Monday, June 14, 2010

Salad days of summer...

For even to those who LOVE to cook, hot humid summer days can make it feel like a chore. With some minor preparation one can eat well and stay cool through the unavoidable heat waves of summer. Here are a couple salad tips that I depend on lazy summer days when the heat gets oppressive. Many salads are not only nutritious and tasty but can be kept for several days in the refrigerator which makes it even easier to be lazy. For example, legume and grain salads are perfect to provide essential proteins and complexe carbohydrates to one's diet and the best part is that once assembled their shelf life is quite astonishing.

I eat a lot of lentils and kamut when summer rolls around but other types of beans and grain are always cycling through to provide variety in taste and texture. Every week I will cook a cup of lentils and a cup of kamut and drain, cool and refrigerate. Keeping ready to use hearty vegetables (cabbage, spinach, celery, tomatoes, cucumbers...) around also help to avoid turning on the stove. Any beans, grains and veggies can be tossed together with any vinaigrette for an instant meal. Throw in some leftover chicken or duck and you can really fancy things up. Here are my thoughts on some of my favourite salad components.

Lentils: hands down, I prefer Dupuy (sometimes called French) or black caviar lentils over any other types for salad. Yellow, red, white and flat green lentils are great for soups but break down into a mush when cooking before you can even mix them into a salad. I never buy canned lentils because they are already soupy and lentils do not need soaking time and take very little time to cook from dry.

Beans: navy, kidney, black beans require soaking or a lengthy cooking period but the texture is significantly better for salads going from dry than canned. But in a pinch I'll use a can.

Grains: whole grains are great for their variety is endless. Quinoa, kamut, barley, millet, They come in all shapes and sizes and are an important part of a dishes textural landscape. I love kamut for it's chewy, almost crunchy snap. Quinoa is almost like caviar the way it pops lightly when chewed. Barley is chewy too but with a soft finish. All of these are terrific salad choices so remember to pair your ingredient's textures as well as flavours and colours.

Cabbage: until this spring cabbage and I were mere acquaintances. After spending some time with my sister-in-law, I learned the virtues that cabbage can bring to your health and especially your palate. Who knew that sautéing cabbage with salt and garlic could be so delicious...more about that here (link to follow). Coleslaw is a highly underrated dish. Because it has been paired to so many types of fast foods, the benefits and simplicity of this humble salad has all but been forgotten. Coleslaw is another one of those salads that not only keeps for days but also benefits from a "resting" period before serving. It's best to make a coleslaw a day in advance to allow all the ingredients to "marry" each other, to walk down the aisle (throat) in perfect harmony. Also, there are digestive and other health benefits that I will get into another time. Recipe here.

Cucumbers: if you draw most of the water out of a cucumber you can retain is crunchy snap and it will keep mixed with dressing for a few days without watering down. Simply toss cucumber slices with generous amount of salt and massage the slices a little to get them started. Then you can let time do it's work and let them sit in a strainer over a bowl for a couple hours or even overnight. These can be added with the legumes and grains or just tossed with a vinaigrette. For the recipe of my popular creamy cucumber dill salad, go here.

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