5 Easy Spring Chicken Recipes

5 Easy Spring Chicken RecipesBy Emily McKenna, Recipe Developer & Tester for EatingWell Magazine

Spring means warmer weather, longer days and short-sleeved T-shirts. It also means ditching the recipes that are so much a part of my winter cooking repertoire for light, quick-cooking options-salads, quick soups, sautés and stir-fries-that leave me time after dinner to play outside with my family.

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For me, chicken is the perfect protein choice for spring. Not only does it cook quickly, it is a good, healthy source of lean protein and pairs well with almost any vegetable, especially the young, tender greens, leeks, asparagus and other spring vegetables that have started to flood my supermarket. Here are 5 of my favorite spring chicken recipes.

More from EatingWell:
Our Top 50 Spring Recipes
Healthy Casserole Recipes for Spring

Chicken with Creamy Braised Leeks
A touch of heavy cream, a few garlic cloves and thyme sprigs round out the flavor of tender braised leeks with chicken in this recipe. The rich, silky sauce is wonderful over whole-wheat egg noodles or mashed potatoes. Leeks grown in the garden and those that you find at the store can be vastly different in size. Garden leeks tend to be smaller, so if you're using leeks from the garden, make sure you pick enough to fill up the pan.

Check out more Healthy Spring Chicken Recipes

Makes: 4 servings
Active time: 30 minutes | Total: 1 hour
Cost per serving: under $3.50

8 medium or 4 large leeks
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
6 cloves garlic, halved
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (5-6 ounces each), trimmed and tenders removed (see Note)
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Trim roots and dark green tops from leeks, leaving 5 to 6 inches of white and light green parts. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise (or in quarters, if large); rinse well. Place the leeks in a single layer in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, on their sides if necessary, nestling them together. Pour in broth; submerge the garlic and thyme in the broth between the leeks.
3. Bake the leeks for 40 minutes.
4. After about 30 minutes, sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add the chicken and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Remove from the heat.
5. After 40 minutes, remove the leeks from the oven and nestle the chicken into them. Add cream and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to the hot skillet (but do not turn the burner back on). Stir up any browned bits and let the cream heat up from the warmth of the pan. Pour the cream mixture over the leeks and chicken.
6. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a breast registers 165°F, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve the chicken with the braised leeks, spooning the sauce over both.

Spring Chicken & Blue Cheese SaladSpring Chicken & Blue Cheese Salad
In this recipe, lean boneless, skinless chicken breasts are marinated in a garlicky yogurt dressing with tarragon then baked and tossed with sharp, bitter arugula and radicchio and drizzled with a creamy blue-cheese dressing.

Makes: 4 servings, about 2 cups greens & 3 ounces chicken each
Active time: 15 minutes | Total: 55 minutes

1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt (see Tips)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon or 1 tablespoon dried
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Creamy Blue Cheese-Tarragon Dressing
2 ounces blue cheese
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon honey
1-2 tablespoons nonfat Greek yogurt
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 head butterhead lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 head radicchio, cored and very thinly sliced
1 cup baby arugula or mixed baby greens
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted (see Tips) and chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. To prepare chicken: Combine yogurt, garlic, oil and tarragon in a large bowl. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to the bowl; turn to coat. Place the chicken in a baking dish and cover completely with the yogurt mixture.
3. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a clean cutting board. Thinly slice the chicken when cool enough to handle.
4. To prepare dressing: Mash blue cheese, oil, vinegar, tarragon and honey together in a medium bowl with a fork until well combined. For a creamier dressing, add yogurt 1 tablespoon at a time, if desired. Season with salt and pepper.
5. To assemble salad: Gently toss lettuce, radicchio and arugula (or mixed greens) in a large bowl. Divide the greens among 4 plates, top with equal portions of the chicken, spoon 2 tablespoons of the dressing over each salad and sprinkle with walnuts.

Per serving: 421 calories; 29 g fat (6 g sat, 14 g mono; 73 mg cholesterol; 9 g carbohydrates; 4 g added sugars; 31 g protein; 2 g fiber; 487 mg sodium; 443 mg potassium.
Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin A (37% daily value), Folate (17% dv), Calcium (15% dv).

Tip: Thick and creamy Greek-style yogurt is made by removing the whey from cultured milk. Because the whey has been removed, you can cook with Greek yogurt without the normal separation that occurs when cooking with regular yogurt.
Tip: To toast whole nuts, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F, stirring once, until fragrant, 7 to 9 minutes.

Indian-Spiced Chicken & AsparagusIndian-Spiced Chicken & Asparagus
Toasting, then grinding whole cumin and fennel seeds gives this curry-like chicken and vegetable dish an authentic Indian flavor. Cubed chicken tenders are sautéed in a large skillet with the spice mixture, chopped onion, garlic, fresh chile and a whole tablespoon of minced ginger. "Lite" coconut milk and tender asparagus finish this easy one-pot dish, along with a sprinkling of fresh cilantro.

Makes: 4 servings, about 1 cup each
Active time: 40 minutes | Total: 40 minutes
Cost per serving: under $4

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into bite-size chunks
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small fresh chile, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 bunches asparagus (about 1 1/2 pounds), woody ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup "lite" coconut milk (see Tip)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Toast cumin and fennel seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Finely grind in a spice grinder (such as a clean coffee grinder) or with a mortar and pestle.
2. Toss chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the spice mixture and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove to a plate.
3. Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, onion, garlic, chile and ginger; cook, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add asparagus, sprinkle with the remaining spice mixture and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer for 2 minutes more. Return the chicken and any accumulated juice to the pan and cook until the chicken is just cooked through and the asparagus is tender-crisp, about 2 minutes more. Serve sprinkled with cilantro.

Per serving: 249 calories; 12 g fat (3 g sat, 6 g mono); 63 mg cholesterol; 9 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 26 g protein; 3 g fiber; 514 mg sodium; 477 mg potassium.
Nutrition Bonus: Folate (34% daily value), Vitamin A (21% dv), Vitamin C (20% dv).

Tip: Refrigerate leftover coconut milk for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 2 months. It will appear separated when thawed; simply mix until smooth.

Chicken Cordon Bleu BurgerChicken Cordon Bleu Burger
The classic flavors of Chicken Cordon Bleu-ham, Swiss cheese and thyme-inspired this easy chicken burger. We like using regular ground chicken, which is a blend of thigh and drumstick meat, to help keep this burger juicy, but feel free to use 100% ground chicken breast if you'd like a leaner burger. You'll cut 20 calories and 1 gram saturated fat. Serve with roasted broccoli.

Makes: 4 servings
Active time: 35 minutes | Total: 35 minutes

1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons finely chopped shallot, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme, divided
1 pound ground chicken
1/3 cup finely diced ham
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 slices Swiss cheese
8 small slices pumpernickel bread or 4 large slices, cut in half, toasted
12 large leaves spinach, tough stems removed

1. Preheat grill to medium-high (or see Stovetop Variation).
2. Combine mayonnaise, mustard, 1 tablespoon shallot and 1/2 teaspoon thyme in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. Place the remaining 4 tablespoons shallot, remaining 1 teaspoon thyme, chicken, ham, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Gently combine without overmixing. Form into 4 patties, about 3/4 inch thick.
4. Oil the grill rack (see Tip). Grill the burgers, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 165°F, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Top each burger with cheese and cook until melted, 1 to 2 minutes.
5. Assemble the burgers on toasted bread with the herb mayonnaise and spinach.

Per serving: 350 calories; 17 g fat (6 g sat, 6 g mono); 119 mg cholesterol; 20 g carbohydrates; 1 g added sugars; 29 g protein; 3 g fiber; 722 mg sodium; 910 mg potassium.
Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin A (63% daily value), Potassium (26% dv), Folate (25% dv), Vitamin C (23% dv), Zinc (21% dv), Calcium & Magnesium (18% dv), Iron (16% dv).

Make Ahead Tip: Prepare herb mayonnaise (Step 2) and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
Tip: To oil a grill rack, oil a folded paper towel, hold it with tongs and rub it over the rack. (Do not use cooking spray on a hot grill.)
Stovetop Variation: Coat a nonstick pan, preferably cast-iron (or a grill pan), with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add burgers, reduce heat to medium and cook, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer registers 155°F (for pork and bison) or 165° (for beef or chicken), 4 to 5 minutes per side.

Spring Chicken & Barley SoupSpring Chicken & Barley Soup
Active time: 45 minutes | Total: 1 1/4 hours | To make ahead: Prepare through Step 3, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat the soup, thin with broth if desired and finish with Step 4 just before serving.

You might think of barley as an addition to hearty, wintery soups, such as mushroom-barley or beef-barley soup, but it also works well in lighter soups like this one with chicken, asparagus and peas.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, divided
6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 large bone-in chicken breast (10-12 ounces), skin removed, trimmed
1/3 cup pearl barley
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup trimmed and diagonally sliced asparagus (1/4 inch thick)
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup lightly packed torn fresh basil leaves
1 strip orange zest (1/2 by 2 inches)

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat; add onion and celery and cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, 2 to 4 minutes. Grate or finely chop 1 clove garlic; add to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add broth, chicken and barley. Bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook over low heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate with a slotted spoon. Return the broth to a simmer and cook until the barley is tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, shred the chicken or cut into bite-size pieces; discard the bone.
3. When the barley is done, add the chicken, tomatoes and juice, asparagus, peas, salt and a grinding of pepper; return to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat until the asparagus is tender, about 5 minutes more.
4. Coarsely chop the remaining garlic clove. Gather basil, orange zest and the garlic and finely chop together. Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle each serving with a generous pinch of the basil mixture.

Per serving: 265 calories; 6 g fat (2 g sat, 3 g mono); 39 mg cholesterol; 28 g carbohydrates; 24 g protein; 7 g fiber; 745 mg sodium; 405 mg potassium.
Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin C (40% daily value), Vitamin A (30% dv), Iron (15% dv).

What is your favorite spring chicken recipe?

By Emily McKenna

Emily Kennedy

Emily McKenna tests and develops recipes in the EatingWell Test Kitchen. Emily recently moved to Vermont from New York City, where she worked at Food & Wine, food52.com and Real Simple. She is a recent convert to the glories of kale and has a weakness for doughnuts, strawberry licorice and anything her Italian-American grandmother makes, especially pizza.

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