drizzling with the vinaigrette and serving alongside the marinated and grilled chicken. When using feta cheese, either in the salsa or salad, pitted Kalamata olives are a flavorful extra that enhance the Greek theme.
- 1 small garlic clove, smashed and minced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon (15g) Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (27g) honey*
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (90ml) balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup (112ml) olive oil (avocado oil also works well)
In a small bowl or jar with a tight-fitting lid, whisk together the garlic, salt, pepper, Dijon, honey, and balsamic vinegar.
Drizzle the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking as you go, until the dressing is emulsified. When using a jar, add the olive oil, screw the lid on tightly, and shake well.
Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow flavors to blend.
Storage: The vinaigrette will keep several weeks in the refrigerator. Allow it to come to room temperature before using, as the olive oil will separate and become firm (this is normal), and then shake well prior to using.
* The recipe above provides widely appealing, balanced flavor but can be modified to taste: For a tangier vinaigrette, use 1 tablespoon of honey. For a sweeter dressing, add an additional teaspoon. For a vegan recipe, replace the honey with maple syrup or agave.
An easy marinade and dinner inspiration: Use ¼ to ⅓ cup of vinaigrette for each pound of chicken and refrigerate in a zip-top bag, overnight for maximum flavor. Grill or bake and then top with chopped fresh tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, a dusting of slivered basil, and an extra drizzle of the vinaigrette.