GOD-DESS

Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

July 2003
© 2003 by Bret S. Beall

Continuing my crusade to minimize the use of excessive heat for preparing meals during the summer, I have provided a variety of recipes that emphasize flavor and health with only the occasional (and usually optional) use of the stovetop (and NO OVEN USE). Please be aware that this is considerably different from the philosophy espoused by the Raw Food Movement, which I consider both arbitrary and often scientifically/nutritionally unsound.

Specifically, I’m offering three completely different families of salads that will offer enough variety to satisfy even the pickiest eaters! Plus, not only are they salads, but some are sauces, some are soups, some are breakfast, some are dessert … ALL are delicious.

CUCUMBER AND YOGURT SALADS

Throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, cucumber has been combined with tangy yogurt and other flavors for millennia. Theoretically, they are all related to one another, even though they go by different names and use slightly different textures and combinations of ingredients. There are no absolutes here, so don’t fret over whether you have made the right choice or not … it doesn’t matter. As an aside, I want to call your attention to the fact that in none of these variations do I recommend salting and draining the cucumber. This is a traditional and often cited step, but I have found it to be unnecessary. Whether modern cukes are firmer, or whether I prefer a smoother texture over a gloppy one, I don’t know. With regard to preparing the cucumbers themselves, you have several choices: peeled or unpeeled, seeded or unseeded, diced, grated, in quarter slices or half slices. Somewhere, someone is using each of these choices. My personal preferences are unpeeled (for fiber and vitamins, but well washed with warm water to remove wax), seeded (I’m not fond of the texture of seeds, but they do provide fiber), and medium to fine dice. Below you’ll find how these combinations do triple duty as salads, soups and sauces for an unlimited variety of vegetables, meats, poultry and fish. You can’t go wrong!

Basic Cucumber and Yogurt Salad proportions:

Stir all of the ingredients together. Serve immediately, allow to sit at room temperature for an hour or so, or refrigerate until ready to use (stir prior to serving).

Variations:

Tzatziki (Greece): To the basic cucumber and yogurt salad proportions, add ¼ c lemon juice (1 large or 2 small lemons), 2 t finely minced garlic (2-3 large cloves), and ¼ c olive oil. Stir all of the ingredients together. Serve immediately, allow to sit at room temperature for an hour or so, or refrigerate until ready to use (stir prior to serving).

Caçik (Turkey): To the basic cucumber and yogurt salad proportions, add 4 t finely minced garlic, 20 grinds of black pepper and 4 t finely minced fresh or frozen mint. Stir all of the ingredients together. Serve immediately, allow to sit at room temperature for an hour or so, or refrigerate until ready to use (stir prior to serving).

Raita (India): To the basic cucumber and yogurt salad proportions, add ½ c finely minced onion and 2 t ground cumin (NOTE: the cucumber is usually coarsely grated for a raita). Stir all of the ingredients together. Serve immediately, allow to sit at room temperature for an hour or so, or refrigerate until ready to use (stir prior to serving). NOTE: there are literally dozens of raitas, some of which go by the name “pachchadi” when they are spicy [pachchadis are a group of chutneys]. To make a variety of raitas, 2 t of finely minced ginger, 2 t of mint, 2 t of cilantro, 2 t of garlic, and/or 1 t of finely minced lemon or lime zest can be added to the basic raita mixture. To make a cucumber (khira) and yogurt pachchadi (which could still be called a raita in this case), add 1 finely minced jalapeno chile (about 1 T), 2 t finely minced ginger, ¼ c dried, unsweetened coconut and ¼ c chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews; toasting is optional) to the basic raita mixture.

Mast va Khiar (Iran): To the basic cucumber and yogurt salad proportions, add ¼ c fresh dill weed (or 1.5 T dried dill) and about 20 grinds of black pepper. Stir all of the ingredients together. Serve immediately, allow to sit at room temperature for an hour or so, or refrigerate until ready to use (stir prior to serving).

Middle Eastern Salad I: To the basic cucumber and yogurt salad proportions, add 2 t finely minced garlic and 2 t finely minced fresh or frozen mint. Stir all of the ingredients together. Serve immediately, allow to sit at room temperature for an hour or so, or refrigerate until ready to use (stir prior to serving).

Middle Eastern Salad II: Substitute 1 package of frozen spinach (10oz, squeeze dry) for the cucumber (or 1 lb fresh spinach, washed, chopped, sautéed until soft and cooled) and add to the yogurt with the salt. To this, add 2 t garlic, 20 grinds of black pepper and 2 t ground cumin. Stir all of the ingredients together. Serve immediately, or allow to sit at room temperature for an hour or so, or refrigerate until ready to use (stir prior to serving). (NOTE: by adding the juice and zest of 1 lemon, you can call this spinach and yogurt dish by the Indian name Palak Raita; by sautéing the spinach in butter [preferably clarified] along with 1 t mustard seeds, 1 t fenugreek and 1 t cumin seed, and proceeding as for the Palak Raita, the result can be considered Palak Pachchadi).

Middle Eastern Salad III: To the basic cucumber and yogurt salad proportions, add 2 t finely minced garlic, 2 t finely minced fresh or frozen mint, 2 t ground cumin, ¼ c raisins, ¼ c chopped walnuts (toasting optional), ¼ c finely minced onion or green onions, and 20 grinds of black pepper. Stir all of the ingredients together. Serve immediately, allow to sit at room temperature for an hour or so, or refrigerate until ready to use (stir prior to serving).

Gurka Ingalagd (Finland): Replace sour cream for the yogurt in the basic salad proportions, and add 2 t sugar, 4 t white vinegar, 4 t dried dill weed and 20 grinds of black pepper. Stir all of the ingredients together. Serve immediately, allow to sit at room temperature for an hour or so, or refrigerate until ready to use (stir prior to serving).

Applications:

Cucumber (or Spinach) and Yogurt Soup: Any of the salads above can be turned into a refreshing, cool summer soup by adding water, milk or cream to achieve the desired consistency; depending on your preference, this could be anywhere from ¼ c to 1 c of liquid (though if using a full cup of liquid, I would make sure no more than half of it was water, just to ensure a full-flavored soup).

Cucumber (or Spinach) and Yogurt Sauce: Any of the salads above can be turned into a delicious sauce for grilled, pan-seared, sautéed, poached, steamed or roasted meats, poultry, fish or vegetables. Just prepare the meat, poultry, fish and/or vegetables as simply and plainly as possible (just a bit of salt and pepper, or some spices in the water if poaching), and then spoon the cucumber (or spinach) and yogurt sauce over it on the plate, or put the sauce on the plate first, and serve the meat, poultry, fish or vegetables atop it. I have used these sauces for beef (rare!), lamb (also rare!), pork, chicken, duck, salmon (fresh, smoked or as gravlax), halibut, trout and a variety of vegetables (potatoes, carrots, green beans, eggplant, zucchini, etc.), but use your imagination and create new combinations.

SIMPLE SALAD WITH HERBS

Last month, I offered literally tens, if not hundreds of thousands of ingredient combinations for making refreshing, easy, healthful and delicious salads. I tried to be as thorough as possible, but after the column went live, I realized I had omitted an entire class of salads: Green Salads with Herbs! As a starting point for this month, and as a bit of encouragement to visit June’s Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® Recipes to get the complete column on delicious salads, I’m repeating the basic proportions. Now, with the addition of about ¼ to ½ c fresh herbs (not dried) per serving to the thousands of variations offered last month, you now have over 1 million salad variations, particularly if you combine different herbs in a single salad:

Per serving:

This will give proportions for 4 servings:

Combine all of the ingredients except the greens in a large bowl that can hold all of the greens loosely (note: if you want just a “whisper” of garlic in your salad, rub the inside of the bowl with half of a clove of fresh garlic). Using a fork or a whisk (I hate cleaning whisks, so I use a fork), vigorously whip the ingredients until the vinegar is emulsified evenly in the oil, as if you were scrambling eggs. Add the greens and toss gently, ideally with your hands (this is how I saw it being done at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, where I had one of the best simple salads of my life). Gently lift the dressed greens out of the bowl and onto individual plates; serve immediately, perhaps with some of the accompaniments listed in the June S!S!S!® column; these herbed salads are particularly good atop pan-seared or grilled meats, fish and vegetables as described in that same June S!S!S!® column.

FRUIT SALAD

Everyone has probably made a fruit salad at one point or another. I remember being reared on “fruit cocktail.” However, when I moved into a multi-ethnic neighborhood with fruit markets on almost every corner, I started eating a LOT more fruit (you wouldn’t believe the prices! Five mangoes for $1!). Between wanting to enhance the natural flavor of the fruit, and being appalled by the cloying sweetness of most fruit salads (why on earth would anyone create a heavy syrup to make a fruit salad?), I came up with a few general hints and proportions (borrowed from many different cuisines around the world).

Because this salad is not cloyingly sweet, you can use it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. It’s great with cereal, toast or a bagel for breakfast. It’s wonderful aside any sort of sandwich at lunch. It’s amazing served atop or under simply grilled, pan-seared, roasted or poached meats, poultry or fish. It’s a great healthful addition to ice cream or plain cake for dessert. Or, turn the salad into a refreshing cold summer soup.

Follow these proportions, which play up the five basic tastes, and you can’t go wrong!

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and gently stir to distribute the flavors evenly. Serve immediately at room temperature, or chill until desired. NOTE: I’d include the black pepper, chile powder and/or fresh chile in a dessert version of the fruit salad, but probably not the onions, but that’s just me. Also consider adding some toasted nuts or coconut to the fruit for additional flavor and texture.

Application:

Summer Fruit Soup: Puree any version of the fruit salad using a blender, food processor or hand-held blender; add water if a thinner soup is desired. Serve plain, with a dollop of yogurt, crème fraiche, or sour cream, and/or with some pieces of fresh fruit and/or whole herbs. Serve chilled as a first course or as a dessert (perhaps with ice cream and a relatively simple cookie).

In the future I will share many more refreshing salads, but I think these will keep you busy for a while. If you are desperate for more cool, summer fare, contact me directly.

 

BACK TO COOKING, FOOD & ENTERTAINING