Summer is finally in full swing... after what seemed like the longest, hardest winter in memory. The farmer's markets are expanding from the meagre spring offerings to stalls filled with a wide selection of fruits and veggies, and our salads are improving with each week.
We eat a lot of fresh veggies at our house... and started moving into fresh over cooked early in the season. After a winter of cooked greens, we started eating our kale raw. We started looking for ways to add crunch and zest to our plates.
A few tricks for keeping hot summer meals easy on week nights is to prep food on the weekend - often fresh from the market. First, I wash all of the greens and keep them covered in a bowl in the fridge. This means picking up a handful and placing it directly on a plate when I need it. I don't bother dressing greens anymore - instead I place a number of (often pre made & pre dressed) heartier salads on top of the undressed base of greens.
I've tired of sloppy big green leaves and find myself preferring everything chopped small and fine. This makes for denser, crunchier salads. An added bonus is that these types of salads age, store and travel well too. Two important tools have been the mandolin slicer (for super fine slices of fennel or cabbage) and the grater - for carrots and beets.
Some salads store very well for a few days - bean salads (provided not too wet), slaws, and salads made from heartier veggies like fennel. I make a few salads at once, and rotate them over the next couple of days - and take them for lunch too. These dense salads make fantastic simple sides or dinner in and of themselves, particularly when one or more includes a form of protein like beans, nuts or cheese. Here is a sampling of some of our summer standards. I've included the classic caprese which requires little more than slicing a tomato.
Carrot Beet Salad
Grate peeled organic beets and carrots
Add olive oil, apple cider vinegar and celery seed (optional).
Celeric Slaw (no image)
Wash and peel celeriac root. Using a mandolin slicer make long thin strips of this crunchy white vegetable. Toss with finely chopped fresh parsley, a small amount of mayonnaise, dijon mustard and freshly ground black pepper. Celeric is available all year and makes an excellent winter side too!
Red Cabbage Slaw
Using a mandolin cut red cabbage on the finest slicer and then use the teeth to make thin crunchy strips of carrot. Toss with olive oil, apple cider vinegar and celery seed. You can use a knife and grater to make a less delicate looking, but just as tasty version of this salad.
Black Bean & Radish
Rinse black beans until the water runs clear and place in a bowl. Add radishes chopped into little cubes about the same size as the beans and lots of chopped cilantro. Sprinkle a light dusting of cayenne pepper, a dollop of good olive oil and squeeze in the juice of a fresh lime.
Finely slice fresh tomatoes and assemble on a platter. Slice bocconcini (fresh baby mozzarella) and place on top. Add chopped fresh basil and dress with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Finish with a dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Simple Arugula with Walnuts and Olives
Fresh baby arugula (or larger leaves chopped) with fresh walnuts (toasted or raw) and salt cured olives. Sprinkle good olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a light sprinkle of salt.
Pesto & Corn Potato Salad
mix fresh pesto (read labels on store bought pesto!),corn cut from roasted cobs, chopped fresh basil leaves, salt & pepper
and the tiniest fresh baby potatoes (boiled and cooled).
For a post on a number of variations on potato salad click HERE.
If you're wondering what the heck this post has to do with "gluten-free"... well, absolutely nothing. In fact - there are so many good foods out there that have nothing to do with gluten... perhaps that is the point :).
Winter is a season of pasta, and starchier comfort foods, but I've always found summer easier because fresh and lighter foods are more appealing when it's hot.
May your summer be full of foods so fresh and delicious, that you think about abundance more than lack. Add a glass of chilled vino bianco and celebrate virtuous and easy summer meals!