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Salad Days

Salad in a Bowl

Vegetables are so abundant and beautiful right now that every day is a salad day. Salads for lunch, salads for dinner, salads for parties and picnics… Combining lots of vegetables and herbs with whole grains turns salad into a meal-in-a-bowl–perfect for the end of summer. These salads are light and refreshing, they travel well, and they welcome all kinds of garden-fresh vegetables.

Beautiful Floral Salad

Bulgur wheat, an ingredient of Tabouli salad, might be the most familiar of grains used in salad, but there’s a wide range of whole grains to discover that contribute interesting texture and structure to salads. My list includes wheat and rye berries, barley, farro, kamut, wild rice, Bhutanese red rice, short grain brown rice, and quinoa. Their subtle and earthy flavors blend well with vegetables and fresh herbs and support all kinds of flavorful vinaigrettes and add-ins like olives, capers, nuts, and dried fruits.

The first key to making a delicious grain salad is to cook the grains properly. Like pasta, grains for salads are best cooked al dente –they need to be cooked through, but retain something to chew on. When the grains near the estimated end of the cooking time, taste them frequently and remove them from the heat as soon as they taste done. Cooking times for grains vary depending on variety and age (just like beans, old grains take longer) and range from 15 to more than 60 minutes. Soaking long-cooking grains overnight can shorten cooking time by one-half.

 Tips for Cooking Grains

Grains

* Toast grains for more flavor.  Dry-roast grains on an iron skillet to add depth and bring out their nuttiness. Or, sauté them for a few minutes in a little butter or oil for added flavor. Get even more flavor by including finely chopped aromatic vegetables like onion, carrot or celery in the sauté.

* Cook the grains in chicken or vegetable stock instead of water to boost flavor. Add herbs, aromatic vegetables, or whole spices to the cooking liquid.

* Do not overcook! When the grain is done, drain off excess liquid and transfer to a platter or baking sheet to stop the cooking.

*Let the grain cool before mixing with other ingredients. Warm grain will wilt herbs or other tender vegetables and absorb too much vinaigrette.

One cup dry grain will yield 4 to 6 generous servings when used in a salad.

Classic Tabouleh and Variations on the Theme 

Classic Tabouleh

I like to make Tabouleh with roughly equal parts bulgur wheat, chopped parsley, and diced tomato. It’s a great summer meal, served with flatbread or scooped up with leaves of romaine lettuce. What makes it truly delicious are the bright taste of herbs and plenty of fresh lemon or lime juice.

Ingredients: 1 cup bulgur wheat, 4 or 5 medium tomatoes (about 2 1/2 cups diced), 2 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves, 1/2 cup finely chopped green onion, 1 finely chopped jalapeno or mildly hot banana pepper.

Vinaigrette: 1 garlic clove mashed to a paste with a pinch of coarse salt, 1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste. Whisk all ingredients together.

Make the salad:  Heat a skillet and dry-roast the bulgur briefly to toast the grains. Transfer to a bowl, add 1/2 tsp salt, and pour 1 1/3 cups boiling water over the bulgur. Cover and let sit until the water is absorbed and the bulgur is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Gently combine the chopped vegetables and herbs with the cooked bulgur. Pour on the dressing and toss again. Season with more salt and pepper or lemon juice, to taste.

Variations

Replace the chopped tomato with green beans, Swiss chard, or broccoli: steam or boil the vegetables in salted water until tender-crisp. Drain, cool, and chop before mixing into the salad.

* Replace the fresh tomato with sticky oven-dried tomatoes: cut plum or cherry tomatoes in half, place on an oiled or parchment lined baking sheet cut-side-up, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake at 250 degrees F 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until they are wrinkled and the skins are starting to brown, or roast them at 350 degrees F for 1 hour for juicier results.

* Add diced cucumber, green pepper, and coarsely chopped green olives.

* Make a bulgur-chick pea salad with 1-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, sun-dried or oven-dried tomatoes, and crumbled feta cheese.

  Wheat Berry-Pomegranate Salad

We first ate Coliva–a wonderful mixture of wheat berries, toasted seeds and spices, dried fruit, herbs, and pomegranate seeds–during our long-ago travels in Greece. There it was sweetened with sugar and served as part of religious ceremonies, but I have adapted the flavors to make this salad.

Ingredients: 1 cup soft wheat berries (soaked overnight), 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, 1/4 cup currants, 1/4 cup golden raisins, 1 cup pomegranate seeds (1 pomegranate), 4 carrots (enough to make about 3 cups diced), 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, 2 Tbs chopped mint.

Spice-oil Vinaigrette: In a small skillet, warm 4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil with 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and 2 tsp lightly crushed cumin seed until small bubbles begin to rise around the garlic. Turn off the heat and let cool 30 seconds, then stir in 1/2 tsp ground coriander seed, 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper, pinch cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Let the spice oil steep 1 hour. Whisk in 4 Tbs fresh lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt.

Cook the wheat berries: Put the soaked wheat berries in a saucepan with 4 cups water  , 1/2 tsp salt, 1 bay leaf, and 2 sprigs fresh thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer partially covered until the wheat is tender but chewy–anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour or more. Cut the carrots into small dice or matchsticks. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; blanch the carrots 1 minute. Drain and cool.

Mix the cooled wheat berries and carrots with all the other ingredients (save the toasted sesame seeds to sprinkle on top). Toss with the vinaigrette. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Farro Salad with Roasted Cauliflower

Farro Salad

Farro is an ancient form of wheat widely used in Italy. Its large grains cook quickly to a tender-chewy texture. Emmer, spelt, or pearled barley could be used instead of farro.

Ingredients: 1 cup farro cooked with 1 carrot, 1 small onion, and 1 celery stalk; 1 head cauliflower, 1 pint quartered cherry tomatoes, 1/4-cup chopped green onion, 2 cups chopped mixed tender herbs (parsley, cilantro, arugula, mint),1 Tbs chopped fresh marjoram or oregano, 1 Tbs toasted whole cumin seed, 1/4 cup chopped green olives, and 1 Tbs capers

Vinaigrette: 1 garlic clove mashed to a paste with a pinch of coarse salt, 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 1 Tbs white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp lemon zest, 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Cook the farro: Toast the farro on a dry skillet for a few minutes. Transfer to a saucepan and add 1/2 tsp salt, 1 carrot cut in half lengthwise, 1 small onion cut in half, 1 celery stalk, 1 bay leaf, and 2 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 15 -20 minutes, until the farro is tender and pleasantly chewy. Drain any excess liquid and discard the vegetables and bay leaf. Put the farro on a large platter or mixing bowl to cool.

Making the salad: Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Cut the cauliflower into florets of equal size (about 3/4 to 1-inch), toss them with 3 Tbs olive oil and 1/2 tsp coarse salt, and spread them on a roasting pan. Cut the bell pepper in half and place it cut side down on another pan. Roast until the cauliflower is toasty brown and tender (25 to 30 minutes). Flip after 15 minutes. Mix the cauliflower, green onion, tomatoes, herbs, and cumin seed into the farro. Add the vinaigrette and toss to mix well. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Top with chopped olives and capers.

Good additions or substitutions: Chopped artichoke hearts, shelled peas or edamame (green soybeans), roasted zucchini and eggplant, toasted nuts or seeds, nasturtium flowers…

Wild Three-Grain Salad

Sometimes I like to substitute one grain for another in a salad or combine them for their different textures and flavors — a good opportunity to use up left over cooked grains. This salad combines three grains, kamut, quinoa, and wild rice, which have very different qualities that complement each other well. Kamut is an ancient strain of wheat with very large kernels and a nutty flavor. Quinoa is the seed of a plant related to lamb’s quarters, and true wild rice is the seed of a grass that grows in rivers and lakes and is harvested by hand (I feel very lucky when I get some delivered from Minnesota!) The grains should be cooked separately because of their different cooking times.

Ingredients: 1/2 cup kamut or triticale (soaked overnight), 1/2 cup wild rice, 1/2 cup quinoa, 1 finely chopped small red onion (rinsed in cold water), 1 finely chopped carrot, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1 diced green or yellow bell pepper, 3 or 4 chopped sundried tomatoes, 1/3 cup dried cranberries,  1/2 cup chopped green onion, 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro, 2 Tbs chopped mint, 2 Tbs chopped basil.

Vinaigrette: Mash 1 garlic clove to a paste with a pinch of coarse salt. Whisk in 2 Tbs fresh lime juice, 3 Tbs fresh orange juice, 1/2 tsp orange zest, 4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper.

Cook the grains: Put the kamut in a saucepan with 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat 35 to 45 minutes. Wash the wild rice, drain, and put in a saucepan with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat 15 minutes (true wild rice cooks very quickly!). Dry roast the quinoa briefly, stirring, in a saucepan. Add 1 cup water, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over very low heat 15 minutes.

Mix the cooled grains with the prepared vegetables and cranberries. Toss with the vinaigrette. Stir in the herbs. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Serve on a bed of baby arugula, spinach, or curly endive, and top with crumbled feta cheese.

Smoky the Dog

Smoky the dog supervising.

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Spring Salads

Yum, Salad!

My friend Marlis lives in a homemade house tucked into the woods, with an opening to the sun just large enough to grow a garden. Her garden is terraced into the hillside below the house–intensively planted beds overflowing with herbs, flowers, and vegetables. I followed her through the garden, picking leaves, sampling peas, uncovering a thriving carrot patch and rows of ruby-red beets beneath the vines. Marlis gathered ingredients for her favorite spring salad, which she made for our lunch. We ate on her tiny porch at a table overlooking the garden, talking about what a great science experiment having a garden is…. how fun to watch plants grow, to be close among them observing their likes and dislikes, and what a gift it is to spend time in their company. If you get something to eat in the bargain, that’s great!

Marlis’s Spring Salad with Orange-Ginger Vinaigrette

Fill a salad bowl with leaves: lettuce leaves of different shapes and colors, small spinach or chard leaves, arugula, endive…snippets of herbs, tips of pea vines…Grate one small carrot, one gorgeous red beet, and a knob of fresh ginger over the top.

Make the vinaigrette: Use a mortar and pestle to mash 1 garlic clove and a pinch of kosher salt to a paste. Put the garlic paste in a bowl with 5 Tbs fresh orange juice and1 Tbs fresh lime juice; let it sit 5 to 10 minutes. Whisk in 1 tsp chipotle chile in adobo, 1 tsp grated ginger, 1/2 tsp orange zest, 1 tsp white wine or cider vinegar, and 4 to 5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Pour the marinade over the salad. Toss gently. Sprinkle the top with toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

This vinaigrette would be a perfect dressing for a variety of steamed vegetables: beets, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, snow peas, zucchini…Serve them on top of a bed of spicy salad greens, perhaps tossed with buckwheat or rice noodles.

Snap Pea and Carrot Salad with Scallions

Spring vegetables are sweet and tender enough to eat raw, but cooking them just a little allows them to meld with the flavors of a dressing all the better.

Prepare the vegetables: Cut 3 or 4 young carrots into thin matchsticks about 3 inches long. Trim and cut 1/2 lb snap peas in half diagonally. Blanch the carrots and snap peas 1 minute in salted boiling water. Scoop them out and rinse briefly with cold water to cool.  Drain in a colander or salad spinner.

Thinly slice the white and tender green portion of 4 or 5 scallions. Finely chop a fresh jalapeno or serrano pepper. Coarsely chop 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, 1/2 cup cilantro, 1/4 cup chives, and 1/4 cup mint leaves.

Make the vinaigrette: Use a mortar and pestle to mash 1 garlic clove and a pinch of kosher salt to a smooth paste. Stir the paste together with 2 Tbs fresh lemon or lime juice and 1 Tbs rice or white wine vinegar. Add 1/2 tsp lemon or lime zest, 1 tsp minced fresh ginger, a pinch cayenne (or 6-8 toasted and ground Szechuan peppercorns). Let the mixture sit 5 to 10 minutes, then whisk in 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil and 1 Tbs toasted sesame oil.

Combine the carrots, peas, scallions, and jalapeno in a salad bowl. Toss with half the dressing and set aside 15 minutes to let the vegetables absorb the flavors.

Just before serving, toss the vegetables with the fresh herbs and season with salt. Drizzle on the reserved vinaigrette, toss, and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, lime juice, or vinegar to taste.

Zucchini Salad with Red Onion and Arugula

Zucchini Blossom

Use the youngest, freshest zucchini you can find. Slice 4 or 5 small zucchini (about 3/4 to 1 pound) diagonally into very thin (1/16-inch thick) ovals. Sprinkle the squash with kosher salt and place in a colander. Slice a small red onion into very thin rounds. Separate the rings and soak them in cold water.

Prepare the herbs: Chop or tear young arugula leaves to make about 3 cups. Roughly chop a handful of sorrel leaves, 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, 1/4 cup chives, and 1/4 cup mint leaves. Mix the herbs together with 1 Tbs capers (rinsed and chopped if large).

Make vinaigrette: Mash a garlic clove with a pinch of kosher salt to make a smooth paste. Put the paste into a bowl with 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/2 tsp lemon zest. Let it sit 5 to 10 minutes, then whisk in 5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil and 1/2 tsp curry powder.

Assemble the salad: Taste the zucchini; it should taste seasoned, but not too salty. Drain the onions and pat dry with a towel. Toss the vegetables with 1/2 the vinaigrette. Toss them again with the herbs and the remaining dressing. Taste the salad and adjust the seasoning; add salt, pepper, lemon juice, or curry powder if needed. Serve the salad on a large platter, topped with chickpeas and a sprinkling of cayenne or Aleppo pepper.

Slices of avocado would be most welcome.

More Yummy Salad!