Salads

Kale Salad with Hazelnuts and Apple

No one would ever describe me as trendy.

I rarely look good in fashionable clothes and can’t figure out how to wear any new style of makeup.

Even when it comes to food, I’m often behind the times.

So, it’s no surprise I’m falling for kale just as it’s falling out of popular favour.

Kale became a culinary darling a few years ago, starting with an obsession for kale chips that spread like wildfire on food blogs. The simple recipe of tossing ripped leaves with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, then baking them to a crisp, spawned thousands of blog posts. Hailed as the ultimate snack, food blogs were filled with increasingly creative versions.

There was something about them popping up everywhere that made me specifically not want to try kale chips and, as a consequence of not really knowing what else to do with the cruciferous vegetable, not bothering to try kale at all.

And then I was served a kale salad at a potluck.

The greens were dressed with a vinaigrette spiked with grainy mustard and sprinkled with paper-thin radishes. I asked for seconds.

Turns out, my disinterest in following a trend had meant I had been missing out.

Since then, I’ve started making my own versions of that salad — adding apple for some sweetness and hazelnuts for crunch — taking advantage of the fact it pays to work ahead with kale. Dressing it in advance, unlike other salads, actually improves the salad, as the vinaigrette helps soften the otherwise tough leaves. The dark green vegetable stands up to the dressing so well, it makes for a great work lunch because there’s no need to keep the salad and the dressing separate.

A nutritional powerhouse, full of beta carotene and calcium, as well as vitamins K and C, kale should transcend trends.

But, of course, like anything that becomes a widespread hit, there is bound to a point in time when people begin tiring of it and want to move on to the next hot ingredient.

As 2014 marches on, some in the food community are starting to declare kale has reached a saturation point on restaurant menus and in recipes. It’s time for that trend to move along, they say.

I’m not against the idea of another ingredient getting some time in the spotlight.

But, luckily, since I never really pay attention to trends, that means kale will be on my menu for a long time to come.

Kale Salad with Hazelnuts and Apple

Like all salads, this one is infinitely adaptable. Swap out different nuts, replace the apple with dried cranberries or cherries or add thin slices of radish for a peppery punch.

Dressing:

  •  Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) grainy mustard
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) honey
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil

Salad:

  • 2 bunches kale, cored and roughly chopped
  • 1 crisp apple, julienned
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced

In a jar or bowl, shake or mix together the first seven dressing ingredients — from the lemon zest to the pepper — to dissolve the salt and honey. Add the olive oil and shake or mix again until the dressing has emulsified.

Add the chopped kale to a large bowl, pour over the dressing and toss well. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let the dressing soften the leaves. When ready to serve, add the apple, hazelnuts and green onions, tossing everything together.

Serves 4 to 6.

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad

I love my cookbook collection. And I enjoy lazy weekend afternoons flipping through these books, searching for cooking projects and ideas.

Some I have flagged with Post-it Notes already – markers of past inspiration. Others I remember from past cooking adventures (successful and otherwise). And still more are like bumping into old friends.

It’s an instant reconnection to recipes I have loved, forgotten about and am instantly stumped as to why I don’t make them more often.

This salad falls into that last category.
Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad II

The fact that it’s a salad speaks volumes.

But there’s something about this combination of cooling cabbage and mint with heat from the chili, sour of lime and salty fish sauce – with slices of chicken to make it all a bit more robust – that has me making this each time I rediscover it in Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites.

Bonus: It’s easy to put together.

Double bonus: Cabbage is really, really cheap.

Although Lawson calls for white cabbage, I like to mix purple and green because the colours – against the bright orange carrot, the wisps of dark green mint and flecks of red chili – make it a dish that’s also tasty to the eyes.

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad IV

The onions get soft and lose some of their bite by marinating in the dressing – a trick of Lawson’s that she also uses in her very fine recipe for Greek salad. They mellow as they sit in the lime juice and rice wine vinegar, taking on some of the slight sweetness of the bit of sugar as well.

As they sit, it’s quick to pull the rest of the salad together.

Some quick slicing of the cabbage, grating or julienning the carrot, as well as chopping up the chicken and you just about have enough time to tidy up before the onions are ready.

It’s a great way to use up leftover cooked chicken, though I have been known to cook some just to make this salad.

And, with all due respect to Lawson who says this will serve two to four people, I have been known to eat the entire thing. (Though, arguably, there are worse things to fill up on.)

I look forward to bumping into this recipe again.

Maybe I should flag it, so it won’t take quite as long.

Cabbage

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad Dressing

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad I

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad III

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad

Fish sauce is quite salty, so resist the urge to add any salt before the salad has been tossed well. The dressing doesn’t always look like it will coat all that cabbage and chicken, but it will.

  • 1 chili, preferably a hot Thai one, seeded and minced
  • 1 fat garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely sliced black pepper
  • 7 oz (200 g) cabbage, shredded
  • 1 medium carrot, shredded, julienned or grated
  • 7 oz (200 g) cooked chicken breast, shredded or cut into fine strips
  • 1 bunch mint, about 1 oz/30 g

In a bowl, combine the chili, garlic, sugar, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, oil, onion and black pepper to taste.

Put to one side for half an hour. Then, in a big plate or bowl, mix the cabbage, carrot, chicken and mint. Pour over the onion-soused, chili-flecked dressing and toss very well – slowly and patiently – so that everything is combined and covered thinly. Taste to see if you need salt or pepper.

Serve on a flat plate with maybe a bit more mint chopped on top.

Serves 2 to 4.

Quinoa Tabouleh

Some people impulse buy gum.

I impulse buy five-pound bags of quinoa.

Oh sure, I thought it was a lovely idea in that moment, romanced by all the things I could do with this versatile, healthy, nutritious ingredient chock full of protein and fibre.

Especially after I saw on the back of the hefty bag that I can cook quinoa in my rice cooker. (Cooking rice and rice-related ingredients? Not my forte. I blame it on a year living in Japan where my apartment came equipped with a rice cooker.)

And then I got the family-sized bag home, jammed it into my cupboard and kind of forgot about it as it occupied valuable real estate in my kitchen. I finally unearthed it many weeks later, concocting a biryani-style salad with currants, chickpeas and a curry-lime dressing.

And then I forgot about it again.

Since then, there has been a bit more experimenting with quinoa.

But there is also something to be said about going back to basics — honest-to-goodness classic dishes that remain in the cooking repertoire for a reason.

Things like tabouli.

Or tabbouli. Or even tabouleh.

Or however you want to spell it.

Quinoa Tabouleh III

In theory, this is a salad I should like. Mint and parsley, lemon juice, tomato and cucumber. All those herbs with that zip of acidic lemon, the crunch of cucumber and umami taste of tomato? I like all those things. A lot.

What I don’t like is bulgur, the grain traditionally used in tabbouleh salads.

I made a huge bowl of it once using a recipe that called for bulgur and then had to eat it for two days to get through it, hating it the entire time.

I didn’t like the taste or the chew and forcing myself to finish the thing, which had taken a bit of time and effort to prepare, did not help the situation.

So, as I was sorting through my cupboards the other day and stumbled across the still half-full bag of impulse quinoa, I was struck by a thought: why not make tabbouleh with a grain-like ingredient I actually enjoy?

And I pulled out my rice cooker and did exactly that.

Quinoa Tabouleh II

(As a result of cooking it this way, I can offer you no suggestions or guidelines for cooking quinoa, other than tell you what I was also told: give it a bit of a rinse or a soak – say about 10 minutes or so — before cooking, which should alleviate any of the bitterness you might taste otherwise.)

With the exception of using quinoa and the addition of a red (or orange or yellow) paper for a bit of additional colour and crunch, this recipe holds quite true to traditional tabbouleh.

It’s the abundance of herbs, slight onion bite from the green onions and generous amount of lemon juice that gives it such a refreshing and light taste.

It’s the substitution of quinoa for bulgur that makes it no hardship to finish it off pretty quickly.

And, thankfully, I still have plenty more quinoa to make this again.

A trio of peppers

Mint

A Cup of Tomatoes

Quinoa Tabouleh I

Quinoa Tabbouleh

  • 4 cups (1 L) cooked quinoa
  • 1 red, orange or yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 2 to 4 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 2 mini cucumbers, halved, seeded and sliced
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) mint, chopped
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) extra virgin olive oil

Cook quinoa according to directions. Let cool and place in large bowl. Add red pepper, tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers, mint and parsley. In separate bowl, mix lemon juice, salt and pepper. Whisk to dissolve salt. While whisking, slowly drizzle in olive oil to emulsify. Pour about ¾ of the dressing over the salad and toss. Add the remaining dressing if the salad seems dry.

Serves 4.

This piece originally ran in the Calgary Herald. For more great recipes and stories, head to the Herald’s food page at CalgaryHerald.com/life.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

You ever notice how one recipe can beget another?

Last summer when I was making my shaved asparagus pizza, I found myself snacking on the strands of asparagus that had been tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. (I’m completely unable to resist “testing” ingredients as I go along.)

It made me wonder why so few recipes I have stumbled across call for raw asparagus, which, when lightly dressed, is lovely.

Now that the stalks are appearing again on grocery shelves, it got me thinking. And then I stumbled across a salad recipe, which combined asparagus shavings with some other great loves of mine: Parmesan, prosciutto, mint and lemon.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

This salad is kind of like six degrees of separation.

Mint goes well with peas, which are lovely with asparagus, a natural match to prosciutto.

Well, really, what doesn’t prosciutto go well with?

And a lemon-based dressing adds some refreshing tartness, while a little bit of honey brings out the natural sweetness of the peas.

Now, I am the first one to up the amounts of salad goodies — more Parmesan, more prosciutto, please and thank you.

But in this case, I’m going to, unexpectedly, advise restraint. Messing with the fine balance between salt and sweet, meat and cheese, mint and vegetables can upset the equilibrium.

Too much cheese and the salt overpowers the delicate flavours of asparagus and mint.

Too much prosciutto overwhelms the texture of the salad.

When the proportions are right, this salad is perfection.

Right after finishing the photo shoot, I inhaled a bowlful.

I loved the spring green flavour of the thinly shaved asparagus, the sweet peas and bright mint with the slight tang of the mustard and lemon dressing.

The prosciutto didn’t hurt either.

All the greens contrasted with the pink of cured ham and cream of Parmesan is quite pretty and makes this a great dish for entertaining.

Serve it out on the deck with some crusty bread and a nice bottle of wine.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint II

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

This salad is from Epicurious by way of Serious Eats.

If fresh peas are in season, feel free to use them instead of frozen peas. Frozen peas are perfectly tasty, though. Just defrost in a sieve with some hot water. To get nice Parmesan shavings, let the cheese sit out on the counter for 10 or 15 minutes and then use a vegetable peeler.

  • 1½ cups (375 mL) peas
  • 1 lb (500 g) asparagus
  • 6 cups (1.5 L) salad greens
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) chopped mint
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) shaved Parmesan
  • 8 slices prosciutto, cut in strips
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) lemon juice
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) olive oil

Whisk together lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey and salt and pepper.

Drizzle in the oil slowly while still whisking to emulsify the dressing.

Test the dressing and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Place salad greens in a large bowl, add chopped mint and peas.

Using the woody end as a handle, hold the asparagus against a cutting board and use a vegetable peeler to make long strips. (These will vary in thickness, which is fine.)

After shaving, you will be left holding the rough end, which can be discarded.

Repeat with all the asparagus and then add the shavings to the salad.

Add sliced prosciutto. Toss with dressing (start with only a portion of the dressing and add more as necessary; the salad may not need all of it).

Top with shaved Parmesan.

Serves 4.

This first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and instructional videos, check out the Herald’s Food page.

Warm Lentil Salad

I can barely close my staples cupboard.

Between the lentils, couscous, pasta, and at least five types of rice, the shelves are jammed with an overabundance of ingredients. I’ve squeezed half-eaten packages of rice noodles over near-empty bags of Arborio and sushi rice. I have two types of couscous (regular and Israeli) and two of quinoa (regular and black). And there are at least three bags of lentils: one I bought on impulse because I liked the look of the green disks, mottled like tiny pebbles, a freezer bag of several cups my parents gave me during a visit because I expressed interest in eating more lentils and a third bag I inherited from a friend when she was moving away and was purging her cupboards of all foodstuffs.

The trouble is, I had no idea what to do with them.

Lentil Swirl

One of my New Year’s resolutions — which, I will admit, I’m not really fastidious about, though I like the idea of setting goals, even if I don’t always accomplish them. It’s like how I love to make lists and then check off tasks when I get them done – was to start attacking the staples cupboard in an effort to reduce the volume of ingredients in there.
Lentils, I decided, were to be the first challenge.

I must have read somewhere about warm lentil salads because that was the first thing that come to mind when I decided to tackle this. I have no recollection of when or where I would have stumbled across such a recipe. But I had such a firm idea in my mind of what I was looking for: cooked lentils studded with slightly sautéed carrot, celery and onion and then tossed in a French-style vinaigrette and served up still warm.

Warm Lentil Salad II

Most of the ones I found while searching called for goat cheese, bacon and sausage. I’m certainly not against the idea of adding any of those to a salad. (In fact, I would count those three things among my top favourite foods; certainly they are things that would improve a lot of salads.) But this was about using up what I already have in my kitchen. And the few ingredients in the recipe I finally found on Molly Wizenberg’s blog, Orangette, were all things I had on hand.

It comes together quickly, especially if you time it so you are chopping and then cooking the vegetables while the lentils quietly simmer away with a bay leaf. Drain them and toss into the pan of onions, carrots and celery, then slosh over the vinaigrette and stir. Sprinkle with parsley, some crunchy flaked sea salt and it’s ready.

After patiently photographing the dish in the last few moments of daylight, I took that first bite.

The earthy lentils combined with the slightly softened vegetables and the mustard-spiked dressing, along with the fresh green taste of parsley was perfect. The crunch of sea salt and the small sprinkle of vinegar for added tang put the dish over the top.

I polished off the entire bowl. And then scooped myself another one.

The simplicity of all the flavours came through, but together created a homey dish, perfect for a winter afternoon.
After eating this, I could see getting through the rest of the lentils won’t be a problem.

(Edited to add that I made this again less than a week later. That is how good it is. Go forth, make it. It’s easy and so delicious!)

Lentils

Mirepoix

Mirepoix with thyme

Warm Lentil Salad I

Warm Lentil Salad III

French-Style Warm Lentil Salad
This recipe comes frrom Molly Wizenberg of Orangette, which she had adapted from Epicurious.com. She says it is even better the second day, though I would add the caveat, “if you have any left.”

  • 1 cup (250 mL) French green (also known as “Puy”) lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 3 cups (750 mL) water
  • 1 Turkish bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon (2 mL) salt, divided
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 5 tablespoons (65 mL) olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons plus ½ tsp (27 mL) red wine vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon (7 mL) Dijon mustard
  • Crunchy sea salt, for serving
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) finely chopped Italian parsley, for serving

In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils, water, and bay leaf to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in ¼ teaspoon (1 mL) salt, and then simmer, covered, for another 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but not falling apart.

While the lentils simmer, warm 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and 1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just softened, about 7 to 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons (25 mL) vinegar, mustard, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) salt. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons (50 mL) olive oil, and whisk to emulsify.

When the lentils are ready, drain them in a colander or sieve, and discard the bay leaf. Dump them into the skillet with the vegetables, and add the vinaigrette. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, until heated through. Stir in the remaining ½ tsp (2 mL) vinegar, and serve warm, with crunchy salt and parsley for sprinkling.
Makes 4 side-dish servings

This originally ran in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes, check out the Herald’s online food section.

Quinoa Salad with Curry-Lime Vinaigrette

When Twitter first came on the scene, I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. I had Facebook and email and a blog already, so did I really need another way to connect with people? But I signed up anyway. And, as it has grown, I’ve come to see all sorts of benefits that I could not have previously imagined would come from this micro-blogging/communication/networking phenomenon. I’ve made new friends, found news stories and been given a few new recipe ideas.

This Quinoa Salad with Curry-Lime Vinaigrette is one of those recipes. A friend tweeted she had been thinking a lot about biryani-style quinoa dishes. I was curious and asked for links, which she happily sent along. I liked the idea of them, but neither of the recipes really grabbed me as a whole. Instead, I was more interested in picking and choosing the bits and pieces from each that were intriguing.

And I was more than motivated to try out something similar, having impulse bought a three-pound bag of quinoa from Costco. Seriously. Some people impulse buy gum; that makes a lot more sense.

Cooked quinoa

I’ve liked quinoa for some time, ever since trying it with veggies and a peanut sauce at the Coup. But the idea of cooking it was a bit intimidating. Various reports of it being bitter or improperly cooked were enough to make me shy away from it. And then I saw on the back of this bag that you could cook it in a rice cooker. Can I make a confession here? I don’t really know how to cook rice on the stove because a former boyfriend bought me a cooker when I came back from Japan (where I had fallen in love with the one in my little townhouse). Now that’s all I use. So, knowing I could make perfect quinoa in the rice cooker was enough for me to put the giant bag of the stuff in my equally giant Costco cart.

And then I got it home and didn’t really know what to do with it.

And here we are.

So, I made this salad with quinoa and carrots and zucchini, currants and pine nuts and sort of make-it-up-as-you-go-along dressing based on what I thought would be good with hints from the other two recipes I read. Tossed it all together and it was fantastic. So I ate some more. And then I tweeted it and people started asking for a recipe. So, I made it again last week and actually wrote down what went in this time.

I was at the farmer’s market and bought some oddly coloured carrots (because I also impulse buy strange vegetables) and used them in the salad because I thought they’d be pretty. They were. But the first time I made this I used straight up normal carrots and it was just as fantastic.

Funky white carrot

Purple Carrot

Oh, and here’s the best tip I’ve read in a while for julienning vegetables perfectly. First cut it in diagonal slices, then stack those and cut into sticks. So much easier and they always look fantastic.

Julienned Zucchini

This is great right away, even better if you can let it sit for a bit so everything has a chance to hang out.

Lastly, I’d say that the beauty of a salad is it is infinitely adaptable. Don’t like pine nuts? Use sliced almonds instead. Currants are great, but I bet diced apricots or a handful of dried cranberries would also be delicious. And so on.

Curry-lime vinaigrette

Quinoa salad with curry-lime vinaigrette

Quinoa Salad with Curry-Lime Vinaigrette

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 3 green onions
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • zest and juice of one lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup oil (I used olive because it’s what I had. Any veg oil will be great)

Cook quinoa according to package directions or using the “white rice” setting on a rice cooker. Set aside and let cool then place in large salad bowl.

Julienne carrots and zucchini, then slice green onions. Add to quinoa. Stir in chickpeas, toasted pine nuts and currants.

To make dressing, zest lime into a bowl, then add lime juice and honey. Whisk to dissolve honey, then add salt and spices. While whisking, slowly add oil to emulsify. Pour over salad and toss.

Feta-Watermelon Salad

Fruit and cheese is a natural combination. I like a nice wedge of brie with pear, have enjoyed dried apricots and a little Gouda and, of course, apple and cheddar are a classic pairing for a reason.

Over the years I’ve seen the combination of feta and watermelon crop up in cookbooks, on blogs and in menus. For a long time I just could not wrap my head around the idea of matching the sharp, salty tang of feta with a sweet and luscious watermelon.

Feta-Watermelon Salad II

It seemed an incongruous match. A slightly chalky cheese with a juicy fruit? I could not be tempted. But I finally broke down and ordered a salad with feta and watermelon at a local restaurant a few months ago. Curiosity got the best of me, I guess. And then I mentally kicked myself for waiting so long.

Where I had expected incompatibility, I found harmony. A harmony that almost tempted me to lick my plate. Decorum reigned, but the salad has remained at the back of my mind for the last few months.

I was never a big watermelon eater. Sure, we’d eat wedges of it during summer as kids, coating our faces in the fruit’s juices as we sat on the back porch. It was a cool and refreshing treat and a nice way to pause between runs through the sprinkler on the lawn. I never did get the hang of spitting seeds, though.

Watermelon II

As I grew older, watermelon dropped off my radar. I never bought it for myself, ate it only when it was part of some fruit salad. Until this dinner out, when I realized this giant fruit could be just as sophisticated as the combination of brie and pear, while still holding that faint taste of childhood summers.

A baby watermelon I found at the farmer’s market sealed the deal. It was time to make this salad my own.

There are myriad variations of feta-watermelon salad on the Internet, and even one or two in my rather large cookbook collection. But each one had some ingredient that held no appeal for me or they appeared to be missing something I believed was crucial. In the end, I simply took from each what I thought was right: watermelon for the sweet; feta for the salt; cucumber for crunch; lime juice for tang; red onion for some sharpness; olive oil for that fruity, grassy flavour; and, of course, mint.

The mint certainly kicked it over the edge for me. That small addition transformed the simple salt-sweet combination into something spectacular.

I used a Nigella Lawson trick of marinating the sliced onions in acid — in this case lime juice — which she uses in several recipes, including her own version of feta-watermelon salad. The lime juice takes some of the bite away from the red onions while not robbing their flavour, and also creates a lovely pink colour for the dressing.

I don’t want to get too romantic about this salad, but it did taste a lot like I was eating a summer afternoon. Refreshing like a cold drink, but with the punch of feta and soothing mint. I probably could have eaten the entire bowl.

Which would have been for the best, because this salad really doesn’t keep. Only make as much as you’re going to need, because the watermelon does break down relatively quickly. Not that it didn’t still taste as good — it just lost some of its visual appeal.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to make adjustments as you see fit. Want more feta? Go for it. Think the watermelon cubes should be bigger? Smaller? Not cubed at all? Be my guest. This is a salad, after all, so tailor it to your own tastes. As long as the core ingredients remain the same, it will be tasty.

Mint

Watermelon I

Onions

Feta-Watermelon Salad I

Feta-Watermelon Salad with Mint

  • ½ cup (125 mL) lime juice, from 3 to 4 limes
  • ½ red onion (or one small one), peeled and sliced thinly into half-moons
  • 8 cups (2L) watermelon, cut into ½ inch (2 cm) cubes, one tiny watermelon or ¼ of a large one
  • ½ English cucumber or 3 baby cucumbers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) feta, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup (125 mL) mint, chiffonade

Juice the limes into a bowl. Slice the red onion and add to the lime juice to marinate while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Cut watermelon into slices, remove rind and chop into chunks. Dump them in a large salad bowl and top with cucumber slices and feta cubes. Add olive oil to red onion-lime juice mixture, stir and then pour over salad.

Roll mint leaves into a cigar and slice thinly into strands. Sprinkle over salad, toss and serve.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.

Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction

I have virtually given up on tomatoes. The ones from the supermarket are bland, flavourless faux tomatoes and are hardly worth buying. Grape tomatoes are about the only ones I bother buying any more because they still seem to have some tomato-y taste.

As a kid, summers were spent with my grandparents on one of the Gulf Islands. They grew their own tomatoes and I would eat them off the vine, warm from the sun and bursting with that summery taste. I loved too the green, fresh smell that came when I brushed up against the dark green plants. Years later I bought a perfume from Demeter called Tomato that has somehow recreated that smell of the tomato vines. When I put it on, I’m transported back to my grandfather’s garden with its tall chicken-wire walls to keep the deer out.

So, when I saw a package of Heirloom Tomatoes at the farmer’s market recently, I ignored the price tag and put them in my basket. It was an odd little collection of cherry tomatoes, green tomatoes, some purplish ones and pear-shaped ones.

Heirloom Tomatoes

When I got home, I started eating them right out of the cellophane package, some straight up, others split in half and sprinkled with a bit of sea salt.

Most tasted like tomatoes, with the exception of the Green Zebra.

Heirloom Tomato

While I could have eaten them all just standing at the kitchen counter, I decided to make a very basic salad with just tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and some reduced Balsamic vinegar.

I know I have already mentioned my love of all things vinegar, but reducing Balsamic gives it a sweeter, more syrupy consistency. Which makes it great for this type of salad because then you don’t need to make a full vinaigrette. It’s also great on sliced strawberries or on tomato tarts, among other things.

Making a Balsamic Reduction is super simple. Just pour a cup of the vinegar in a saucepan, put it on medium-high heat and let it reduce until it is thick and coats the back of a spoon. Some recipes suggest adding some sugar, but I have always liked my dressings tarter than not, so I don’t bother.

Drizzle over cut tomatoes and then add a bit of olive oil.

This would also be great on a more traditional Caprese salad with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.

Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction

Fresh Corn Salad

A group of friends and I were talking about things we like to make for dinner a couple of weeks ago, when one mentioned her relatively recently acquired love of all things barbecue. And that, inevitably, led to a discussion about side dishes.

There has been a lot of recipes lately for grilled corn, which sounds delicious (especially when there is also talk about chili-lime butter to spread on after), but I am a sad city dweller with no patio/balcony/deck and, subsequently, no hibachi/grill/barbecue. But that doesn’t mean that I miss out when corn is in season.

Corn on the cob

Every summer I make a few rounds of Fresh Corn Salad, when corn on the cob is ripe and basil is plentiful at the Farmer’s Market. There are only seven ingredients in this salad, and that includes the dressing.

This is really easy to throw together and well worth the effort. (Okay, maybe the actual cutting-the-corn-off-the-cob is a bit messy.) (I recently saw this gadget that strips the kernels from the cob and while I love all things gadgety, even I feel that’s a bit much.)

I did initially have a tough time finding cider vinegar, but then found some at my local Safeway (along with another much-loved Barefoot Contessa ingredient: champagne vinegar. Um, actually, I just looked and mine is “champagne style.” What can I say? I’m a champagne girl on a “champagne-style” budget.) They come in pretty small bottles, but I don’t use cider vinegar all that often, so it works out.

basil and red onion

Corn off the cob

Fresh Corn Salad

This recipe is from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

Fresh Corn Salad

  • 5 ears corn, shucked
  • 1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
  • 3 tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. good olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chiffonade fresh basil leaves

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn for 3 minutes until the starchiness is just gone. Drain and immerse it in ice water to stop the cooking and set the colour. When the corn is cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.

Toss the kernels in a large bowl with the red onions, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil. Taste for seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature.

Saifun Salad

I don’t know why I always forget how great T&T supermarket is.

Yesterday, I went grocery shopping. After 10 days away it was time to restock the fridge with vegetables and fresh herbs. I was really craving fresh herbs now that the temperature is starting to climb. (Mother Nature is, apparently, apologizing for the extra long winter by moving us straight into summer.) Safeway was out of basil, though, so after dropping a friend off at the airport this morning, I decided to quickly stop by T&T in the city’s northeast.

Let’s do a little comparison shopping, shall we?

Two shallots at Safeway: $1.99

Bag of eight shallots at T&T: $1.49

Shallots

Packages of herbs at Safeway: $2.49

Bag of Thai basil about three sizes larger than Safeway’s: $2.64 (by weight)

Fresh herbs

Okay, so I only needed a little bit of basil, but bonus basil means more room for creativity. Now, instead of one or two recipes that call for the stuff, I can make three or four. With three baby cucumbers sitting in my car (from my aforementioned friend who needed to ditch the last of her produce before heading on holidays), grape tomatoes at home and a package of mint also sitting in my fridge, I remembered this great little summer salad recipe that uses Saifun noodles.

Saifun noodles — before the softening

Saifun noodles softening

These noodles — also known as mung bean noodles, bean threads or vermicelli — are the perfect summer food. They don’t need to be boiled, just reconstituted in a little hot water, which is easily done while chopping the rest of the ingredients. The noodles are light and when dressed with lime, rice vinegar, garlic and fresh herbs can be very refreshing. The hits of fresh herbs also make it super tasty.

For the record, Thai basil (also known as holy basil, apparently) does not taste the same as traditional Italian basil, so I wouldn’t suggest using it for your favourite tomato sauce or other Italian dishes. But if it’s a Thai, Vietnamese or southeast Asian recipe that calls for basil, you could definitely use Thai basil if you can find it. A lot of Asian grocers seem to carry it, so keep an eye out.

Thai basil

I originally found this recipe in the Edmonton Journal. My additions and changes are noted in italics. Also note that these noodles suck up the vinaigrette like string sponges, so, when in doubt, don’t skimp. Oh, and I like to use those baby cucumbers that seem to be cropping up everywhere these days; they’re less bitter than the long English cukes. Either way, I’d recommend scraping out the seeds because that ups the soggy factor if you’re not eating it all in one go (or, of course, serving it all in one go).

Saifun Salad ingredients

Saifun Salad dressing and kitchen mess

Saifun Salad before the dressing

Saifun Salad with the dressing

Saifun Salad

  • 8 oz. (250 grams) saifun bean thread noodles
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes (I chop mine in half so they stretch further)
  • 1 small cucumber, diced
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 or 3 green onions, minced
  • a few cilantro leaves, chopped (cilantro and I are not friends. I do not like it nor understand everyone’s obsession with it. If you like it, by all means add it; I do not.)

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • grated zest and juice of one lime
  • 2 tbsp. Thai basil, torn (Of course, if you can only find Italian, that’s fine.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, mashed (I mash them, throw them in the dressing, then fish them out just before eating so as to impart as much garlic flavour but without the burn of eating raw garlic.)
  • 1 tsp. red chile paste
  • 2 tsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil (I’m sure any vegetable oil will do. But I wouldn’t use olive oil, which I feel would overpower the light flavours of the salad.)
  • 1/2 tsp. sesame oil (I usually don’t add this because I find it overpowering.)

Soak the noodles in a bowl of warm water just until softened, about five minutes, then cook one minute in boiling water. (I simply cover them with boiling water and wait about five or six minutes for them to soften.) Drain and immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Cover and store in the fridge until ready to make the salad.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Taste to check for seasonings.

Place cold noodles in a large salad bowl. Add tomatoes, cucumber, onions and herbs. Top with dressing and toss well, then put the salad in the fridge for about 30 minutes before serving, so the noodles have a chance to soak up the flavours of the dressing.