Summer Salads

They're all dressed up and bursting with flavor

June 02, 1999|By Kathy Casey | Kathy Casey,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Summer is most certainly the time for cold salads. And outdoor entertaining can be as simple as a buffet of delicious "dish-up" salads with some great bread and wine. Or, combine them with the more traditional act of throwing a few steaks on the barbie.

Let's start with potato salad. How many versions can there possibly be? Sweet German, mustard and eggy Mom's style, hip sweet potato with spicy chutney dressing, baked potatoes with bacon, chives ... just like with all the fixin's.

The recipe I've included is Greek style, lightened up for hot weather with lots of veggies -- cucumber, roasted pepper, onion -- and red potatoes, all tossed with fresh oregano and feta cheese.

The other American favorite is coleslaw, which always seems to be problematic for the cook: Dressings for the slaw usually weep, which takes all the flavor out of the salad.

The secret is a cooked dressing that is very thick. Thus when the cabbage weeps, it makes the dressing just the right consistency. The Tangy Poppy Seed and Pineapple Coleslaw has this type of thickened dressing and is just perfect to serve alongside barbecue-sauce-slathered ribs and fresh grilled corn.

The real trick to making these salads is not "tossing" them too soon. But that doesn't mean the preparation can't be done ahead. I like to assemble kits -- the veggies, starch (i.e., pasta) and dressing, each kept separate in large self-locking plastic bags -- then mix them together right before serving.

I think with most of these preparations that the flavors just stay a lot brighter and fresher that way. When salads like these are combined too far in advance, the salt and/or dressing tends to leach moisture out of the vegetables, which "blands out" the salad. And when a starch such as pasta or couscous is included, it absorbs the dressing and flavor if incorporated too early, which results in a dry, as well as bland, salad.

Assembling kits of the salad components makes these excellent take-along dishes for potluck picnics and parties, too. Just pack up your baggies and a big bowl, and you're on your way.

Big ethnic flavors are especially great to meld into summer salads. Grilled teriyaki-marinated chicken breast, thinly sliced, is wonderful on top of the Peanut Sesame Noodles to make it an easy, one-dish entree. And my recipe for Mediterranean Cracked Wheat Salad with artichoke hearts and tomatoes is a terrific accompaniment to grilled lamb or chicken. Red French dressing gets a Southwest flair and extra punch with chipotle chilis in it. When I had people over for dinner recently, they were putting it not just on the thick-sliced tomato and onion salad but on everything.

Whether you mix-and-match the salads to build a picnic around an international theme or stick to American classics, dish-up salads will provide a parade of fabulous flavors.

Mediterranean Cracked Wheat Salad

Makes 8 cups

1 3/4 cups boiling water

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary

1 1/2 cups bulgur (cracked wheat)

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 roma tomatoes, diced into 1/2-inch chunks

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

4 green onions, thinly sliced

1 cup coarsely chopped marinated artichoke hearts, drained well

1 (15 1/2-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained

1/4 cup tiny-diced sweet white onion

Place boiling water, 1 teaspoon salt and rosemary in medium saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, then immediately stir in bulgur and remove from heat. Cover and let stand 1 hour until all water has been absorbed. Uncover and let cool.

In large bowl, mix together remaining 1 teaspoon salt, lemon juice, pepper and olive oil. Add tomatoes, parsley, onions, artichokes, garbanzo beans and white onion along with cooled bulgur. Mix together well until all ingredients are coated with dressing.

Greek Potato Salad With Feta Vinaigrette

Makes 8 cups

2 pounds peeled red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 6 cups)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup halved, pitted kalamata olives

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

1/2 cup chopped roasted red peppers

1 small green pepper, diced

1/2 cup tiny-diced red onion

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup crumbled cheese)

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Steam potatoes until very tender, 12 to 14 minutes.

Meanwhile, in large bowl, make dressing by whisking together vinegar, olive oil, mustard, oregano, salt and pepper. When potatoes are still warm, toss them with dressing and set aside until cool.

Stir in olives, cucumber, red and green peppers, onion, cheese and parsley.

Tangy Poppy Seed and Pineapple Coleslaw

Makes 6 cups

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

dash red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger, optional

1/3 cup cider vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 (1-pound) bag coleslaw greens or 8 cups mixed shredded green and red cabbage

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