Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Garden Salads - The Refresher Course

Salad in the summer, is there another food topic more cliched or expounded upon? However, as a rabid salad lover, I wanted to nudge people in the direction of freeing their mind when it comes to what put into a general garden salad.

Unless you've grown your own, most people don't know that lettuces actually do very poorly in the summer heat. They bolt. Not for the door but to seed and become very bitter very quickly. So what is a salad lover to do?

As an avid lover of parsley and cilantro, quite often I will use a mix of these two herbs with summer vegetables to make a hearty meal of my salad. But today I remembered the French/Italian trick of really bolstering a summer salad: quick croutons. French and Italian peasants used up everything in the house, and frying up leftover old bread is where we get croutons.

Remember when croutons were all the rage in salads back in the mid 1980s? My family would fight over which seasoning we bought: Cesar, garlic or Italian herbs, and since we ate salad with every evening meal, we went through a lot of croutons. With the advent of the no-carb diet craze, croutons have disappeared faster than ice in July.

But in surveying my refrigerator today in search of items to bulk up my salad I spied some week old bread and realized I could make some quick croutons that would add some crunch and heft to my lunch. I sauteed them in some garlic and oil and as my dad would say, they were "just the ticket" to make my salad a meal!

Garden Salad with Quick Croutons

1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
handful basil leaves (from garden)
2 slices red onion, halved
1/2 zucchini, chopped
3-4 small tomatoes, quartered
1/2 avocado, diced
marinated artichokes (my own homemade from baby artichokes!)
4-5 black oil cured olives
2-3 slices peasant bread, toasted lightly, cubed
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper

Combine vegetables and herbs and set aside. Since I added marinated artichokes I used the marinade as the dressing and added salt and pepper to taste.

Heat skillet or wok, add oil and swirl to coat. Add chopped garlic and cook 1 minute until it begins to brown. (You can remove the garlic at this point if you like. I like it crunchy, but it can burn while the croutons fry). Add toasted bread and stir fry 2-3 minutes. The bread will soak up the oil and the garlic flavor. When they're done to your satisfaction, add to salad and toss to distribute evenly. Swirl additional oil on salad as desired.

NOTE: I love Mediterranean flavors, hence the olives and marinated artichokes. But people with more of a sweet tooth could add fresh berries or sections of fruit (oranges, peaches, plums) which would go better with cilantro and mint as opposed to parsley. Instead of raw zucchini or other squash, leftover roasted squash or eggplant is wonderful in this type of salad as well.


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