Making a salad in the summer is not a question of what to include. It is a question of what to exclude. Peaches are coming off the trees; the birds and squirrels are fighting for ripe figs; most herbs are in full array; even my garden has a few berries ripening. Eggplants and zucchini are getting fat as they wait to be picked, and garlic is ready to come out of the ground.
Where salads once were based on the protein such as chicken, tuna or ham salad, now they are interchangeable and less important. They might or might not be included in the name of the recipe. Where fruit salads once were mostly for dessert, now vegetables welcome them to their side. To validate their place on the table, adding the words “charred” or “grilled” adds the appropriateness of including anything within reach.
Calling upon my recent bounty of gifts from a houseguest and neighbors, yield from my garden and trees, and ideas sparked by recent meals at Husk and goat.sheep.cow, I’ve come up with some changes in my recipes. Any of these could be called no-recipe recipes as neither the ingredients nor the measurements are strict.
My once tried-and-true recipe for Salad Nicoise includes definite ingredients. Now, I’ve swapped zucchini for the classic cucumber for a Tuna, Tomato and Green Bean Salad and served it in a rustic style. I like it better.
With the addition of a charred or grilled peach, Charred or Grilled Corn Salad becomes Charred Corn and Peach Salad. And, finally, a dip into the cupboard of my friend Cathy Nutatis produces Cucumber, Feta and Orzo Salad.
Changing the serving dish or bowl can substantively change the mood of the salad.
Cucumber, Feta and Orzo Salad
Nutatis found this recipe on Facebook some time ago and has adapted it. After she brought me some for lunch, it found a place in my repertoire. The recipe can be halved, but makes a gracious plenty as written. Leftovers keep easily in a plastic bag or covered container. Like any pasta, orzo can be cooked and drained ahead, tossed in a little oil and stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
Any protein can be added to this salad, but shrimp is in season and ever-so-easy to cook, so it is used here. Ham would be equally at home, as well as chicken and salmon. Goat cheese can be substituted, and orzo could be another small pasta or rice itself.
1 pound orzo
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup fresh fennel frond or dill, finely chopped (optional)
4 green onions or scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 seedless cucumber, diced
2 pounds shrimp, cooked and peeled
1 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Cook the orzo in boiling, salted water. Drain well and gently toss in a large bowl with the olive oil and lemon juice, salt, pepper and herbs.
When cooled, add diced vegetables and shrimp or other protein. Gently add feta or other goat cheese. Cover and refrigerate. Before serving, taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Additional olive oil and lemon juice can be added if salad seems to be a little dry.
Charred Corn and Peach Salad
Ever flexible, this salad could accommodate roasted pecans, almonds or peanuts. Using lime juice gives it a kind of South of the Border feel, particularly when combined with cilantro leaves and perhaps a Mexican cheese. But switch to red wine vinegar and thyme, oregano or basil and its personality changes completely. (I mention this as some people cannot abide cilantro.) Nectarines can be a little firmer to grill so they are a perfectly adaptable substitute for the peach. I use an indoor stovetop grill pan.
6 ears of corn, husked
1-3 peaches or nectarines, halved
10 cherry or grape tomatoes, preferably a mix of colors, such as yellow and red
1/3 cup lime juice or wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
1/2-1 cup fruity olive oil
1/2-1 cup herb leaves, torn or chopped
1 plum, sliced or wedged (optional)
6-10 blackberries (optional)
1/2 cup nuts, roasted peanuts, pecans, almonds
3 ounces cheese, such as goat cheese, Parmesan or mozzarella
Freshly ground pepper
Heat a grill or grill pan until very hot. Brush the corn with olive or other oil, and add to the hot grill, turning as necessary to char the kernels as desired. Remove and set aside until cool. When cool, cut kernels off the cob and set aside.
While grill is still hot, cut peach or nectarine in half and remove pit, leaving skin on. Brush oil on the cut sides of the fruit and add to the still hot grill, cut sides down. Grill until charred as desired, depending on ripeness of fruit. Remove and set aside. Add halved or whole tomatoes to the hot grill, turning as necessary and remove.
Meanwhile, whisk together lime juice or vinegar, Dijon mustard and half of the olive oil to make the salad dressing. Taste for seasoning and add more olive oil if necessary.
Add a quarter of the herbs to the dressing. Lightly toss the corn and tomatoes in the dressing. Arrange corn and tomatoes on a salad plate. Add plum slices and whole blackberries if using. Sprinkle the remaining herbs, roasted nuts and crumbled cheese atop. Add the charred peach halves to each plate, or cut peach in wedges and add. Drizzle with any remaining dressing, taste, and add salt and pepper if needed.
If serving in a bowl, proceed as above, tossing ingredients together.
Variation: If a protein is needed, toss about 1 cup of shredded or cut protein such as chicken, ham or seafood with the corn and tomatoes and the dressing made of juice or wine vinegar, mustard and olive oil. Gently add crumbled or grated cheese, blackberries and nuts and top with peach. The peach can be cut into wedges as necessary. Fresh figs could be cut and added here as well, charred if desired.
Tuna, Tomato and Green Bean Salad
Another very flexible salad, cooked green peas can be added to this, as well as cooked potatoes and even anchovies, including white.
Tuna fish comes in a variety of containers. Packed in oil is considered the best, but any will do. Some people like to use the olive oil in the dressing, but it depends strictly on the olive oil and personal preference. Of course, cooked shrimp, chicken, or pork could be added but care should be taken with the temperatures.
6 ounces tuna fish
6 ounces cooked green beans
1 medium zucchini or cucumber
1 pound tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups olive oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (thyme, basil, oregano)
Freshly grated pepper
1/3 cup pitted black olives, halved
Drain the tuna fish, reserving the olive oil, if desired.
Cut the cooked green bean in half, lengthwise, leaving a few uncut for presentation, if desired. Slice the zucchini or cucumber very thinly. If whole, cut the tomatoes into wedges. Halve cherry or grape tomatoes.
Whisk the vinegar, Dijon mustard and 1 cup of olive oil together in a large bowl. Taste. Add remaining oil as desired. Add chopped herbs, salt and pepper.
Toss the beans, zucchini and cucumber in the dressing. Toss the mixture lightly with the crumbled tuna fish, add tomatoes and olives.
Alternately, you can layer the components in a serving bowl with beans on bottom, then tuna, topping with zucchini or cucumber slices, and arranging tomatoes around edge. Brush tomatoes with any remaining dressing.