Friday, July 9, 2010

Summer Salads and Dressings from Scratch

Grilled chicken summer salad is a nice hot-weather meal that is light and cool.  At our place, we don’t have air conditioning, so it is really important not to be using the oven or the stove if the outdoor temperature is too high.  Why not leave the cooking to the outdoor grill? 

Each salad gets a grilled chicken breast on top.  I’ve recently learned how to make top-notch chicken breasts.  First, put them in a ziplock and beat them with a hammer (or a meat tenderizer if you like to be fancy like that).  After this step, if you have 15 minutes to a few hours, throw your chicken into a brine.  Brine is just water, salt, and sugar.  Let the chicken hang out in this in your ziplock.  I also often marinate chicken in Italian dressing sometimes (zesty Italian from Kraft, to be specific).  If my chicken has just been sitting in brine, before throwing it on the grill, I like to brush it in olive oil and sprinkle dry Italian seasoning over it, or simply salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oregano.  Honestly, if you don’t have time for brining or marinating, chicken breasts these days are so un-natural that they taste tender without treatment.  I have yet to find affordable, natural chicken.  Grill it! 

While it’s grilling, start getting your veggies together.  Iceberg lettuce is so 90’s.  Grab a spring mix or even leaf lettuce instead.  If it hasn’t been pre-washed, wash it well!  Those salad spinners are a huge help for this.  Add peppers, carrots, tomatoes, and when I’m feeling fancy, fresh mozzarella or cashews.  My vegetarian friends get creative and will put corn, sesame seeds, or other favorite nuts on their salads for a little extra protein in place of the chicken.

Salad Dressing
I used to collect salad dressings.  Seriously, I’d buy something that looked fabulous, try it, hate it, and leave it in my fridge for a year, then toss it.  Luckily, when I moved in November, I got to start fresh with a clean fridge and decided to start making my own salad dressing.  (I will admit that I bought thousand island for Ruebens for St. Patty’s Day!)  Really, making your own dressing from scratch is the only way to guarantee that it’s gluten free.  Here are my three favorites:

Italian:  I use “Good Seasons Italian All Natural” dry packets.  Follow the directions on the box by adding water, olive oil, and cider vinegar.  I even invested in one of those glass dressing containers that has the measurements right on it so you can just fill it up to the lines and shake.  If you don’t have dry Italian seasoning on hand, or prefer making it from scratch to avoid a few un-needed, possibly glutened ingredients, you can whip up your own by combining dashes of sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, oregano, and pepper flakes.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Sometimes I make a less savory salad and serve it with goat cheese and strawberries on top.  I then whip up my own dressing using Rachel Ray‘s (Food Network) recipe:

2 teaspoons strawberry jam
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, eyeball it
Salt and pepper, to taste 

Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette:  Lastly, I’ve been ordering this fabulous Fajita salad at this amazing local restaurant called Mod Market (in Boulder, has gluten free flatbread pizzas and amazing salads).  They throw peppers, tomatoes, corn, green onion, and greens in a bowl and dress it with this fabulous chipotle-lime vinaigrette.   I’m still mastering this dressing recipe, but thus far, I use the juice of one lime, splash of cider vinegar, squeeze of honey, olive oil, salt, pepper, and for the chipotle flavor, I might  do chili powder or grab a very small smidge of the sauce from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (I use these up so slowly that I always have the contents of my latest can frozen in the freezer).  

You’ll notice I don’t measure things.  As a recipe-writer, it’s something I’ll work on in the future, but I find that as long as you know what goes into it, you can adjust until you’re happy with it!

I have two gardens and I can’t wait for them to start producing all the veggies I need for fresh salads!  One is in tubs on my porch and another is in actual ground.  I’ll share my first-time-gardener drama with you another time.  Have a fabulous weekend!

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