Substantial summer salads
Wouldn’t you know it: The mood for salad struck this week, just as the hot spell finally broke and we got some rain? Where were my salad cravings when it was 100 degrees in my kitchen? As wilted as the greens in my refrigerator, I guess.
No matter. The salads I’m interested in this week are more than just greens-and-crunchy-stuff, they’re salad-as-a-meal, complex and flavorful but not the least bit difficult to make. And they use a lot of the same ingredients, but with quite different results. One brings back memories of my daughter-of-a-Southern-mother childhood; the other is a tradition from an entirely different part of the world. They’re both delicious – and they both benefit from an overnight stay in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld.
Tuscan Bread Salad
- 2 cups hearty bread*, cut or torn into bite-sided cubes. You want bread of substance for this, and you want it a little stale; I used the heel end of a round sourdough loaf I bought at the farmers’ market last weekend; whole-grain bread is also wonderful.
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 small cucumber, or a couple of lemon cucumbers*, scrubbed, peeled (if the peel is tough, otherwise don’t bother) and cut in chunks
- 2 medium ripe tomatoes*, cut in chunks, or several little tomatoes, halved. I used small BlackPlums from my garden
- 1/2 small onion, chopped*
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp capers (optional)
- 2-3 Tbsp fresh basil*, coarsely chopped and then rubbed between your hands to release the aromas
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Fresh greens*
- Pecorino romano cheese
Preheat oven to 350F. Toss the bread with 1 Tbsp olive oil, lay it out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, turning once, until the bread is toasty brown and fairly hard. Cool.
In a medium bowl, combine the bread, tomatoes, cucumbers and onion. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, capers and basil. Pour over the bread mixture and toss well to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the bread soak most of the liquid.
Before serving, correct seasoning if necessary. Dress plates with a bed of washed, torn greens, top with a generous portion of bread salad and use a vegetable peeler to shave a few curls of Pecorino romano cheese on top.
Serves two, generously (or one, with plenty left for the next day’s lunch). If you’re the sort of person who insists on protein at every meal, this is also very good with drained albacore tuna mixed in just before serving.
Black-eyed Pea Salad
I know, I know: People who didn’t grow up with black-eyed peas sometimes find them a little off-putting. An ex of mine once sampled my traditional mom’s-recipe New Year’s Eve black-eyed peas, grimaced and muttered, “Tastes like dirt.” I can’t argue with that – but to my mouth, that’s “earthy,” and it’s a great flavor, especially when the beans are cooked from scratch instead of dumped out of a can. Now, normally, I automatically throw a chunk of salt pork or (when I can find it) ham hock in with black-eyed peas. This salad is so flavorful, though, it can do without (vegetarians take note). And while I’m having it as a dinner side dish tonight, I plan to eat it again for lunch tomorrow, all by itself, and quite possibly dinner tomorrow night, too. It’s that good.
- 4 cups cooked black-eyed peas (or 2 cans, if you must, or an equivalent amount of frozen black-eyed peas.)
- 2 large tomatoes* (or an equivalent in smaller ones), chopped
- 1 large cucumber* (or 2-3 lemon cucumbers), peeled if necessary and chopped
- 1/2 medium onion*, finely chopped
- A fistful of fresh Italian parsley*, coarsely chopped
- 2 Tbsp fresh basil*, finely chopped
- 1 tsp fresh thyme*, chopped
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1-2 small hot peppers*, seeded and diced (I dipped into my endless supply of little red chiles of unknown provenance, provided by a friend who grows them in vast quantities)
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- salt and black pepper to taste
Cool and drain the cooked beans; if you’re using canned ones, rinse them to get rid of the liquid from the can, which is kind of nasty. If frozen, thaw them in the microwave, rinse and cool.
In a large bowl, combine the beans, tomatoes, cucumber and onions. Add the herbs and toss thoroughly to mix.
In a small bowl, combine garlic, peppers, olive oil, vinegar and sugar and whisk well to blend. Pour over the bean mixture, and toss until the beans are well-coated with dressing. Taste; add salt and pepper if necessary. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight. Serve with cornbread for a complete-protein vegetarian meal, or as an accompaniment to roasted pork tenderloin (rub a small, lean tenderloin with olive oil, pat on a mixture of paprika, dry mustard powder, cayenne and a little salt, and roast at 450F for about 20 minutes, until a meat thermometer registers 150 degrees. Remove from oven, cover with foil and let sit for 10 minutes or so to firm up before slicing on the diagonal into medallion.)
Makes 4-6 servings, and it’s a great potluck dish, too!
* Local ingredients, from the Albany farmers’ market or my garden