If you live in Colorado, you know from peaches, which are grown way out west on the western slope–almost in Utah if you check the map. Every year about this time, your friends in other states begin to mention, “Hey, I bought Colorado peaches in the store the other day!” You look in your store and you find California peaches and begin to think we’re exporting all our best produce. It happens. (I’ll give you that there are also great peaches from Georgia, Washington state, Michigan, and even California. I just live in Colorado.)
Next trip, the Colorado gold is back in stock and you’re thinking about what you’ll make with those sweeties. That would be right after you’ve stuffed yourself with the juiciest of the juicy eaten out of hand–especially if you made it to the Palisade (Colorado) Peach Festival! (Click on the link in the peach-colored box above for more info.) One year I couldn’t get enough muffins…
Then there were things like peach shortcake, myriad salads, pancakes, caprese, jam…
And another August, I kept grilled peaches for dessert. I’d stuff a few with goat’s cheese or slice them to lay gently on top of soft homemade vanilla ice cream.. (Truth in blogging: Dave did the grilling.)
The other seasonal favorite showing up in our markets mid-August are Canadian blueberries. While blueberries ripen first in South America and just keep ripening northward through spring and summer, by the time they’re ready in the Northwest or Canada, they’re my favorites. Cool nights = perfect berries.
These are the berries I toss into gallon bags and freeze just as they are; no washing required. Come January, a quick rinse, and they happily grace the very best of the blueberry pancakes or roll around in a bowl of yogurt for breakfast. A little later, when the first tasty new berries of the year begin to arrive, what’s left in the bag makes the perfect blueberry pie. If there’s not enough, toss in whatever other berries you can find– or maybe even some frozen peaches.
This week, I needed dinner, not sweets. Two thick boneless chicken breasts were in the fridge appearing nigh unto exhausted waiting for me. (I make boneless breasts rarely and prefer whole chickens or at least bone-in chicken pieces with skin unless I’m cooking for small children–you know, nuggets– or am desperate for time.) Why not brine them up for maximum juice, grill them quickly over medium heat, let them rest, and load them up with a new peach salsa? Veggies and grains underneath would create a whole meal or two.
I wasn’t sure what sort of salsa I’d make as I usually grill peaches, chop them, and add avocado or corn, etc., for a late summer fruit salsa.
Maybe something different…a lighter topping was sounding appealing in the heat.
I had these ingredients: peaches, Canadian blueberries, mint, lime, cucumber, and jalapeño. Chop, chop, stir, taste…repeat… all while the chicken brined for an hour. (It needs only that long, but definitely no longer than 2 hours or it’s tough.)
It was needing more. How about a little shallot, a pinch of salt and pepper, a bit of diced red pepper, and definitely more jalapeño. A few leaves of minced basil? There, I had it. I can’t handle a lot of heat, but minced jalapeño, with the seeds and membranes removed, is often more flavor than heat. You can doctor up your summer salsa as you see fit. Use cilantro instead of mint and basil, add diced ripe avocado, try some other colors of sweet peppers or apples, think honeydew melon, or consider mixing in a few tablespoons of toasted sliced almonds. What about tequila? Hmm. The main thoughts are these: consider taste, texture, color, amount, and the size of the available ingredients when working out a fresh salsa. (Think, too about what it is that salsa will be going on.) Try a little chopping and tasting; see what you think. Try again if needed, but make sure to have it your way:
grilled chicken breasts with blueberry-peach salsa served on lemony sautéed spinach with quinoa
FOR THE CHICKEN:
- 2 boneless chicken breasts about 6 ounces each:
- Water for brining
- 2 tablespoons each kosher salt and granulated sugar for brining
FOR THE BLUEBERRY-PEACH SALSA
- Large ripe but firm peach, unpeeled, pitted and cut into small dice
- ½ cup fresh blueberries
- ¼ cup English cucumber, cut into small dice (peeled if American)
- 2 tablespoons sweet red bell pepper, cut into small dice
- 2 teaspoons minced jalapeno-membranes and seeds removed—or to taste
- 1-2 teaspoons minced shallots or mild red onion—or to taste
- 1-2 tablespoons EACH fresh mint and basil minced—or to taste can sub cilantro instead of mint and basil
- Pinch each: kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- Fresh lime cut in half (Use half or 2-3 squeezes for the salsa; cut the other half in half again for garnish when serving.)
- OPTIONAL ADDITION: ½ diced peeled, ripe, well-washed avocado
FOR THE SPINACH AND QUINOA:
- ½ cup uncooked quinoa, well-rinsed
- Hot sauce
- Olive oil
- ½ pound (8 oz) Fresh spinach
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- Zest of one well-washed lemon
- BRINE THE CHICKEN: Place a gallon sealable plastic bag in a medium bowl and add 1 cup warm water. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water by whisking it. Add 3 cups cold water and whisk a bit more. Make sure the water is cool, then add chicken breasts, seal, knead bag with your hands to mix, and refrigerate for 1 or 2 hours (but no more than that)
- MAKE THE QUINOA AND SAUTE THE SPINACH: Add ½ cup well-rinsed quinoa to a 1-quart saucepan with 1 cup of water, a pinch each of salt and pepper, and a dash of hot sauce. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, about 10 minutes or until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender and translucent. Stir in a drizzle of olive oil and set aside. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat for a minute or two; add spinach and season with ¼ teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until spinach is just wilted and tender, 2-3 minutes. Add about ¾ of cooked quinoa to the spinach (reserving remainder for another use), stir in the lemon zest, taste and adjust seasonings. Cover to keep warm and set aside until needed. It will also be perfectly tasty at room temperature.
- GRILL CHICKEN BREASTS: Pat dry the brined breasts with a paper or cloth towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. If grilling on a gas grill, set grill up for direct grilling and preheat to high. Oil the grill grate and place chicken breasts on the hot grill for about 5-6 minutes per side OR until the chicken is done all the way through or reads 165 degrees F when tested with an instant read thermometer. If grilling on the stovetop with a grill pan, preheat the pan over medium heat until quite hot. Oil the grill pan and place the chicken breasts on the hot grill for about 5-6 minutes per side OR until chicken is done all the way through or reads 165 degrees F when tested with an instant read thermometer. Remove chicken from grill and let rest 2 minutes. Slice at an angle before serving.
- MAKE THE SALSA WHILE THE CHICKEN GRILLS: In a small deep bowl, mix the salsa ingredients together gently. Taste and adjust seasonings such as mint and jalapeno as needed.
- PLATE AND SERVE: Divide the spinach-quinoa mixture between two plates or shallow bowls. Add a sliced chicken breast at the center of the mixture and top with about ½ cup salsa or more each. Place the wedges of lime on the plates for garnish. Serve hot or warm.
THE THOUGHTFUL COOK: Could you use this salsa for tortilla chips? My, my; oh, yes, you could. Perhaps you’d want to chop everything a little smaller and add a tish more jalapeño. Might this salsa be used as a salad? For sure and forever. I’d scarf it up… or down tootie sweetie. Can I make this salsa a day ahead? Nah; be fresh. It’s summer. The ingredients will melt around the edges and look rather nasty, though the flavors might marry well.
WINE: Oregon Pinot Gris is my first choice here… or you could opt for a light and very chilled rosé. Really need a red? Nothing heavier than a Beaujolais–and even that might be chilled just a tad. If you’ve heated up the salsa with extra jalapeño, stay with the Pinot Gris.
DESSERT: As this would be an easy and fun porch dinner for friends–the recipe will double or trip perfectly, you might need dessert. Stick with the fruit theme and serve up a lemon sorbet or even a gelato for a hot August night. A few crispy cookies would go along with it all admirably and round off a healthy, light meal with smiling notes of butter and sugar.
NEED MORE ON GRILLING?
Crash Course on Barbecuing This link includes Steven Raichlen’s info on types of grills, how to clean and oil the grill and grates, as well as how to master the 5 basic types of grilling. If you want a basic book on grilling that you can refer to anytime, try Raichlen’s basic primer HOW TO GRILL. I also like his INDOOR! GRILLING if you’re into stovetop grill pan grilling, electric grill pan (a la George Foreman), cooking over the fireplace, etc.
IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU MIGHT LIKE MY:
Hope you’re feeling peachy as the last bit of summer rolls in,
PS The font size on the blog using the newest WordPress tool has been feeling pretty small–exactly like what I’m typing here, though it is called “normal.” I’d like to know if anyone has a preference; most of today’s post is in
medium-size like this. Speak up! Would love to hear from you 🙂