Greek Salad

A Greek salad would go beautifully with chicken, beef or fish, and features ingredients that are plentiful in farmers’ markets around the area. Not only is it still peak tomato season, but cucumbers are available by the bushel as well.

Greek salad

Most greek salads don’t call for any lettuce, but my sister made one last month with a touch of arugula, giving it a bit more heft and adding a nice bite.Greek salad

I don’t follow a recipe but a traditional Greek salad has chopped cucumbers, tomatoes (if you find cherry tomatoes, halving them is best), Kalamata olives, sliced or diced red onion, chunks of red, orange and green peppers (the more colors the more visually appealing), and feta. If you’re feeling adventurous you could add roasted red pepper (mild or piquillo), quartered artichoke hearts and fresh oregano. (In the picture you can see I skipped the peppers, but only because I was long on tomatoes and cukes.)

This dressing is from Bobby Flay. Just whisk the ingredients together or throw everything into a jar and shake vigorously. Pour over the vegetables, and arugula if desired, toss and serve.

For the dressing:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of your chef’s knife
1 teaspoon dried or fresh oregano
3 pinches salt
10 to 15 grinds black pepper

Beet and Avocado Salad

Most of us either grill on the 4th of July or we go to a party where grilled meat  is the star of the show. Instead of the typical baked beans and slaw, why not serve a cool and refreshing salad?  This one is colorful and makes good use of ingredients that can now be found in our metro farmers’ markets. Preparations for the beet and avocado salad

I liked the salad immediately, but thought a sprinkling of blue cheese chunks would improve it immeasurably. Fortunately, I had a hunk of blue cheese handy and added some. Bingo!  I don’t usually think to pair avocado and beet together, but the creaminess of the avocado tasted great with the beets, the peas (I used fresh English peas) provided an additional texture, and the mint pulled all the flavors together.beets and onions in the dressing

This is an easy recipe to make, and beautiful to serve. (To my friends who are reading this, you can count on having it at my table sometime so you may want to refrain from making it for a while :))Beetroot and Avocado Salad

For those who might be wondering what beetroot is, it’s just beets. This is from an English cookbook (see link below), and in England beets are more commonly referred to as beetroot.Beetroot and Avocado Salad

Enjoy and Happy 4th!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/aug/07/beetroot-avocado-salad-recipe-ottolenghi

 

 

 

Salad Days

 

I love salads, and never get tired of them. You might want to give some of these a try before we have to say good-bye to the luscious summer produce. 

1.Beet salad. Start with roasted beets, preferably of different hues for a more spectacular presentation. Add mixed greens, goat or blue cheese, and walnuts. For a contemporary twist, substitute shelled pistachios for the walnuts. A sherry or balsamic vinaigrette will complete the dish. (In a glass jar, combine 2 TB Dijon mustard, 1 TB chopped shallots, ½ cup balsamic or sherry vinegar and 1/2 cup olive oil, and shake vigorously. I prefer more acidity than oil in my dressings, so keep that in mind if you like a more traditional taste.) Or just slice the beets raw and enjoy atop  greens with the cheese of your choice.

2.Mexican Cobb. Combine chopped chicken, avocado, black beans, corn, feta cheese, tomatoes, tortilla chips, and cilantro, and toss with a lime dressing. (Whisk together ½ cup lime juice, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 TB honey mustard, 2 TB honey, 4 TB canola oil, salt and pepper). For variety, substitute grilled shrimp or steak.

3. Grilled Asparagus. Starting with a plate of arugula, sprinkle with goat cheese, olives and cooked couscous. Top with asparagus and drizzle with black olive vinaigrette. (In a blender, mix ½ cup of Kalmata or Nicoise olives, 1 TB Dijon mustard, 1 TB honey, 1 TB chile powder, ½ cup sherry or red wine vinegar, and 3/4 cup olive oil). A Bobby Flay original.

4. Caesar. Toss whole leaves of romaine with a touch of olive oil and grill for about 2 minutes until slightly wilted and a bit charred. Arrange on an oblong platter and drizzle with your favorite Caesar salad dressing. Blanket with freshly baked croutons, lots of shaved Parmesan and cracked pepper. To make a complete meal, include grilled chicken or salmon.

5. Chinese Chicken. Chop nappa cabbage and romaine lettuce in a serving bowl. Add wasabi peas, tortilla strips, grated carrots, pea pods, scallions, cilantro and grilled chicken strips. Make your life a bit simpler by using a bottle of Jade’s Sichuan Peanut sauce, available at Better Cheddar. Add lime juice to taste, and you’ll have an easy facsimile of Houston’s.

6. Caprese. Nothing shouts summer like a tomato and mozzarella salad topped with basil leaves and olive oil, and it’s not too late to find fresh tomatoes in the many farmers’ markets around town. Though not a traditional ingredient, I recommend a splash of balsamic vinegar as well. Find the freshest cheese available, preferably Buffalo mozzarella (though that’s not what’s in the picture!)

Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Combining watermelon and tomato is all the rage, but it does sound like an odd partnership, doesn’t it? Well, don’t make any judgments until you’ve tried it, because it’s truly awesome. Sweet, tart, crisp, juicy and, above all,…fresh. And after a month’s worth of caprese salads, it’s time to change things up a bit.

Here’s an easy way to start the flavor parade.

Cut up equal parts watermelon and tomato chunks (halved cherry tomatoes are a visually appealing substitute). Let sit in a bowl for a bit and drain the juices. Add minced scallions, chopped mint and basil, feta and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Minced or sliced jalapenos will give it an extra kick, if desired. Toss and dig in!

Now THIS is summer in a bowl.

Farmer’s Market bounty

Farmers’ Markets have their full complement of produce this month, so hopefully this will inspire you to be creative with your favorite fruits and vegetables.

–Make a summery salad of watermelon chunks and cherry tomatoes with feta or goat cheese, topped off with chopped mint and pistachios, and tossed with red vinegar and oil. It’s an unusual combination, but surprisingly refreshing. (Use the leftover watermelon to blend up killer margaritas or gazpacho!)

– Steam fresh green beans and mix with a warm dressing of sautéed chopped red onions or shallots, Dijon mustard, dill, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

– Slice a French baguette lengthwise and spread with basil pesto. Pile on fresh slices of mozzarella, tomato and a fistful of basil or arugula. Have plenty of napkins handy!

– Corn is at its peak right now. Instead of preparing it in the traditional style, try rubbing each cob with olive oil and grilling it; the flavor will be incredible. Or, cut the kernels off the cob and make a salsa — put the corn in a bowl, add chopped red onion, red or green peppers and basil or cilantro. Squirt with lime, add a splash of red vinegar and oil and a bit of chile powder and cumin. Spice it up with jalapeno if you like the heat and cherry tomato halves if you can’t resist an extra taste of summer. Stir and spoon over a piece of grilled chicken or fish for a simple and colorful seasonal dish.

– Take advantage of the abundance of mint to make a pesto to serve with lamb. Start with a basic pesto recipe –- replace half of the basil with mint, and the other half with Italian parsley. Then substitute walnuts for the pine nuts to enjoy a delicious alternative to mint jelly. And to make the meal even more special, ask the butcher to bone and butterfly the lamb so it can be grilled. Mint pesto is also great with corn. After taking the kernels off the cob, toss with the pesto, a touch of lime and some feta cheese.

The great thing about using summer produce is that you are limited only by your own imagination, so get thee to a farmer’s market and start creating!

ABC’s of Pesto

Pesto is one of life’s greatest delights–whether it is made with arugula, basil, or cilantro. Make up a batch and freeze it in ice cube trays so you’ll always have some on hand: try it as a quick fix for a bland soup; to add a layer of complexity to a sauce; or to perk up a pasta. You might also consider filling a canning jar and giving it as a gift–your friends will love you! (Be sure to put a layer of oil on top to keep the air from ruining the vibrant green color).

Arugula–Puree batches of this sharply flavored green with olive oil, garlic and a touch of lemon. Add to just cooked linguine or bocatini tossed with sautéed shallots, garlic, sliced wild mushrooms and spinach. Serve with balsamic vinegar and pecorino romano cheese at the table.

Basil–A traditional pesto calls for basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil. Mix with a good quality mayonnaise, in approximately equal proportions, and spread on toasted ciabatta. Make a terrific sandwich with grilled salmon or chicken, roasted red peppers and wild greens.

Cilantro—Combine cilantro in a food processor with garlic, lime juice and olive oil. Cook a shaped pasta, preferably ditale or cavatappi.  Put in a big bowl and add corn, chopped scallions, and red pepper, blue cheese and black beans. If you want a heartier dish, chunks of grilled chicken make this a true meal.

Up To Your Ears in Corn?

IMG_0216Corn is at its peak right now. Instead of preparing it in the traditional style, try rubbing each cob with olive oil and grilling it; the flavor will be incredible. Or, cut the kernels off the cob and make a salsa — put the corn in a bowl, add chopped red onion, red or green peppers and basil or cilantro. Squirt with lime, add a splash of red vinegar and oil and a bit of chile powder and cumin. Spice it up with jalapeno if you like the heat and cherry tomato halves if you can’t resist an extra taste of summer. Stir and spoon over a piece of grilled chicken or fish for a simple and colorful seasonal dish.

For a side dish, try rolling grilled ears of corn in olive oil and then Parmesan. Sprinkle some chopped mint on top and start chomping!

Grilling on the 4th?

Can’t decide what to serve for your July 4th bash?

Why not follow the current fad and throw a new-fangled burger on the grill? Lamb, buffalo, chicken and tuna are more exciting and, for the most part, healthier than the all-beef variety. Moreover, these sandwiches will add a touch of fun and style to the usual burger, hot dog, potato salad and corn- on –the- cob dinner. Give some thought to the toppings as well. Spicy cheeses, caramelized onions and pestos are but a few of the possibilities. I love the idea of a sharp cheddar bison burger smothered with roasted green chiles, or a tuna burger topped with hoisin slaw. Smear the bun with wasabi aioli and you’ve got a dish bursting with flavor. (If you don’t want to go to the trouble of chopping tuna and adding ingredients to form a patty, subsititute a tuna steak for an equally tasty result.) Or what about a lamb burger with a tangy red pepper yogurt sauce? Wrap it in grilled naan and serve with extra sauce for dipping.

Match any of your concoctions with a light summer wine (don’t think of rose as a too-sweet white-Zinfandel- type: the newer vintages would be a perfect accompaniment) and save that six-pack of beer for the winter chili that you’ll be cooking in the blink of an eye.

All the major cooking magazines are featuring new twists and ingredients on this theme. Here are a few of my favorite websites to help you find just the right recipes to make your biggest get-together of the season a real hit.

www.epicurious.com

www.foodtv.com

www.foodandwine.com

Sniff, thump or squeeze your way to ripe fruit

Here’s the low-down on methods and secrets to picking perfect produce.

Artichokes. These majestic orbs have a mysterious quality to the uninitiated. The key to finding one with a soft and flavorful heart is the tightness of the leaves. The overall look of the vegetable should be rounded, not spiked. (A hint about cooking — they are done as soon as a leaf can be easily pulled from the heart.)

Berries. Avoid berries that are stuck together. Like the presence of mold, this is a sure sign that they’re not still fresh. Similarly, stay away from raspberries with black edges and strawberries dotted with blemishes.

Cantaloupe. Use your nose for this one. Take a sniff at either end of the melon, and if there’s a fragrant aroma, it’s ready to be eaten. Check to be sure the stem end has a smooth indentation.

Cherries. My mother taught me at a young age how to sift through the box of cherries to find the juiciest and sweetest among them. I was often left with the assignment of painstakingly picking each one while she finished shopping. Dark and firm ones, she told me, were the juiciest and firmest. These days grocers pre-bag cherries, not giving consumers an opportunity to handpick.

Peaches, nectarines and plums. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, look for stone fruits that are not too hard and not too soft. Too hard and they may not ripen, too soft and they tend to be mushy or overdone. If you can find even a hint of softness, they’ll undoubtedly ripen to perfection after a couple of days in a paper sack or on the windowsill.

Peppers—Like a baby’s bottom, peppers should be firm and smooth, with no wrinkles. Whether spicy or not, the most flavorful of peppers have the deepest color.

Tomatoes. It’s tempting to gravitate towards the prettiest tomatoes in the box, but beauty may only be skin deep –the tastiest tomatoes are typically misshapen and imperfect. They should be fully colored when picked—that’s when they have the ambrosia quality that we all crave.

Watermelon. Thump it with the palm of your hand to determine whether it sounds hollow. Also, check to see if there’s a yellow spot where the melon sat on the ground in the garden. If not, it was picked too early and may not be sweet and juicy.

Previously published in the Independent magazine.