DRESSING for SUMMER Splash on flavorful vinegars or stir in yogurt to give salads a light touch

July 15, 1992|By Jimmy Schmidt | Jimmy Schmidt,Knight-Ridder News Service

In last week's A La Carte story about Dressings for Summer from the Knight-Ridder News Service, there was an error in the recipe for Cucumber Salad. Here is the correct recipe:

Cucumber salad

Serves four

2 English cucumbers, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and cut into 1/4 -inch slices

2 tablespoons salt

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

freshly ground white pepper to taste

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

1 1/4 cups low-fat or plain yogurt

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

sprigs of mint or dill for garnish

In a colander, combine the cucumbers and salt. Place a bowl on top of the cucumbers and weigh bowl down with several unopened cans. Allow to drain until cucumbers are limp, about 1 hour. Rinse under cold running water, then submerge in ice water until recrisped, about 5 minutes. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels. Taste the cucumber to verify they are not salty; if they are, repeat the rinsing steps.

Transfer to a medium-size bowl. Add the lemon juice, mixing well. Add a generous -- of white pepper. Stir in yogurt, dill and mint. Adjust additional salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate. Garnish with the herbs just before serving.

Summer salads of yore, laden with mayonnaise and sour cream, have given way to lighter salads that use bright vinaigrettes, seasoned vinegars, citrus, salsa -- and for the creamy dishes, low-fat yogurt.

And there are a few things worth knowing if you're going to follow the trend this summer.

First, the best way to produce these clean-tasting new salads is to splash them with seasoned vinegars. Strongly flavored vinegars have more depth and background flavor than plain old red wine, cider or white vinegars.

For a mild fruit overtone that enhances many green vegetables and pastas, try vinegars flavored with raspberry or strawberry. Sherry and balsamic vinegars are also good choices with richer flavors.

Season your salad with salt and spices to balance the sharper flavors of the vinegars. A splash of olive oil or nut oils such as walnut or hazelnut will add a sheen to the salad and balance the flavor blend.

Your favorite vinaigrette or light salad dressing will work well, too. Make sure you mix them well to evenly distribute the oil and the vinegar. On heavier or duller-tasting vegetables, such as potatoes, you may need a flavor boost. Splash additional vinegar or citrus to raise the flavors over the oil content of the dressing.

Salsas, both the traditional red and the newer, wilder flavors, can spunk up a basic salad. To choose vegetables that complement the salsas, taste the combination together before making a giant batch.

Yogurt works well just about any time sour cream is called for in dressed salad. Yogurt is more tart than sour cream, so balance the flavors with salt and a good shot of fresh herbs. Cucumbers dressed in yogurt and mint or dill will change your mind on the perfect cucumber combination.

If you prefer creamy-style salads, select a recipe for modern mayonnaise that includes cooking the egg yolks slightly. That will help prevent food poisoning. Mayonnaise also can be made using mustard and lemon as the base. That will give your salad the texture of mayonnaise but without the heaviness.

The best flavor boosters for summer salads come from easy-to-grow herbs. Some of the perfect matches are green beans or their tiny cousin, the haricot vert, with tarragon and or chives.

Tomatoes, roasted sweet peppers and onions are a natural for the basil family. Dill seems created for cucumbers, and it's not bad for onions or summer squash, either. Corn is highlighted by the light flavor of chives and garlic chives.

Members of the hot pepper family definitely spark up any summer gathering. Try roasting hot fresh peppers over the grill or open flame until the outer skin is blackened. Cool in a bowl covered tightly with plastic wrap, then peel under running cold water. Remove the seeds and stem and add them to your salad.

To decide how much to add, take a small bite of the roasted, cleaned pepper to get an idea of the heat levels. Every pepper is different, so you'll want to add this carefully to achieve the desired level of heat.

Dried spices such as paprika, curries, caraway, celery seeds are best added after the flavors are developed. Add the spices to a little olive oil in a small skillet and heat over medium fire until they begin to bubble. Cook gently for just a couple of minutes to build the flavor and soften the dry texture, before adding to your savory salad.

The way you cook the vegetables is just as important. Blanch vegetables in salted boiling water until al dente, firm to the bite. The salt water is essential to help preserve the natural salt levels in the vegetables. Stop the vegetables from overcooking by draining into a colander and rinsing under running cold water. A bowl of ice water will shock the vegetables, but don't let them languish and become soggy in the chilling bath. Drain properly to avoid excess water that will thin and water down your salad.

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