Monday, August 20, 2012

Summer Salads

It is hot.  Literally, meltingly, sticky, sweaty, hot.  It is, oddly, too hot to go to the beach.  You have to stay in the water the whole time, and people tanning under the relentless sun grimace, popping their heads up after a few minutes of laying out and trudge to the water, squinting into the distance and sighing.  My neighbor told me today that this is the hottest summer she remembers in her whole life here in Monterosso.  I don't know if that is true, or one of those comments you hear repeated every year when the temperature starts to climb, but regardless, it's unpleasant.  It's hide-in-the-air-conditioning weather.

Since it's too hot to move, it's certainly too hot to eat hot foods.  For me, this is salad season, especially for lunch.  Since a girl can't live on lettuce alone, I've started twisting around old classics that I miss, like a good old fashioned American chicken salad, and the German potato salad of my childhood.  They make both here, but the chicken salad I've eaten is a little too oily for me, and the potato salad a little too simple.

Growing up, there was a wonderful little German deli down the street from our house where my dad and I would stop every Saturday after my painting lessons for reubens and potato salad and those giant, juicy sour pickles that are wrapped so satisfyingly in paper.  The potato salad is tart and sweet, and made with vinegar and sugar instead of heaps of mayo, and is easy to make and to recreate, as the ingredients are familiar here too (ok, mustard seed my mom mailed me, and I didn't have any bacon laying around, but I adapted).  The chicken salad I made is full of summer vegetables and spices, but also mayo-free and light.  Aside from the effort of chopping vegetables, boiling some potatoes and grilling some chicken, both are easy to make and light but filling to eat - another added plus when it's just too hot to move.

"German" potato salad

Potatoes (I used a little over 1/2 a kg of new potatoes, peeled)
Hefty handful of green beans, ends snapped off
1 long stalk celery, with leaves, diced
1/4 red onion, sliced very thin
1/2 bunch of rucola (arugula), chopped
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp dill
1/2 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp caraway seed
1 tsp dijon mustard
Olive oil, salt, pepper

Toss the potatoes and green beans into a pot of water, bring to a boil.  After a few minutes, take out the green beans and shock quickly in a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking and keep the color.  Keep the potatoes cooking until a knife can easily slide into them, then drain from the water and set aside.  In another large bowl, add the celery, rucola (you can easily omit this if the peppery taste is too much for you), onion, vinegar, sugar, dill, mustard seed, caraway seed and mustard, and mix together.  When throughly mixed, set aside as you chop the cooked green beans and then potatoes into thin slices or chunks.  Add the potatoes and green beans to the mixture, drizzle lightly with the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.  Mix well, and taste - I prefer more vinegar and dill in mine, and you can adjust the recipe as you prefer.  Cool the salad in the fridge - I like it when it's cool, not cold, and certainly not hot.

Note:  Another great idea is sauteeing the onion with some bacon, using the bacon fat to cook the onion, then adding that to the salad.

Tagine Spiced Chicken Salad

2 large chicken breasts
Tagine spice mixture (I used a mix of paprika, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cumin, cardamom, black pepper and salt)
2 zucchini, chopped into thin slices
1 carrot, sliced paper thin
1/2 cucumber, peeled and sliced thin
1/4 red onion, chopped thin
Handful of cherry tomatoes, diced
1 stalk of celery, chopped thin with leaves
1/2 avocado, cubed
Olive oil, Red wine vinegar, salt and pepper

Potato Salad on the left, chicken on the right
Heat a grill pan on the stove (or a grill if you are lucky enough to have one).  Coat the raw chicken on both sides with a good amount of the spice mixture.  Cook the chicken for 3-4 minutes on each side, reseasoning if you lose some of the spice crust on the pan. When the chicken is cooked through, set aside.  Add your chopped vegetables to a large bowl (except for the avocado), and dress with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  When the chicken is cooled, chop or shred it into small pieces, and add to the vegetable mixture.  Add the avocado last so it doesn't get mushed to a pulp as you mix the ingredients together.  Serve cool or at room temperature, and enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Christine, you have brought back some fond memories.
    I do miss those reubens...we always had to get that old guy to make them, otherwise they did not have the right combinations of corn beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing on toasted rye bread. Since they closed, I have never found anyplace that makes them as well. Along with those pickles and the German potato salad, you had a great meal. I love Italian food, with a cook as good as your mother, what’s not to live? But I will always have a soft spot in my heart as well as an empty spot in my stomach for those reubens, as well as the other German food of my childhood.