Strawberry Chicken Salad with Tomato-Balsamic Vinaigrette

serves 4-8

For the Vinaigrette

makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 large Roma tomatoes, diced

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup minced shallots

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

3/4 cup canola or safflower oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

For the Candied Pecans

1 cup pecans 

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

For the Salad

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

6-12 ounces baby spinach and mixed greens blend

1-2 cups thinly sliced fresh strawberries

1-2 ripe avocados, thinly sliced

1/2 to 1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

For the Vinaigrette

Combine the tomatoes, garlic, shallots, vinegar, and mustard in a blender and puree until smooth.  With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream to emulsify.  Add the salt and pepper and taste for seasoning.  The vinaigrette can be covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days.

For the Candied Pecans

In a non-stick skillet over medium low heat, add the sugar.  Once the sugar starts to melt, add the pecans and toss to coat.  Continue to cook until the sugar is caramelized and the pecans are toasted and coated in the sugar.  Transfer the pecans to a sheet of parchment paper and carefully separate the pecans using two forks.  Allow the pecans to cool completely.  Pecans can be made up to 5 days in advance.

For the Salad

In a resealable plastic bag, combine the chicken breast and 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette.  Marinate the chicken for at least 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare a charcoal or gas grill for medium-high heat.  Remove the chicken from the marinade and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Lightly oil the cooking grates and grill the chicken until cooked through, about 6-8 minutes per side.  Remove the chicken from the grill and cover lightly with a sheet of aluminum foil; let rest for at least 20 minutes.  Chicken can be made up to 1 day in advance.  

When ready to serve, thinly slice the chicken.  In a large bowl, toss the spinach and greens with 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Divide the spinach among chilled plates.  Arrange the chicken, avocado, strawberries, and onion on top of the greens.  Sprinkle with the feta and candied pecans.  Drizzle a little of the vinaigrette over the chicken and serve immediately.  Enjoy!

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