Salad is the perfect antidote for sweltertime, when it is too hot to crank up the oven and too humid to even think about a heavy meal. • But, oh, how we wallow in the same old thing. The tried-and-true salad dressing becomes a bore, too, even when it's relegated to a teeny cup on the side. Tossing on grilled fish or the ubiquitous chicken breast doesn't help much, but we do it anyway and call the whole thing dinner. Or lunch at our desk. • Imagine the dream salad bar. What would be on it? Goat cheese for one. Dried figs for another. And maybe julienned sticks of cold, crunchy jicama. That's my ideal, anyway. • Here and on Page 6E are a salad bowl full of ideas to kick up your main-dish salad. Mix and match at will.
Janet K. Keeler, Times lifestyles editor
Some fresh ideas for your main-dish salad
Fresh herbs: Basil, Italian parsley, oregano, dill, mint, cilantro, tarragon
Fruit: Dried cranberries, figs, cherries, apricots, mango, pineapple, cherries, grapes, kiwi
Cheese: Soft crumbles of feta, goat, fresh mozzarella or blue; big shaves of asiago, dry Monterey Jack, manchego or Mexican queso anejo
Greens: Peppery arugula, spike frisee, endive, radicchio, beet greens, cabbage, bok choy
Vegetables: Blanched green beans and asparagus, jicama sticks, wild mushrooms, radishes, roasted red peppers, shelled edamame, fresh corn kernels, snap peas, avocado, roasted beets or cauliflower, fennel
Pasta: Orzo, cheese tortellini, couscous, corkscrew, small shells
Crunchy: Fried wonton strips, Goldfish crackers, wasabi peas, Chex mix, plantain chips, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, toasted sesame seeds or pine nuts, Granny smith apple chunks
Grains: Brown rice, wheat berries, quinoa, wild rice
Toppers: Eggs (fried, poached or hard-boiled), grilled sea scallops, cold lobster tail, sauteed goat cheese medallions, flank steak, chicken strips, shredded duck, sliced egg rolls, flavored tofu, shellfish, prosciutto, dry salami
Legumes: Azuki, garbanzo, black-eyed, kidney, lentils, lima, pinto
Something pickled besides beets: Capers, caper berries, okra, green beans, asparagus, artichoke hearts, cheese- or nut-stuffed olives
Instead of dressing: Potato salad, three-bean salad, tzatziki sauce, hummus, salsa, guacamole
Wild Rice Salad
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup wild rice
1 (6-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and halved, reserve marinade
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/3 cup coarsely chopped green bell pepper
3 scallions, chopped, white and green parts
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds, for garnish
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1 clove garlic, minced
In a 1-quart pot with a lid, bring 2 cups water and the salt to a boil. Add the rice and stir well. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Drain excess liquid from the rice.
Meanwhile, combine all the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well. Refrigerate until ready to use.
In a large bowl, combine the rice, artichoke hearts, peas, green pepper, scallions, tomatoes, reserved marinade, and about 1/2 cup dressing. Toss well. Cover and chill or eat at room temperature. Just before serving, toss again and taste. Add some of the remaining dressing, if desired. Sprinkle with the almonds and serve.
Source: Paula Deen, Food Network
Grilled Beef Salad With Mint
12 ounces beef tenderloin or sirloin
4 cups torn Boston or Romaine lettuce leaves, mesclun or any salad greens mixture
1 cup torn fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded
Juice of 2 limes
1 tablespoon fish sauce or soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Grill or broil beef until medium-rare, 5 to 10 minutes total. Set aside to cool.
Toss lettuce with mint, onion and cucumber in bowl. Combine all remaining ingredients with 1 tablespoon water — the mixture will be thin — and toss the greens with this dressing. Transfer the greens to a platter, reserve the dressing.
Thinly slice beef, reserving its juice; combine the juice with the remaining dressing in the bowl. Lay the slices of beef over the salad, drizzle with the dressing over all and serve.
Serves 3 to 4.
Variation: Grilled Shrimp With Chili and Basil. Substitute peeled large shrimp for the beef. If you have time, marinate the shrimp in 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon or more chili paste and 1 tablespoon minced basil leaves for up to 15 minutes. Grill or broil until pink, about 3 minutes. Proceed with the recipe, substituting torn basil leaves for the mint and 1 tablespoon chili sauce for the cayenne.
Source: How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman (Wiley, 2008)
Spinach Salad With
Goat Cheese Pita Croutons
For the croutons:
7-inch pita pocket, cut in half and separated to form 4 semicircles
2 1/2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) soft milk goat cheese such as Montrachet
1/4 cup walnuts, minced
1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
Salt and pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
12 ounces spinach (about 1 bunch), coarse stems discarded and the leaves washed well and spun dry
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
To make the croutons: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the rough sides of the pita evenly with goat cheese, season them with salt and pepper and sprinkle walnuts evenly over the cheese, pressing them in gently. Cut the pita into 1-inch pieces and bake croutons on baking sheet in the middle of the oven for 15 to 25 minutes, or until golden.
In a large salad bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard and salt and pepper to taste, and add oil in a stream, whisking until dressing is emulsified. Add spinach, tomatoes and croutons and toss the salad well.
Frisee Salad With Fried Egg
and Applewood Smoked Bacon
2 tablespoons minced shallot
4 teaspoons toasted walnut oil
3 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Sea salt and pepper
4 slices applewood-smoked uncured or dry-cured bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups baby frisee, lightly packed
To make the dressing: Whisk together the shallot, walnut oil and vinegar in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To make the salad: Fry the bacon in a heavy, medium-sized skillet until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain. Add 1/2 teaspoon bacon fat to the dressing.
Pour off most of the remaining bacon fat from the skillet. Heat the skillet over medium heat and fry the eggs, turning once, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, toss frisee with bacon and dressing and divide between two plates. Season each salad with salt and pepper and top with egg. Serve immediately with baguette slices.
Source: Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes by Jeanne Kelley (Running Press, 2008)
Tuscan Tuna Salad With Fennel
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 (6-ounce) cans tuna in olive oil, drained
1 small head fennel, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/2 of a small red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 pound mixed greens (romaine, butter lettuce, radicchio and arugula) or spring mix
1 red or orange bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
Using a whisk or an immersion blender, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, tarragon and parsley. Lightly flake the tuna, then toss it with the fennel, celery, onion and most of the dressing. Reserve.
If you're using mixed greens, trim, wash, dry and slice them crosswise into 1-inch-wide strips. Toss the mixed greens or spring mix with the remaining dressing. Arrange on serving plates. Top with the tuna salad and garnish with the bell peppers and olives.
How to make vinaigrette
Master a basic vinaigrette and you'll have a formula fit for dozens of variations. The main ratio is 4 (or 3) to 1 meaning 4 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. To that combination, flavorings such as garlic, soy sauce, mustard, honey or herbs are added.
The simplest vinaigrette is 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard plus kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Make it in the bottom of the bowl and you'll have enough dressing for salad for two.
Now it's time for variations on the theme. Here are four simple vinaigrettes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (Wiley, 2008).
• Herb vinaigrette. 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons or more freshly squeezed lemon juice or good wine vinegar, 1/4 cup minced tender, milder herbs like parsley, basil or dill; 1 teaspoon minced stronger, tough herbs like rosemary, tarragon or thyme.
• Creamy vinaigrette. 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons or more good white wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons fresh or sour cream, yogurt, mayonnaise or pureed soft tofu, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and 1 small, chopped shallot.
• Garlic Vinaigrette. 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons or more balsamic vinegar, 1 minced clove garlic, 1 tablespoon honey.
• Tomato-Basil Vinaigrette. 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons or more good wine vinegar, 1/4 cup seeded and chopped tomato, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves.
To watch a demonstration, check out the video series In Janet's Kitchen at food.tampabay.com.