A peach salad not only looks pretty, it’s like a cold culinary shower on a hot day. (photo from pickpik.com)
Recently, I was food-shamed. Not for binge eating. Or for eating too much junk food. But for not eating enough vegetables. Guilty as charged. But seriously? In my own defence, I have a gut (or at least part of one) that doesn’t play nicely in the sandbox with all vegetables. Truth to tell, it can be somewhat of a bully.
Just to set the record straight, I wasn’t always veggie averse. A few short years ago, I could wolf down Caesar salads, corn on the cob and sautéed kale like nobody’s business. It’s mostly a distant memory now, though. But I can still share the love, even if I can’t eat all the food.
Being a bit of a COVID weeny, I’m not entirely comfortable going out to restaurants yet, so I continue to make do at home. Until recently, when the beautiful fresh veggies and fruits started showing up at the party, my fallback positions were fish, chicken and beef; the occasional pasta dish. It was getting a tad dull. So I’m thrilled that I now can eat lighter and fresher.
Here are a few of my favourite lazy summer salads. Nobody likes easy recipes quite like I do. My rule of thumb is this: if a recipe calls for a foodstuff or piece of equipment that a) I’ve never heard of, or b) I don’t know how to pronounce, there’s no way on earth I’m trying it. Hence, lazy-girl recipes are my specialty. The following are not only super-healthy, but they’ll hit the spot on days when you just don’t feel like cooking for real. And what better time to take advantage of all the fresh seasonal fruits and veggies available everywhere in Vancouver? This first salad not only looks pretty, it’s like a cold culinary shower on a hot day.
PEACHY SUMMER SALAD
Roma tomatoes, diced
can of corn niblets, drained
red or sweet onion, finely diced
fresh mint or basil, chopped or cut chiffonade
Throw together a vinaigrette from olive oil and balsamic vinegar and, voilà, you’ve got yourself a refreshing, easy salad that’s a surefire crowd-pleaser. If, however, you’re a card-carrying carnivore like me, you might want to follow it up with an eight-ounce ribeye chaser.
Another summer fave is Sunomono salad. It’s a cold Japanese salad made of rice vermicelli noodles swimming in a rice wine vinegar dressing, if you will. You can add almost about anything to jazz it up, but, being a purist, I only like to throw in some thinly sliced English cucumber and maybe a bit of shredded carrot. If you crave protein, imitation crab will jack it up a notch. There are a variety of recipes for the dressing, but this is my no-fail go-to.
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
small squeeze of lemon juice
few drops of soy sauce
rice vermicelli noodles
Shake the first five ingredients together in a jar, then pour it over cooked and rinsed, cold rice vermicelli noodles. Don’t add too much dressing to each bowl, as it’s quite concentrated – just add enough to cover the noodles. Leftovers can stay in the fridge for a day or two. Sunomono is obviously too flimsy to be a main dish, but it makes a great starter or side dish and goes with everything, particularly fish. Think of it as a Japanese palate cleanser.
For a heartier salad that can double as a main dish (depending on your appetite), I’m a big fan of cold orzo salad. Since this salad is pasta-based, it’s much more filling than just a bowl full of veggies or fruit. And, with the bold-flavoured ingredients, it’s got a depth to it that belies its simplicity.
COLD ORZO SALAD
8 oz orzo pasta
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped (or more, to taste)
4 oz baby spinach (split in two bunches)
6 oz feta cheese, roughly crumbled
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted on the stove or in the toaster oven (optional)
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped (optional)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or less, to taste)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (you can substitute lemon juice or regular vinegar)
salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the orzo eight to 10 minutes for al dente, or a bit longer if you like it softer. Drain and rinse with cold water.
- Puree half the spinach and one tablespoon of the olive oil in a blender. Put cooled orzo in a big bowl and stir in the pureed spinach/olive oil mixture until the orzo is well-coated with the spinach puree.
- Roughly chop the other half of the spinach. Lighty mix the chopped spinach, feta cheese, pine nuts, Kalamata olives and red onion in with the orzo.
- Make the dressing in a small jar by combining the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil with the balsamic vinegar and the red wine vinegar. Put the lid on the jar and shake it to mix well, or whisk it all together in a small bowl. Pour over orzo mixture and gently mix till it’s all incorporated.
- Chill the salad for at least an hour before serving to let the flavours meld.
To round out your meal, buy or make a simple rosemary focaccia. I make one from scratch (in a cast-iron pan) that’s to live for. Sure, it’s easier to buy one, but, if you really want to dazzle your dining companion(s), I suggest putting in the extra effort. Believe me, the effort/reward ratio is huge.
I found my recipe online at flavorthemoments.com/one-hour-rosemary-focaccia-bread and the only things I leave out are the garlic and parmesan, but it’s up to you. You could also add chopped Kalamata or green olives to it, but keep in mind it calls for coarse kosher salt sprinkled on top, so it’s already high in sodium. The focaccia turns outs camera-ready gorgeous and tastes heavenly straight out of the oven, dipped in EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). I mean, who doesn’t love fresh bread? With the hot weather right around the corner (that’s the optimist in me), now might not be the best time to bake bread, but that’s your call. If you ask me, it’s totally worth it.
So, give yourself a break, throw together a salad for dinner and call it a day. If your spouse, partner or you are still hungry after all that, do what I do – order in pizza.
Shelley Civkin, aka the Accidental Balabusta, is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.