Lemon Pesto, anyone? Not Grandma's chicken salad

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In our small hometown, Sunday evening's concert in the park is more than just a gathering of locals and tourists. It's how we mark the passage of time between May and September.

Over the years, we've become picnicking experts. My top two pieces of advice on picnic-planning are keep it simple and keep it flavorful. Because the getting ready — packing up a tablecloth or blanket and all the dishes — takes time, I've learned to make the menu extra-simple. But extra simple doesn't mean sacrificing on flavor.

My solution is to turn to a trusted supermarket shortcut, the rotisserie chicken, as a starting point for a deceptively simple, yet unbelievably complex-tasting, chicken salad. A very distant cousin to the over-creamy chicken salad grandma used to make, this dish gets its garlicky-herbaceous flavor from pre-made pesto. A generous helping of lemon zest adds depth and balance. But the secret of this dish is capers added, with the juice.

Pack a thermal container of this chicken salad along with whole wheat pita halves, a head of lettuce for lettuce wraps, raw vegetables and a big bunch of grapes, and you have a strong picnic game for Sunday, or anytime.

Lemon-pesto chicken salad

Start to Finish: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons prepared pesto

3 tablespoons low-fat plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons capers, brine included (do not drain)

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:

½ rotisserie chicken, cubed (about 2 ½ cups)

½ cup finely chopped celery

1 cup cherry tomato halves

1 green onion, chopped

Lemon wedges and parsley for garnish (optional)

Directions:

To make the dressing, mix all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl with a spoon. In a large bowl, place the chicken, celery, tomato, and green onion. Spoon the dressing on top and stir to coat. Chill until serving. Serve with lettuce wraps, whole wheat pita, or tortillas.

Nutrition information per serving: 243 calories; 107 calories from fat; 12 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 80 mg cholesterol; 296 mg sodium; 5 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 28 g protein.

Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, "Supermarket Healthy." Online: http://www.melissadarabian.net


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