Try these dishes perfect for salad days of summer

May 5, 2010 

Summer is fast approaching, and we who live in Middle Georgia know that our summers are not three months long, like it claims on calendars. We are blessed (or cursed) with almost six months of summer — or at least six months that require air conditioning to survive.

I’ll fire up the grill at the drop of a hat, but cooking inside is different.

Want the absolute best old fashioned flavor from grilling? Nothing beats grilling over charcoal. I miss the convenience of a propane-fired gas grill. I traded mine in for an old standard Weber kettle grill. Father knows best; my father would never stoop to gas grilling. So I’ll go ahead and say it: You were right, daddy.

Summer in my home means lots of salads. Vegetable salads, fruit salads, pasta salads, etc. And there must be homegrown tomatoes in heaven, because that’s exactly what they taste like.

Summer salads can be as simple as leafy lettuces tossed with a few other ingredients and a homemade dressing. More composed salads aren’t much more difficult, they just have more ingredients. Fresh fruit salads can be as simple or exotic as you like, taking advantage of what’s in season and what suits your fancy.

The main thing I try to focus on when using produce is this: Keep it fresh and keep it local. Eating seasonally and supporting our local farmers and growers means we’re supporting the “Slow Food Movement” as well as our local economy.

A homemade dressing takes just moments to prepare and elevates the salad to another dimension. Combine salad dressing or vinaigrette ingredients in a quart-size canning jar, secure the lid and then shake like crazy. You can even store the dressing (in the refrigerator, of course) in the same jar you prepare it in.

And an extra benefit: Most homemade vinaigrettes double as marinades. Bolder-flavored vinaigrettes are better used with beef and pork, while less-dominant-flavored vinaigrettes are best used with chicken and fish.

Today’s recipes are for some of my favorite salads.

Strawberry-Red Onion-Blue Cheese Salad is dressed with Strawberry Balsamic Reduction Vinaigrette.

Years ago, I was gifted with a great, thick balsamic vinegar with an enormous price tag (think designer handbags and shoes.) I fell in love with the bold flavor of this pricey vinegar and set about to create my own cheaper version.

Here’s what I do: Pour a cheap grocery store balsamic vinegar in stainless steel or other non-reactive metal saucepan. Bring to a boil on the stove and then immediately reduce the burner to the lowest setting. Let the vinegar slowly reduce to 1/4 the original volume. So good!

I’ll also share with you my recipes for Sweet & Tangy Sauerkraut Slaw, Summer Couscous Salad, Layered Cobb Salad and Tropical Fruit Salad with Spiced Rum Syrup.

Bon appetit, y’all!

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