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Published: Tuesday, 7/6/2004

Salad days: Cool dishes take heat off summer

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

On a sizzling summer day, salads make sense. They provide a satisfying meal without heating up the kitchen.

I've discovered there is no limit to the combinations of healthy ingredients that can yield a nutritionally balanced meal: a bit of protein, moderate amounts of carbs, plenty of antioxidants and vitamins in the veggies and fruit, and minimal fat via the dressing or marinade.

There's plenty of new ways to create delicious salads by using seasonal ingredients in new ways; marinated salads; revisiting classic salads, or combining cheese and fruit in salads. Some are filling enough for a main dish; others are great as side dishes.

During the coming weeks get your fill of seasonal ingredients, from fresh cherries and stone fruit like apricots to tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and corn. All make great salad ingredients.

Apricot Thai Salad takes advantage of easily purchased Thai ingredients and the sweet-tart flavor of fresh apricots. Toss the sliced apricots, cooked chicken, cucumber, and bean sprouts with a light dressing of rice vinegar, oil, cilantro, and a dash of chili oil. Peanuts and fresh lime juice complete the flavors and textures.

Or in a pasta salad, add Southwest ingredients such as cilantro, lime juice, seeded and chopped jalapeno pepper, green bell pepper, Mexican-style corn, grape tomatoes, and thinly sliced green onion.

The idea of using escabeche, a flavorful marinade added to cooked meat or poached poultry or seafood, to toss with salad greens or vegetables is also gaining attention. Escabeche is of Spanish origin and refers to poached or fried fish, covered with a spicy marinade and refrigerated 24 hours; it's usually served cold as an appetizer. The dish is popular in Spain and the Provencal region of France; in Jamaica, the name is escovitch, according to the Food Lover's Companion.

Once the ingredients are marinated, they can be tossed with salad greens or vegetables, rolled in a wrap, stuffed into pita pocket, or served alone. Because you are marinating already-cooked foods, the remaining marinade can be drizzled over the finished dish as a dressing. For example, Caribbean Marinated Shrimp and Scallops with jerk seasoning are served on a bed of fresh greens for a complete meal.

Escabeche is so convenient because you can make your own flavor combinations. Start with a base of vinegar; orange, lemon, or lime juice; wine; rum; soy sauce or honey. Next, add herbs and spices such as garlic, pepper, ginger, oregano, basil, or seasoning blends. As ingredients, take advantage of ready-to-eat foods from the supermarket such as grilled chicken breast strips, albacore tuna packed in water, packaged salad greens, and canned kidney beans. Or add the marinade to poached chicken or fish and serve with salad fixings.

Whatever your favorite salad - from potato salad to marinated bean salads to pasta salads - there are many ways to make it..

For a non-traditional bean salad, make Black Bean Salad by adding three colors of bell peppers to add zesty color and flavor. Serve this as a side salad or accompanied by other vegetables for a vegetarian entree.

Tomatoes deliver a splash of color and a tangy-sweet flavor. Combine tortellini pasta, tomatoes, and peas. Or make Shrimp, Couscous, and Marinated Tomato Salad finished with crumbled feta cheese. Couscous is a staple of North African cuisine; packaged precooked couscous is available in most supermarkets and in Middle Eastern markets. Couscous can be interchangeable with orzo (a tiny pasta) or cooked rice in salads.

Add cheese to any of these salads, from feta to small cubes of havarti or cheddar.

Cheese combined with fruit makes a tasty combination in many ways: Proscuitto and mozzarella with melon balls on a bed of salad greens, or grilled salmon served with slices of a variety of melons and red grapes.

Or make a dazzling fresh fruit salad with a variety of melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew), berries (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry), fresh pineapple, peaches and other stone fruit, fresh cherries and grapes. Serve with a plate of cheeses - a hard cheese, a soft cheese, and a specialty cheese, along with toasty crackers or slices of crusty bread.

Salad season has never been better!

Contact Kathie Smith at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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