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Published: Monday, 7/6/2009

Refreshing ingredients bring cool, delicious flavors

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Don t underestimate how satisfying a summer salad can be.

Whether you are at home or traveling, camping or on a beach vacation, salads are refreshing, cool, and can be quite nutritious.

Pack the ingredients in your cooler or buy them when you reach your destination. At home you can make a cool dinner on a hot summer night using convenience ingredients or even cook ingredients on your grill, thanks to a salad recipe.

We had fun with two salads on a recent beach vacation.

Black Bean Salad adapted from a recipe by food celebrity Guy Fieri had canned corn and canned black beans, mixed with diced red bell pepper, jalapenos, green onion, and pineapple tidbits. The salad dressing was vinegar, honey, cumin, black pepper, and cilantro. In place of salt, we used sea salt. It was delicious with quite a kick.

It was served with fish tacos. Since we made a double recipe, the next day half of the remaining salad was mixed with bow tie pasta and a yogurt dressing.

In Mark Bittman s Kitchen Express (Simon & Schuster, $26), Black Bean and Mango Salad is colorful and can be wrapped in a flour tortilla with shredded lettuce: Rinse and drain a can of black beans and combine with a diced mango, a chopped red bell pepper; two or three chopped scallions, and some minced fresh chile. Drizzle with olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Toss with fresh chopped mint or cilantro and serve.

The most amazing salad was Jicama Slaw, adapted from a recipe by chef Emeril Lagasse. Jicama is a large bulbous root vegetable with a thin brown skin and white crunchy flesh. It can be served cooked or raw. The thin skin should be peeled before using.

The raw jicama is slightly sweet. When cooked, it stays crisp.

Armed with a grater, we shredded it like cole slaw, added diced red bell pepper, and a dressing of yogurt, lime juice, cider vinegar, sugar, chopped cilantro, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. It was delicious - refreshing and crunchy.

Chicken salads

Chicken salads are a perennial summer favorite. Classic recipes are also popular. Plus, there are so many new versions, you could pick a different recipe every week of the summer.

Chicken, particularly boneless and skinless breasts, are easy to prepare ahead for dinner salads. The white meat complements just about any bold spice or seasoning.

Grilled Lime Chicken with Avocado Salsa is great for a weeknight outdoor dinner. Coat or marinate boneless, skinless chicken breast halves in lime juice, olive oil, and salt. Diced avocado, red onion, and tomato makes a delicious salsa. Serve the chicken by slicing into strips and fanning onto to tossed green salad on plates. Top the chicken with the salsa. We really like the freshness of this salad, said Angela Benko who tested the salad for the Blade. The cilantro gives an extra kick. For the salsa, she used the vacuum-packed guacamole, which she bought in the produce section of Meijer s supermarket for about $3. Or you can make your own guacamole with diced and mashed avocado.

Cobb Salad with Grapes is made with romaine lettuce hearts, turkey breast (or chicken breasts), avocado, seedless grapes, crumbled blue cheese, bacon bits, and slivered almonds. Green Goddess Dressing is seasoned with minced tarragon or use a prepared blue cheese dressing for this entree salad.

Packaged precooked chicken can also be used to make these salads.

Salad greens

Making a healthy salad isn t hard. You don t need lots of high calorie ingredients or dressings to make a delicious salad.

Start with the greens advises Chow Line, an online publication of the Ohio State University. Iceberg lettuce isn t as full of nutrients as some other varieties of greens such as romaine lettuce which will automatically boost your intake of vitamins K, A, and C as well as folate, potassium, and other nutrients. Throw in some fresh spinach for variety.

Other green options are arugula which has a rich, peppery and slightly bitter flavor; Boston or Bibb lettuce known for tender, softly folding floppy leaves; escarole which has slightly curved pale green leaves; green or red leaf lettuce; mesclun which is a mixture of salad greens; and watercress.

Be generous with other vegetables such as tomato, chopped broccoli, cauliflower, shredded carrots, sliced bell peppers, cucumber, whole sugar-snap peas, and even a bit of avocado.

Fruit can do wonders to add flavor and interest to the standard salad. Grapes, mandarin oranges, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries are great additions. Finish with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

Or pick a robust blue cheese to pair with crisp Romaine as in the recipe for Romaine Hearts with Blue Cheese Dressing.

Romaine hearts can also be used to wrap savory or sweet-sour fillings as in the popular Asian rolls. Kids love Romaine hearts as dippers to capture dressings and dips. Or pinwheel individual Romaine leaves around chicken or tuna salad for a sunburst presentation.

Kathie Smith is The Blade s food editor.

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



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