Simple summer salads for staying cool and well-nourished
It’s happening again. It’s gotten so damn hot that I fear the heat of the stove. I want to be at the beach, tubing down a river, napping in a hammock under a big shade tree. The problem is I still get hungry. Convenience foods abound to solve that problem if I let my guard down. Luckily, we have other, tastier alternatives.
This is the time of year when the produce at the farmer’s market is so perfect and so abundant, that with little more than a drizzle of vinaigrette you can create refreshing salads, which are what I truly crave this time of year. I have found that if I spend as little as half an hour twice a week, I can keep my refrigerator stocked with delicious and nutritious salads that keep my family and me eating healthfully as well as supporting our local farmers.
When I head to the market, I buy what appeals to me with faith that I can turn those vegetables and fruit into delicious meals with just a few ingredients from my pantry. I have standard salads that I turn to again and again, like cucumbers and onions, with nothing more than a drizzle of vinegar and a pinch of salt and sugar. I love blanched green and yellow wax beans, which I keep in plastic bags in the refrigerator for snacking as well as adding to salads. With a creamy dip, they are the favorite snack of my nieces and nephews on our beach trips. If we fire up the grill, we are sure to throw on way more vegetables than we can eat so that we have extra for the rest of the week. Grilled corn and red peppers get thrown into everything and charred eggplants get mixed with a bit of garlic, tahini, and lemon juice to become baba ghanoush for stuffing into pita bread.
Every year it seems that I always add a few new salads to the mix as well. This year, I am mad over farro. Farro is an ancient wheat, also known as emmer wheat, with a nutty flavor and an appealing texture that is popular in Italian cooking. It has been my go-to grain since early spring when I began combining it with roasted broccoli and preserved lemon for a totally satisfying, substantial salad. Farro is at the ready to rescue you from your pasta-salad malaise. It can be combined with just about anything. Cherry tomatoes, basil, and olives are traditional, but my favorite summer salad this year is black-pepper spiked farro with cantaloupe, cucumber, mint, and feta. It’s unexpected, a complete meal, and totally refreshing. When I am at the beach, I love to throw boiled or grilled shrimp or squid in this salad as well.
Photo: April McGregerFarro with cantaloupe, cucumber, feta, and mint
1 1/2 cups farro
1 half medium, fragrant cantaloupe, seeded
2 pickling cucumbers or 1 large cucumber
1 large shallot, chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons Sherry or red wine vinegar
2 big handfuls of mint leaves, half chopped, half as whole leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup crumbled feta
Cook farro in large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender or according to your package directions. Depending on whether you are using semi-pearled or regular farro, it could take between 10 and 45 minutes. Drain. Transfer to large bowl.
Meanwhile, peel the ½ cantaloupe and cut it into wedges about 1 1/2- inches wide. Thinly slice the wedges and place in a medium bowl. Thinly slice the cucumber as well and add to the bowl with the cantaloupe along with a few pinches of salt.
Dice the shallot and place in a small bowl with a large pinch of salt. Add the vinegar to the bowl and whisk in the olive oil. Season dressing with a full teaspoon of black pepper and the chopped mint. Add the dressing, the cantaloupe, the cucumber, the feta, and the mint leaves to the farro and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, vinegar, or olive oil if needed. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.
Photo: April McGregerThree-bean salad with tomato vinaigrette
When I bring home an array of fresh beans from the market, I immediately blanch them and place them in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Then they are ready for snacking and tossing into salads like this one. I also love them tossed with boiled new potatoes in stone ground mustard vinaigrette. If you don’t have access to fresh shell beans, you can leave them out. But if you do, please try them. They add extra protein, folic acid, as well as a lot of flavor. Try fresh field peas, butterbeans, garbanzos, runner beans, and more. You can also use canned beans, just rinse and drain them first.
1 pound mixed stringless beans–I used green beans and yellow wax beans
1 cup fresh shell beans, such as cranberry beans, field peas, or butterbeans or drained, canned garbanzo beans
A handful of olives, pitted and halved
1 cup chopped good tomatoes (I used my roasted heirloom tomatoes)
1 large shallot, diced fine
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Trim the beans and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Parboil the shell beans in salted water until tender, about 15 minutes, depending on the type of bean. With a slotted spoon or small strainer remove the beans from the water and spread out to cool quickly. Blanch the green and wax beans in same salted water until just tender, about four to five minutes. Drain and immediately dunk in an ice water bath or spread them out to cool. Pit and halve the olives and add to the beans.
Place the diced shallot in a small bowl or a jar with a lid and add a large pinch of salt. Add the vinegar, then whisk in the olive oil. Stir in the chopped tomatoes. Add more salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss in all the beans and the basil leaves. To preserve the vibrant color of the beans, don’t toss with the vinaigrette more than two hours before serving. Delicious cold or at room temperature.