This hot weather is enough to drive even a southern girl like me out of the kitchen around dinner time. My solution is to fix salads — lots and lots of salads. Buy your basics from the farmers market or better yet, grow your own. Add a couple of exotic accessories and you can come up with all kinds of combinations to create a different salad each night using similar ingredients. I like to think of tomatoes as my basic black pants. They’re so useful, it never hurts to have a couple of different variations — heirloom, cherry, plum and big slicers. You can use your tomatoes with the obvious things like cucumbers or onions or you can go a little wild and mix them with peaches or watermelon. A BLT salad has become one of my favorite ways to mix up the summer routine using tomatoes.
Here’s my shopping list for salads from the farmers market. Everything on the list is, or will soon be, available locally. You can add and subtract according to your own taste. If you see something that looks especially good and it’s not on the list, please by all means, buy it and build a salad around it. I’ve been on a roasted broccoli kick for a while now — 12 minutes in 425 degrees and it’s a great addition to any salad. Fresh corn, just coming into season is delicious in salads.
Farmers Market Shopping List for Salads
Vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, peppers, new potatoes, green beans and all kinds of lettuces, arugula, spinach
Herbs: basil, cilantro, mint and parsley
Cheese: goat cheese, blue cheese, hard grating cheese, feta-type cheese and fresh mozzarella
Fruit: raspberries, blueberries, figs, watermelon and peaches
Meat, fish & chicken: smoked salmon, canned tuna, bacon, flank or skirt steak, chicken to shred
Other stuff: eggs to hard-boil, bread, honey as a sweetener, vinegar, yogurt, farro, edible flowers
Salad Shopping List for your Favorite Grocery Store
Citrus: Lemons and limes
Canned items: Chickpeas, cannellini beans, anchovies (I know you can cook the beans but until they are available fresh, canned is perfectly acceptable in my book. Remember, the goal is to stay out of the kitchen)
Condiments: Olive oil, vinegars not available at the farmers market — rice, cider, balsamic, red wine — dijon mustard, mayo, soy sauce
Spices: cumin, ginger, chili flakes, salt & pepper
Other stuff: olives, capers, nuts, grains and pasta
Just as I was putting this together for you, Mark Bittman came out with 101 Simple Salads for the Season in the NY Times. Many of his salads can be made with our local ingredients. In fact, you could try a different salad every day throughout the summer. He has some great ideas and there’s plenty of room for adventurous cooks to improvise and dream up your own combinations. Be sure to check out Sally’s post on Handmade Salad Dressings and Mark has some basic recipes for dressings that look delicious too.
On Friday evening I made a variation of Mark’s quinoa tabbouleh. In some ways, I like it even better than the traditional recipe using couscous. Quinoa, while not local to our area, is a grain worth becoming familiar with. I tried this recipe for cooking quinoa “couscous” from gourmet.com and became an instant convert. It’s light, fluffy and dry enough to absorb plenty of juices. Once it’s cooked and cooled, add chopped tomatoes, onions, tons of chopped parsley, olive oil and lemon juice. Top with feta cheese or toasted pine nuts or both. Quinoa can also mixes well with fruit like peaches, apricots, cherries.
Recipe for Cooking Quinoa “Couscous”
1 cup of quinoa for 4 generous servings
Wash quinoa in several changes of cold water in a bowl, draining with a large fine-mesh sieve.
Put several cups of water in a medium saucepan to comfortably cover the quinoa. Salt the water well and bring to a boil. Add quinoa and cook uncovered until almost tender, about 10 minutes.
Drain quinoa in the large fine-mesh sieve.
Add 1 inch water back into the saucepan and bring to a boil. Set the sieve of quinoa over the boiling water, taking care that the water isn’t touching the bottom of the sieve.
Cover sieve with a folded cloth napkin and cover with the lid. (Don’t worry if the lid doesn’t fit tightly). Steam for 10 more minutes until quinoa is tender, fluffy and dry. Remove the lid, take off the heat, let it sit covered with the towel for 5 more minutes.
You see what I mean — just take what you have, put it in different combinations, mix and match. It’s as easy as getting dressed on vacation. You wear what you have and it always looks great. It’s summer after all.