I am at the end of my summer visit with my family on Long Island and I am starting to pout. “I don’t wanna go home!” Believe me, home, which is Manhattan Beach, California, is not so shabby. But it’s not getting out of bed at 7:30 am (instead of 5:30.) It’s not wine at lunch AND dinner. It’s not lingering at the table outside without a sweater for hours. It’s not falling asleep to crickets at night.
I love summer and I love it more on the East Coast. It’s the way I think we should all be living regularly – present, in the moment, grateful for what we have. I associate summer produce with this emotion, too. Strange, but true. When I think of tomatoes and corn, I always think summer. And therefore I think of freedom and happiness and relaxation and good times. That’s what comes to mind when I see real, seasonal, local tomatoes and corn. They make me HAPPY! When summer rolls around, I am jumping for joy every week when I come back from the farmers market. “Guess whaaaaat, kids?! Corn is baaaack!” They are a little over it.
What I know for sure is that this corn salad is a winner. It’s simple and nutritious and darn delicious and it screams “Hey there, summer!” You can do most of it ahead of time which is the way I like to operate. I personally love corn with a little char on it. It’s a bit smoky and goes really well with the touch of smoked paprika or ground chipotle in the recipe. But, if you are lucky enough to get just picked (as in, a few minutes ago) corn, go ahead and cut it raw. Such a treat! I know corn is controversial because most of it is genetically modified, but if you can find certified non-GMO or organic, I say go for it! Add a little protein, like a veggie burger or some grilled shrimp and you have the perfect summer meal. Hope you have a safe and fun July 4th!
2 green onions, sliced (thinly sliced red onion can be substituted)
1 large tomato, chopped
1 avocado, cubed
2 ½ Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder or a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat your grill to medium-high. Grill the corn directly on the grill, turning frequently, until the corn has nice char marks on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from grill. When cool enough to handle, cut kernels from cobs and transfer to a large serving bowl.
Add remaining ingredients to corn. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if necessary and more lime juice, if desired.
The corn can be made 3 hours ahead of time and kept at room temperature. The salad can be assembled 1 hour ahead of time and kept at room temperature.
Have you ever read a cookbook or food blog where an unbelievable, creative recipe was put together with “odds and ends” from the pantry or produce bin? I am always in awe of people who can do that. Those same people go grocery shopping without a list and simply buy what looks good and then create a meal around it. I too can use bits of this or that and turn it into something fairly tasty, but it usually ends up as a frittata, Pantry Pasta, or some sort of fried rice dish. Definitely enough to get an acceptable dinner on the table, but nothing that will win me any accolades.
One day a few years ago, I decided to try my hand at “throwing something together.” I figured I had done this many a time at salad bars, I should be able to do this within the limitations of my own pantry and refrigerator. Whereas I pride myself on keeping things simple, on this particular day I got a little carried away. It all started with some quinoa, corn and cilantro which sounded Southwestern to me. Pretty soon I was dicing up red pepper, red onion and opening a can of black beans. Just when I thought I was done, I spied a mango and that went into the mix, too. After squeezing in some lime juice, olive oil and cumin, I had myself one fresh and tasty salad that I could happily bring to a backyard barbeque or serve to guests, even that same day to my mother-in-law who is slightly skeptical of quinoa.
I’ve made this salad countless times since then and changed it up every time. Red onion has been replaced with scallions or shallots. Ripe avocado and toasted pumpkin seeds have found their way in on many an occasion. When corn is crazy fresh and sweet, I just cut it off the cob raw and use it that way. With Father’s Day coming up, I am thinking about including this on the menu, but I might just leave out the quinoa entirely since I made quinoa tabbouleh last year on Father’s Day. Although my husband likes quinoa just fine, he doesn’t consider it very “manly.” Please. I keep trying to tell him how much protein it has — it’s like eating meat, but without the saturated fat and cholesterol. But it’s his day and I aim to please! So I think next weekend I’ll make this with extra corn and beans and thrown in some “manly” diced up grilled chicken. Regardless, “creating” this salad was a good exercise for me in learning how to be flexible, but also gave me some confidence to use what I’ve got — in more ways than one.
1 ½ cups cooked black beans, drained and rinsed if canned (1 can)
1 ½ cups fresh or cooked corn (cut from 2 large ears)
¾ cup diced red pepper (1 small pepper or ½ large)
½ large red onion, diced (soaked in ice water if you want to cut the harsh onion flavor)
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon sea salt
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
⅓ cup fresh lime juice (about 1 ½ limes)
⅓ cup unrefined, extra-virgin olive oil
Rinse quinoa in a bowl with water or place quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Transfer to a saucepan and add a healthy pinch of sea salt and 1 ¾ cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and place a kitchen towel over the pot. Place the lid over the towel and let sit covered for 5 -10 minutes.
Transfer quinoa to a serving bowl, fluff with a fork and cool slightly. Add beans, corn, red pepper, onion, (optional) jalapeno and cilantro. Sprinkle with cumin and sea salt.
In a small bowl combine lime juice and olive oil. Pour over salad and mix well. Taste for seasoning.
Options for substitutions/additions: Also delicious in this salad are sautéed zucchini, diced celery, diced fresh mango, sliced scallions, diced tomato or diced avocado.
Oh people. We are on the brink of my favorite time of year. A time of backyard barbeques, picnics at the beach, sand between my toes, fresh tomatoes and basil, peach pie, and long nights under starry skies. Ahhhh, summer. Beyond better weather and my favorite produce, life is just easier when the kids are out of school. No homework, tests or book reports. Sure, two out of my three have a summer reading list, but they always wait until the last week of summer to crack those books open, so it’s smooth sailing until then.
Because we live at the beach, we entertain most weekends in the summer, starting with Memorial Day which, being the East Coaster that I am, is the unofficial start of “the season.” One of my favorite things to do right about now is start planning a few menus that I can rotate during the summer. Whenever I am thinking of the ideal food to prepare — make ahead, room temperature and easy all come to mind. Very often, we’ll go to the beach for the afternoon, come back to the house to freshen up before lingering over dinner in the backyard. This doesn’t give me too much time to cook for a crowd, so I look for recipes which allow me to prep in the morning or the night before so I can do more assembling than cooking.
This Thai Steak Salad has never appeared on any of my summer menus since I just taught it a few months ago in my classes, but it will definitely be a regular this season. There are so many reasons I love this salad — it’s light, I can vary it with chicken or tofu (even shrimp) and change up the vegetables according to what looks good, and there’s lots of prep in advance that I can do. Oh, forgot to mention that my family loves it, too! The first time I told my kids and husband they were eating “Thai” steak salad, I saw a bunch of sad faces. “We don’t like Thai food. It’s too spicy. Or sour.” “Guess what? You’ve never had Thai food in your life!” I only call this a “Thai” Steak Salad because of the combination of sweet, sour and sort of spicy in the marinade/dressing, plus the addition of cilantro and/or mint. I have a feeling I am taking a lot of liberties with the word “Thai.” I could probably get away with it if I added some fish sauce to the marinade. Next time. However, if I were to rename this recipe, I would call it Yummy, Fresh, Tangy, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Vegan-adaptable, Paleo-friendly, Perfect for Summer Salad. If you’re debating whether or not to veer from the standard burger fare this holiday, I have two words for you: Pink Slime.
If you’ve been hanging out with me for the last year, you probably remember my post on how to reduce carcinogens when you grill. Now’s a good time for a refresher. Whereas you can definitely grill the steak or chicken here (I did grill the chicken), I prefer a more healthful way to cook the steak. It’s a method I picked up from Cook’s Illustrated and it’s especially good for cooking grass-fed beef, which can get dried out if you’re not careful. The only downside is that it takes a few minutes longer than grilling, but it’s a really tasty result and likely less carcinogenic. No matter how you make this salad, it will surely be a delicious way to welcome in summer!
6 Tablespoons packed fresh cilantro or mint leaves, chopped (or a combo)
1-2 small cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon chili flakes or ½ teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
1 Tablespoon raw honey
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ½ pounds grass-fed top sirloin or flank steak, about 1-inch thick
sea salt to taste
1 Tablespoon unrefined coconut oil or olive oil
8 heaping cups salad greens, about 6-7 ounces
2 shallots, thinly sliced
a few handfuls of seasonal veggies*: thinly sliced cucumber or sweet bell pepper, sprouts, julienned carrots, fresh mint leaves, fresh Thai basil leaves
Combine lime juice, 6 Tablespoons oil, shoyu, cilantro, garlic, hot pepper, honey, and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Whisk together and set aside.
If steak is thicker than 1 inch, place between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound on both sides. Remove wrap and place meat in a shallow nonreactive dish that is just small enough to hold the meat. Pour HALF the marinade (about ⅔ cup) over the meat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours (longer is better). Take the reserved marinade in the bowl and add 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Set this aside as your salad dressing.
Pull the steak from the refrigerator about 30-60 minutes before cooking it. Preheat oven to 275 degrees or preheat a grill.
Insert a wire rack inside a baking sheet and place the meat on top of the rack and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Bake for 20-30 minutes for medium to medium-well.
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over high heat. Transfer the steak to the skillet and sear for 2-3 minutes on each side for medium to medium-well. Alternatively, grill over medium heat for about 10 minutes for medium doneness.
Transfer meat to a carving board and allow to rest for 10 minutes, covered.
Assemble the salad greens on a platter and drizzle with half the dressing (about ⅓ cup), tossing to coat. Drizzle the shallots and vegetables with half the remaining dressing (about 2 ½ Tablespoons). Toss to coat and arrange on top of the salad. Taste for salt and add as needed.
Slice meat thinly against the grain on a diagonal. Arrange slices of meat on top of the greens and drizzle with remaining dressing.
* I used 1 whole red bell pepper and 2 Persian cucumbers.
To prep in advance, marinate steak or chicken the night before. Keep dressing refrigerated. Wash and cut all vegetables and keep refrigerated until ready to assemble.