Even the healthiest of salads can be undermined, nutritionally speaking, by the dressing. It's the essential ingredient that marries the vegetables into a unified whole, but the dressing is also the main source of nutrient-poor calories.

To the rescue comes the sweet and substantial mango. Simply blending the fruit with some vinegar and just a touch of oil provides a dressing that's low in fat but high in vitamins, nutrients and taste.

Succulent, versatile and abundant, the mango is world's most popular fruit, according to James Parker, who conducts research and analysis for Whole Foods Markets. In the United States, the banana rules, but this tropical "peach" -- as Parker calls it -- is slowing gaining fans. From the traditional, large, reddish-green mango to the smaller, sweeter Champagne mangoes now at the peak of their season, there's always some variety of mango readily available.

As for its culinary value, the mango lends itself to both sweet and savory cooking. It can be the body in a smoothie, the sweet touch in salad or the counterpoint in a stir-fry. Best of all, the perfectly ripe mango may be eaten almost like an apple. Spear the mango on a fork, peel away the skin with a paring knife and take a bite.

Mango Chicken Salad With Mango Dressing

4 servings

Mangoes are a perfect match with chicken. They can perk up a tired salad, go into barbecue sauces or top a club sandwich. Here, the mango is used two ways to make a salad that can be sold solely on taste but also has good looks and good nutritional value.

The great look comes from the combined colors of the ingredients and the way they are cut. The vegetables, fruit and chicken should be cut into thin strips about 2 inches long, resembling thin french fries.

The good-for-you trick here is the use of the mango in the dressing. Pureed fresh mango creates a dressing that requires far less oil than a traditional vinaigrette, and it's delicious.

For the salad:

1 medium or large cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch long sticks

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1 large or 2 small (about 3/4 pound) mangoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch-long strips*

3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup, loosely packed)

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced or pounded into thin cutlets

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil, or as needed

For the dressing:

1 large or 2 small mangoes (about 3/4 pound), peeled, flesh cut away from the pit*

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 cup orange juice, or more as needed

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad: In a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients, combine the cucumber, bell pepper and mango strips with all but a tablespoon of the sliced scallion. Reserve the remaining scallions for a garnish. Set aside.

Season the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper to taste. In a large saute pan, preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat, heat just enough oil to coat the bottom. Add the chicken cutlets; it may be necessary to do this in two batches. Saute, turning once until the cutlets are cooked through and nicely browned. It should take about 3 to 4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the cutlets.

Remove the cutlets from the pan and slice into strips similar in size to the vegetables, about 2 inches long. Add to the vegetable mixture. Set aside.

For the dressing: In a blender, combine the mango flesh, honey, orange juice, vinegar, oil and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth. If the dressing is too thick, add more orange juice, one tablespoon at a time, until the dressing is the desired consistency. It should be thick but pourable.

To assemble, add the dressing to the chicken and vegetables. Toss to coat. Garnish with the reserved scallions and freshly ground black pepper, if desired. Serve immediately.

*NOTE: To prepare the mango: Spear the stem end of a mango with a fork, like putting a marshmallow on a stick. Lopping off one end of the mango to steady it on the counter and holding it upright with the fork, use a sharp paring knife to peel away the skin. Once the skin is removed, cut away the flesh from the pit, stopping when the flesh starts to get too fibrous and hard. The fruit can now be sliced or pureed as needed.

Per serving: 265 calories, 27 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 64 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 218 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Stephanie Witt Sedgwick; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick last wrote for food about Alain Ducasse's latest cookbook.