In much the same way that I enjoy making soup in the fall and winter I look forward to making all kinds of salads in the spring and summer. As sides or entrees, full of grains, pastas, vegetables and everything in between, salads are a great way to make beautiful, creative meals that are adaptable and often utilize (OK, use up) what you have on hand. And, as it gets hotter, planning a salad for dinner often means a meal that requires little or no time spent in a sweltering kitchen, one of my top goals during the summer months.
I got lots of practice making salads back in the 80s and 90s when The Silver Palate Cookbook, a resource full of some great, now classic, salads, was all the rage. Working in Brattleboro’s Straw and Hay on Main Street (during high school) followed by The Gourmet Food Exchange on Burlington’s Church Street (while in college) and finally The Putney Food Coop when it was still located on Kimball Hill, exposed me to great cooks, recipes and lots opportunities to experiment. To this day, I can’t walk past a deli counter without looking to see what fabulous combinations someone has come up with and I often take these ideas home and concoct something similar with what I have on hand.
So, to start out the summer salad season, here are two great ones -- my favorite version of the sesame and peanut combination that includes lots of crunchy vegetables as well as a newer quinoa and corn salad that I feel almost righteous about eating as it is so healthy. Crunchy Sesame Peanut Salad
12 ounces linguine
1Ž4 cup crunchy peanut butter (we use Teddie’s all-natural)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 1Ž2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Juice of 1Ž2 a lime
1Ž2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1Ž2 red pepper, thinly sliced
2 scallions, sliced
1Ž2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1Ž4 cup toasted sesame seeds
Cook the pasta in plenty of water according to package instructions until al dente and rinse. Save some of the starchy pasta water just in case.
Measure peanut butter in a large measuring cup and microwave about 15 seconds or until slightly softened. Whisk in the soy, vinegar, ginger, honey, sesame oil and lime juice until well blended, using a bit of the reserved pasta water to thin if necessary.
Combine pasta, vegetables and dressing in a large bowl and toss until combined. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.
Corn and Edamame Salad
1 cup water
1Ž2 cup quinoa, rinsed
3 cups frozen corn (splurge and buy premium if you don’t have any left in the freezer from last summer)
1 1Ž2 cups frozen edamame
1 cup chopped red pepper
1/3 cup diced red onion
1Ž2 cup chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
Rinse corn and edamame well in a colander to begin the thawing process and let drain.
Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add quinoa, reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer about 12 minutes, or until quinoa has absorbed water. Remove from heat a fluff with a fork.
Combine corn, edamame, pepper, onion and cilantro in a large bowl. Add the quinoa and mix well. Make vinaigrette out of the lemon juice, soy, mustard and olive oil by whisking together well. Pour over salad ingredients, season with salt and pepper and chill before serving.
Chicken is a great addition to the sesame peanut salad and I’ve seen versions of the quinoa salad that include black beans for more protein. As always, the ability to switch up the vegetables depending upon what you have on hand is a huge benefit (romaine lettuce instead of cabbage? Skip the bell pepper?). Both salads also give ample opportunity for working in the kitchen together -- lots of chopping, stirring and draining to be shared between adults and kids alike. And perhaps my favorite -- cook the pasta/quinoa in the morning hours and you will keep your cool in the hot and humid afternoon and still have a great dinner for the table.
Got a favorite warm-weather salad? I’m always looking for more great ideas, so feel free to share!
Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at email@example.com.