Let the Dog Days of Summer Become Your Salad Days of Summer
By Terrie Ortwein
Wow! These hot, sultry summer days have taken their toll on everything and everyone haven’t they? I’m not saying that I want this weather to go away, but a bit of a break would be nice. The lawn is parched, my herb garden and potted plants look a little less than spectacular, the birds seem to be gasping for air while perched on the feeder, and I am parched too! Seems like it’s too hot to cook, it’s too hot to go for a walk, too hot to sleep at night, too hot to sit on the back porch, and it’s been too hot to even enjoy a glass of wine!!! Something has to give!!
Well, we all have to find our ways to deal with the heat. My tactics: Don’t go for that walk, sprinkle that lawn like there’s no tomorrow, get a bird bath for those little birdies, drink large ice-filled glasses of beverages instead of the normal glass of wine, and stop cooking. Well, at least at home. When you cook for a living, you never really get to stop cooking…except at home. I would apologize to my hubby for that one but you all know he still eats pretty darned good for me not cooking at home. Between the leftovers from work and the items I can crank out that don’t really involve much, if any, cooking, the guy is not suffering!
So one of my favorite meals during these hot summer days capitalizes on several things. It takes advantage of our current produce bounty, it helps me clean out the fridge, it keeps me away from the stove, it makes meal time prep very quick, and it’s healthy!!! Yes, fast food need not be bad for you!!! I am talking about salads. Big, beautiful, fill your dinner plate full of stuff kinda salads. It’s like a party – the more, the merrier. If you keep a few simple things in your pantry and in your refrigerator, you can toss together the most satisfying, fast, healthy meals ever. And you can do it several nights a week and never tire of it.
Start with greens. Your choice, but try to mix it up. Use more than one type of green. It lends color, flavor and different textures to your salad. Chop up and add any kind of veggie you have available. Don’t limit yourself to the standard tomato, cucumber and onion. Up your ante and go big. Add chopped red or green cabbage or keep a bag of shredded broccoli in the fridge to add to your salad. Chopped snow peas, frozen peas, fresh broccoli, carrot, celery, even leftover cooked veggies are great in your salad.
Add chunks of fresh fruit like apple, pineapple, peaches, blueberries, blackberries. The fruit adds a layer of sweetness and another texture. No fresh fruit in the house? Used dried cherries, raisins, or cranberries. Again, there’s a layer of sweetness and/or texture. Another great add-in is beans. Whether you cook your own or use those from a can, they are a great addition to a salad. Add something crunchy like croutons, any kind of nut, or crumbled tortilla chips. Then there’s the cheese – chunks or shredded, whatever is easy and to your liking. Need to get some protein going in there? Easy to do by adding some diced boiled egg, chopped pieces of deli meats, leftover chicken, leftover steak slices, tuna, smoked salmon. You get the picture.
By now your dinner salad plate is about 3-4 inches tall. It’s stunningly beautiful with lots of color and it looks like you just made a pass through the biggest and coolest salad bar ever!!!! It’s time for the dressing. Keep it simple. Don’t drown all those wonderful tasty ingredients with too much salad dressing. You want to taste all the different elements. You want to feel all the different textures. Lightly dress that salad. Preferably with a bit of oil and vinegar – it will make all the flavors pop. Or even a drizzle of balsamic glaze (balsamic reduction available in a squeeze bottle). Keep your big, beautiful salad healthy by staying away from those bottled dressings that are loaded with sugar and calories. It’s simple to make your own vinaigrette. A basic recipe can be used to make many different vinaigrettes. Vary the type of oil (olive, walnut, avocado, grapeseed, etc.), vary the type of vinegar (cider, red wine, balsamic, white wine, etc.), vary the sweetener (sugar, honey, agave, etc.) or omit the sweetener, add Dijon mustard, or the herb of your liking. Make it Greek, make it Italian, or make it your own. Use the following basic vinaigrette recipe and vary the ingredients to suit your taste. Also try the Blueberry Vinaigrette recipe, it’s wonderful!!!
1 tsp. finely minced garlic
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. Champagne Vinegar
½ cup olive oil
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
Whisk all ingredients together and drizzle over salad greens.
½ cup fresh blueberries
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp. onion
2 Tbsp. good vinegar
½ tsp. sugar
2-4 Tbsp. olive oil
In a blender, whiz the berries, garlic, onion, vinegar and sugar until berries are liquefied. Drizzle the olive oil through the top while the blender is running until the desired consistency and mouth feel are achieved. Serve drizzled over lettuce greens with fresh blueberries, peach slices and blue cheese crumbles.