Just because the days are getting shorter doesn’t mean we need to hunker down and stay inside. This time of year, the nights are cooler but the sun is still warm and shining. Even with the cooler temperatures, one can still feel the warmth of the sun on their back and soak in all the rays. Sit back on a picnic blanket with friends and family and close your eyes to the sun and relax. A late summer/early fall picnic is a wonderful way to enjoy the season. Gathered here is a collection of easy picnic food ideas and recipes to inspire you for your next outing.
Picnic food and your spread do not need to be a Martha Stewart event. In addition to serving fresh and delicious food, great picnic food should be easy to transport, have minimal prep work, and keep its freshness over time. You can make it as fancy as you want, but eating outside is a relaxing casual affair, so the food prep should be easy and relaxed too.
In my childhood, the standard picnic food was sandwiches or hot dogs cooked over an open fire. There is a reason these items are still popular. Sandwiches are perfect picnic food. You can make them gourmet, or PB and J, and they do not require plates or utensils to eat them. Wrap them up in parchment or wax paper, then later the paper performs double duty as the “plate”. You can eat half, then cover them up in the wrapping it came in. Then run off for a game of Frisbee.
I included a recipe for grilled chicken sandwiches made on focaccia, with smoked mozzarella, avocado, arugula and basil mayonnaise. Use your favorite bread, but make sure it will last for a couple of hours without getting soaked or smashed. Smushed sandwiches are never fun to eat so pack your sandwiches carefully.
What is it about the fresh air that causes people to want to snack on salty food? I don’t know, all I know is I am right there with everyone else chomping down on chips when I play outside, go to the beach or hike. Nibbles or snacks are always great picnic food, but you don’t have to go crazy and buy out the store. I recommend, one item for an appetizer, and one salty crunchy snack, like chips. It is easy to go overboard with the snacks, but they are not the only food items at the picnic. No one will return home hungry.
A terrific picnic appetizer is tapenade. Pictured in my picnic photographs is artichoke tapenade, a recipe I made from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. The recipe I used from this book is a little different from the recipe on his website, but it is still delicious and easy to make.
Another great spread or dip is muhammara, roasted red pepper dip. Muhammara is one of my favorite vegetable spreads. Both spreads are gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan. Serve either with crusty bread, pita chips, or cut vegetables.
I believe every picnic should include some fruit. Ripe fruit is great picnic food because most fruit is naturally designed for individual servings. Fruit provides a bright and fresh taste to counterpoint the rich sandwiches and salty snacks. It is very refreshing. I am craving watermelon now so I included it for this blog post, but any fruit will suffice. You can either slice the watermelon, cut it up into chunks for easy picking, or make a fruit salad.
For this article, I decided to make a fruit salad made with watermelon, nectarines, mint, basil, with a honey lemon and chili pepper vinaigrette. I love herbs with fruit and adding the bit of hot pepper brings out the sweetness in the fruit. Included in the post is the recipe for this fruit salad. Making a fruit salad requires having serving utensils and plates, or you can bring additional beverage cups to use. Then all you need are utensils.
Dessert should be simple and there are many options. One option is a light unfrosted loaf or single layer cake like gluten-free Nifty cake. This cake is made with oat flour and has a slightly nutty flavor. It is a light sponge cake that everyone will enjoy. For ease of transporting it, make it a single layer cake, (and without the whipped cream frosting as pictured in the recipe), and serve with the watermelon fruit salad.
Another dessert option is cookies. Children young and old love cookies and they travel well. Kitchen sink oatmeal cookies are perfect for picnics. They are loaded with rolled oats, raisins, butterscotch chips, and chocolate chips. They can stand up to the heat of the day without melting and falling apart. Also pictured is, Ginger Molasses Cookies from Flour by Joanne Chang. Joanne is the owner of Flour Bakery in Boston. I love molasses cookies and wanted to test her recipe. In the link from the Boston Globe, her recipe is the second cookie recipe on the first page.
If you plan on bringing beer or wine, also include a non-alcoholic beverage like lemon-cucumber water or strawberry lemonade. Picnics are a time to drink responsibly, so keep your beer and wine on the low alcohol level.
Helpful Tips for Prep and Picnic Food :
If you are picnicking with friends, divide and conquer the food preparation. I have found people really like to participate and help.
Tapenade or Muhammara can be prepared the night before your picnic. You can also prepare the chicken and dessert the night before. This leaves making the sandwiches, fruit salad, and packing for the morning of.
Along with your choice of beverage, bring water for drinking and cleaning scrapes or sticky hands. Also paper towels come in handy if something spills. They are light weight and easy to stuff into a pocket.
Pack everything in a couple of insulated tote bags with ice packs. Keep your load light in case you need to hike to your picnic spot. Also bring a blanket to sit on.
Don’t forget the trash bag. A lot of places are carry-in / carry-out parks, and often it is hard to find a trash can when you need one.
Bring a First-Aid Kit, especially if you are traveling with children. At a minimum bring Band-Aids and an antiseptic lotion. They are easy to carry in your wallet or zip-lock bag to store in your picnic basket.
Bee stings are common at picnics. The general advice is to get the stinger out quickly and apply ice, (or cool pack). Read the link for more bee sting information.
If you are serving alcoholic beverages, please drink responsibly.
Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Summer and Fall- Grilled Chicken Sandwiches and Watermelon and Nectarine Fruit Salad
Category: Lunch Picnic
Grilled chicken sandwiches with smoked mozzarella, avocado and basil mayonnaise Is perfect picnic food for an afternoon outing. Also included is a recipe for a fruit salad made with watermelon, nectarines, fresh herbs with spicy honey lemon dressing. In the notes is my recipe for the basil mayonnaise and a pesto. Feel free to use your favorite basil pesto recipe or follow mine, just omit the grated cheese and pinenuts. It may look like a long list, but there are several food items here for you to make and enjoy.
Depending on how large your bread slices are will determine the amount of chicken, mozzarella and avocado you need to cover your bread slice. I made my sandwiches with focaccia about 4 x 4 inches in size.
The prep time varies for each food item. The grilled chicken takes about 20 minutes to cook not counting the overnight marinating and cooling. The sandwiches take about 10 minutes once everything is cooked and prepped.
The fruit salad takes about 15 - 20 minutes to make.
For the tapenade and muhammara recipes, and dessert recipes - click on recipe links in blog post.
About 4 oz (125 g) of Smoked Mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
1-2 avocados cut into thin slices
1-part basil sauce*
Watermelon, Nectarine and Basil Salad with Spicy Lemon Honey Dressing
1/4 (3 lbs / 1 k 406 g) Seedless watermelon, cut into big bite size chunks
3 ripe nectarines, each sliced into 12 wedges
Small handful of Fresh Mint leaves
Small handful of Fresh Basil leaves
About 2 TB fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp honey
1/8 tsp ground chili pepper
The day/night before pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness, then season both sides of the breasts with the salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dried oregano, and lemon zest. Place the seasoned chicken on a plate or container and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. There should be a light and even coating of seasoning over the chicken breast, but not too heavy. Use your judgement about how much seasoning you want.
Bring the chicken out of the refrigerator and add the juice of half a lemon. Mix to coat the chicken. Allow the chicken to rest on the counter 30 minutes before you want to grill it, to come to room temperature.
Prepare your grill and proceed as you like, or use a grill pan on the stove top. Turn the heat up to medium-high.
When the grill or grill pan is hot, add the chicken breasts skin side down on a diagonal in the pan or on the grill. Cook for three minutes, then adjust the chicken breasts to the opposite diagonal position and grill for another 3 minutes. Turn the chicken breasts over and grill on the other side following the same procedure as before. After 12 minutes of cooking, If the chicken is not done move the breasts to an indirect heat source on your grill and cook until done. If using a grill pan, turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook until done, about 5 minutes more depending on how big the chicken breasts are. The chicken breasts are done when the juices run clear after being pierced with a fork. Internal temperature is 170°F ( 77°C). Remove from the pan or grill and rest the chicken for 10 -15 minutes. Cool before making sandwiches.
Assemble the Sandwiches
Smear a good coating of the basil mayonnaise (see recipe in notes) on both pieces of bread. Evenly cover one piece of bread with chicken slices, then add one slice of smoked mozzarella, or enough to cover the chicken if your bread slices are large. Layer the sliced avocado over the mozzarella. Add a small handful of arugula to the top and cover with the top piece of bread. If your sandwiches are large, cut in half and wrap in parchment paper or wax paper. Refrigerate until ready to eat or go on your picnic. Pack the sandwiches in an insulated bag with a cold pack or ice to keep cool and fresh for your picnic.
Watermelon Nectarine and Basil Fruit Salad
Mix the fresh lemon juice, honey, and ground chili powder in a small bowl. Keep stirring until the honey is completely dissolved. Taste and add a small pinch of Kosher salt. Set aside.
Add the prepared watermelon and nectarines to a mixing bowl and gently stir to combine. Tear or snip the leaves of the basil and mint over the fruit and mix together. Add the honey lemon dressing and stir. Taste and add more herbs if needed. Place in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and keep in an insulated bag with cold pack, or refrigerator. The fruit salad is the last thing to make for your picnic, because fruit releases a lot of juice after it is sliced and with a dressing.
To make the basil mayonnaise, I use a 1 - 1 ratio of mayonnaise to basil sauce. The basil sauce is essentially basil pesto without the cheese and pine nuts. Use your favorite pesto recipe without the grated cheese and pinenuts and mix together 3-4 TB of mayonnaise and 3-4 TB basil sauce until combined.
My general basil pesto recipe is 2 cups (500 ml) of basil leaves, 1 cup (250 ml) arugula or spinach, 1 garlic clove - minced, 1 TB lemon juice, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, and 1/3 (75 ml) to 1/2 cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil. In a food processor, process the basil, arugula, garlic, lemon juice, and salt until the basil and arugula are finely minced and combined. Use a thin rubber spatula to scrape everything off the sides of the bowl. With the motor running slowly add in the extra virgin olive oil. You might not use the whole amount. I do not want it too oily or runny so I stop adding the olive oil when I reach a smooth and slightly thick consistency. I do this because I store the pesto in a container with a layer of olive oil over the top of the pesto.
If you want traditional pesto, add 1/2 cup grated roman cheese and 1/4 cup pinenuts before you add the olive oil, and process until smooth. Then add the olive oil. Pesto is best used the same day it is made, but will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Use can freeze pesto without the nuts and cheese, for up to 3 months. Pour a layer of olive oil over the pesto before freezing.
This time of year, I focus my meals around tomatoes and fresh corn. I know soon enough local ripe tomatoes and corn will no longer be available. Every day I enjoy the freshness of a perfect juicy tomato and the sweet crunch of fresh corn. They taste so good and refreshing at peak season. I never get tired of them. This obsession challenges me to create different recipes that include corn and/or tomatoes. One variation I created is a steak salad loaded with summer vegetables. This is a light and refreshing salad with just the right amount of spicy citrus dressing to complement he vegetables and steak.
My focus for the recipe was to use local vegetables and fruit from NY Hudson Valley farms. It turns out, everything but the nectarines were grown in Yorktown by Meadows Farm. This local only focus (with the exception of the citrus salad dressing), is a big change for me because I add avocado to everything, especially salad. Avocado would taste great in this salad too. The salad’s produce ingredients include, yellow and green beans, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, fresh corn, arugula, nectarines and herbs. This whole group of fruit and vegetables pair perfectly with grilled steak. Unfortunately, it did not occur to me until I finished the salad, I could buy my steak locally at Hemlock Hill Farms in Cortland Manor.
This salad does not take long to prepare, but as is typical cooking with fresh produce does require more prep-work. I believe the results are worth it. Each step is done to bring out the bright flavors of fruit and vegetables. What is important to focus on is the timing of adding certain ingredients, and when to cook your steak. To achieve the freshest appearance and taste, slice then add the nectarines and steak just before you are ready to serve. Also tear or snip the herbs at that time as well. The rest of the ingredients are hardier and won’t turn brown when exposed to the air and acid.
I am using a new technique I just learned for dressing a vegetable salad. Instead of whisking all the salad dressing ingredients together in a separate bowl, I mix some, but add the rest directly to the vegetables. The citrus juice, zest, Sriracha, and honey get mixed together so the honey dissolves and is easy to mix. Normally, I would add the vinegar with the citrus, and then the olive oil to the citrus mix. However, I will add these ingredients separately to the prepared vegetables and adjust the amounts as needed.
First, add the vinegar to the vegetables with a pinch of Kosher salt. This step brings out the bright flavors and makes them shine. I was pleasantly surprised when I first tried this technique. I did not taste a strong vinegar flavor. Instead, the vinegar accentuated the natural flavors of the vegetables. How many times have you tasted homemade salad dressing and got hit in the face with an acid punch? It is not the case when you first add vinegar to vegetables. This is also a good lesson showing how adding additional seasonings and dressings change the flavors of the vegetables and fruit.
Joshua McFadden, chef/owner of Ava Gene’s in Portland Oregon, is considered a vegetable whisperer. He describes his salad making techniques in his cookbook, Six Seasons. I got the idea of adding the vinegar first to a salad after reading his book. Using this idea does make fixing a salad more hands on (literally), and the ingredient amounts somewhat vague. If you are just learning to cook, my advice is to start with less amounts of seasoning and dressings. You can always add more, but it is harder to fix over-seasoned and over-dressed food. Get your (clean) hands in there and add, toss and taste. Repeat until you believe it is perfect.
Do you have a local market where you buy your produce? Farmers markets are great, but around here they open one day a week on Saturday or Sunday. Having a local farm stand open six days a week in my hometown is a treat. I shop at big grocery stores as well, which are very convenient. However, I am grateful to live in an area where local farm produce is available to me.
What meal do you make using local and fresh ingredients?
Summer Vegetable Steak Salad with Spicy Citrus Dressing
Prep Time: 39 minutes
Cook Time: 6 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Category: Dinner Salad
An easy summer dinner salad made with grilled steak and seasonal vegetables. You can use any vegetables you wish. I like to pair green beans with steak, so I included them with other local produce that is available in the summer. An avocado is an optional ingredient. If you are using it add it just before serving and sprinkle the pieces with lime juice.
You can also replace the vegetables in this salad with my recipe for Anything Goes Potato Salad .
The amount of time to cook the steak depends on the type of steak you have and how thick your piece is. Steak does not need long to cook over a very hot grill or skillet. Start with two minutes a side for a steak that is one inch thick for rare meat. Thicker steaks are easier to cook properly and get a good sear on them.
1 TB fresh orange juice and zest from half an orange
Juice from one lime, and zest
1 TB honey
2 TB sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 tbs Sriracha
Kosher Salt, to taste
Fresh ground pepper
Summer Vegetable Steak Salad
1 lb green beans, ends trimmed
1 lb (450 g) green beans, if a mix of colors are available use them.
1 ear of fresh corn
1/2 lb (225 g) grape tomatoes
3 oz (40 g) arugula
1 1/2 lbs (750 g) steak, like shell steak, strip steak, or flank steak, your choice
Pinch of Kosher Salt (about 1/2 tbs)
1/2 tbs crushed fennel seed
1/2 tbs ground coriander
1 - 2 nectarines or peaches, sliced into wedges (If using peaches peel them first)
About 5-6 basil leaves
About 6 mint leaves
About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
More Kosher salt and ground pepper
Prepare the steak
One hour before you cook the steak, remove the steak from the refrigerator and its packaging. Put the steak on a plate and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle Kosher salt, ground coriander and crushed fennel seed over both sides of the steak. Loosely cover the steak with plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter for 30 minutes up to 1 hour.
Spicy Citrus Dressing
Add the orange juice, lime juice, zests, honey, sriracha, a small pinch of Kosher salt, a couple of grinds of ground pepper, and smashed garlic clove to a small bowl. Mix until the honey is dissolved. Cover the bowl with plastic and keep on the counter for later.
Prepare the vegetables
Trim off the ends of the scallions and thinly slice each scallion on a sharp diagonal. Add the scallion slices to a small bowl filled with cold water and ice. Let the scallions macerate in the ice water for 15 minutes.
Husk the corn and cut off the stem piece. Place the bottom of the corn in a mixing bowl and hold onto the tip. With a sharp knife slice off the kernels from the cob. Once the kernels are sliced off, run the back edge of your knife down the cob to press any corn milk out, catch the drippings in your bowl.
Make an ice water bath for the green beans. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. Set aside near the stove.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove. Trim the green beans. When the water boils add a large pinch of salt then the green beans and blanch them for one minute. Remove the green beans from the boiling water and quickly add them to the ice water bath to stop the cooking. When cooled, take the green beans out of the ice bath and dry on a clean kitchen towel. Add the beans to the bowl with the corn.
Cut the grape tomatoes in half and add to bowl.
Add half the arugula. If the leaves are large, tear them in half.
Drain the scallions and dry them, then add to the bowl with the vegetables.
Add the sherry vinegar, a small pinch of Kosher salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper to the vegetables and toss to mix with your clean hands. Taste. You will taste the vinegar, but it will not be harsh. Set aside.
Sear the seasoned steak on a hot grill, grill pan, or skillet. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to your pan or grill. Add the steak and sear for about 2- 3 minutes per side depending on the cut of your steak. My steak was very thin, about an inch, so very little time was needed to cook it. Flank steak will take longer. Aim for rare to medium-rare steak, or how you prefer your steak. The internal temperature for rare steak is 125°F (52°C). Medium-rare is 130 - 135°F (54 - 57°C). Remove the steak from the heat and rest on a carving board, and grind a couple of rounds of fresh pepper over each steak. Let the steak rest for 10 - 15 minutes.
When you are almost ready to eat, cut the bone off the steak (if there is one), and slice on a diagonal and across the grain into thin, 1/4 inch (.5 cm) slices. Drizzle about half of the citrus dressing over your steak slices on the cutting board then drizzle 1 TB of extra virgin olive oil over the steak.
Slice the nectarines and add to the vegetables. Add the remaining arugula. Drizzle the remaining citrus dressing over the vegetables. Toss to coat and taste the vegetables for seasoning. Add more lime juice, sriracha, or other seasonings if needed. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the vegetables and toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Tear or snip the herbs over the bowl of the vegetables and toss. Taste and correct seasoning.
I like to serve the steak and vegetables side by side, not all mixed up like a traditional salad. This way if you have any leftover steak, you can store it separately and make steak sandwiches the next day. On a large platter spread out your vegetables and drizzle with olive oil and fresh herbs. Arrange the sliced steak to the side of the vegetables and pour any accumulated juices from the cutting board over the steak. Lightly drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the steak and a light sprinkle of sea salt flakes if you have them, and fresh ground pepper. Garnish the steak with chopped herbs. If you prefer, mix the vegetables and steak together in a bowl. Taste for seasoning. Serve immediately.
Summer is in full swing and every week more vegetables are available at the markets. There is no better time than now to eat your fill of summer vegetables. One of my favorite vegetables are green beans. I can eat them plain, or all dressed up with butter and fresh herbs. I love the clean and slightly sweet taste with its snappy crispness. If prepared properly, green beans maintain their spring green color, hold their shape, and still have a fresh picked flavor.
Because they are so well-loved and easy to prepare, we often use green beans in a salad. Hot or cold, green bean salad is a perfect side dish for any type of meal on any given day. There are countless varieties of green bean salads to make as well. Fresh beans pair well with all sorts of vegetables like tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, potatoes, peas, and other beans just to name a few options. They are also good with endless seasonings and add-ins like walnuts, almonds, basil, tarragon, garlic, sesame seeds, or fresh ginger.
For this recipe, I decided to make a green bean salad with yellow wax beans and red kidney beans as the main ingredients. It is a lemony 3-bean salad with fresh basil and parsley, with a subtle spicy kick of fresh ginger and lemon vinaigrette. I wanted a salad dressing that is a little different from my typical vinaigrette of vinegar, mustard, garlic and olive oil. Because ginger and green beans taste so great together I decided to add it in. The ginger does not come off too strong, just enough for the beans to shine with a subtle spicy glow.
Fresh yellow wax beans are tender, sweet and delicious. I love the contrast of colors between pale yellow wax beans with the bright green beans and dark red from the kidney beans. Wax beans are hard to come by, as I have only seen them at local farm stands. Last summer I could not get enough of the yellow wax beans from Rochambeau Farm Stand and I can’t wait until they are available this summer. For this recipe, I bought this round of fresh beans from another local farm stand, Meadows Farm. Lucky for me, I live in a metropolitan area with 4 local farms only a couple of miles away from my house. I get to participate in the best parts of both worlds.
Look for green beans and yellow wax beans that are firm, bright in color, and not too big. At times, fresh beans can get fibrous and unpleasant to eat. Fortunately, it is easy to tell if the beans are fibrous by their look and touch. Older and more fibrous beans are less dense, limp, duller and paler in color. Haricot Verts are French green beans. These beans are smaller and often more tender than regular green beans. They also tend to be pricier.
Like most vegetable salads, if you prepare the green beans too far in advance, they will lose their crispness. Fortunately, because they take about a minute to cook, putting this green bean salad together is not a hassle or stressful to do before serving. There is a minor amount of chopping, and the only thing you must cook are the beans for one minute. The most difficult thing to make is the salad dressing, and that is fairly easy.
Serve this salad hot or cold as a side dish paired with fish, meats or chicken. Or, serve as a vegan entrée paired with brown rice or other grain. Enjoy!
Green bean salad is bright and refreshing with a lemon and ginger vinaigrette. The ginger is subtle, just enough to add a note of spice with the sweetened lemon juice. I like my green beans extra crispy, so I barley blanch them. The dressing will soften the beans, so you want to be careful to not cook them too much or add the dressing too early.
This salad pairs well with everything, especially grilled meats or fish. Serve with brown rice or another grain and you provide a complete protein meal for your vegetarian/vegan friends and family.
Lemon Ginger Vinaigrette
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 TB fresh lemon juice
Zest from half a lemon (optional)
1 tsp honey, or agave, or liquid sugar in the raw*
4 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/8 tsp Kosher Salt
A couple of grinds on the pepper mill of black pepper
Green Bean Salad
8 oz (225 g) fresh green beans or French green beans, cleaned and stems trimmed
8 oz (223 g) fresh yellow wax beans, cleaned and stems trimmed
1-15 oz (425 g) can Red Kidney Beans, or Black-eyed peas, or chick peas - drained, rinsed and dried
1 TB minced fresh basil
2 TB minced fresh parsley
3 scallions, minced white and light green parts only
Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed
Make the vinaigrette
Add the grated fresh ginger, lemon zest (if using), lemon juice, and honey to a small bowl. Whisk until the honey is completely dissolved. Add the olive oil, a little at a time and whisk thoroughly between additions until emulsified. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Also, adjust flavor with additional ingredients if needed. Set aside.
Make the Green Bean Salad
Fill a large sauce pan or stock pot with water, and turn the stove to high heat. Bring the water to a boil. Meanwhile prepare an ice bath in a large bowl and fill part way with ice cubes and cold water. Set aside.
When the water comes to a brisk boil, add a pinch of Kosher salt, then add the prepared green and wax beans. Quickly blanch the beans, about one minute or when the water returns to an early boil. Drain the water and immediately add the beans to the ice bath. Swirl the beans once around in the ice water with your hands. Allow the beans to stay in the ice bath until they are just cool. Drain the beans from the ice bath and spread them out on a clean kitchen towel to dry.
Add the beans to a medium mixing bowl, then add the red kidney beans, minced scallions, and fresh herbs. Gently toss with your hands to mix. Give the reserved lemon ginger vinaigrette a good whisk to emulsify it again, and add about half of the dressing to the vegetables. Toss to mix, then taste to see if you want more dressing. Taste for seasoning and add a small amount of salt and pepper if needed.
This is delicious served either cold or warm, but like most salads it is best eaten very soon after it is made. Make ahead note: you can make the salad dressing ahead and store on the counter for a couple of hours. Prepare the beans no more than an hour ahead of time. Add rinsed and dried kidney beans and green beans to a bowl and cover. Store in the refrigerator until you are ready to mix them all together. It is best not to add the fresh herbs and scallions until you are ready to serve the salad. Assemble the dressing, herbs and vegetables, and mix together when you are ready to serve.
For a vegan meal, use your favorite liquid sweetener like agave. I am not as familiar with the level of sweetness agave or liquid cane sugar in the raw, so start with less, then taste and add more if needed. You can easily use a pinch or granulated sugar as well. Just make sure it is well mixed.
Potatoes in all their varieties and preparations make great comfort food. Unfortunately, they also have a bad rap. This is because potatoes taste sublime with anything buttery, creamy and with lots of cheese. I find it hard to resist creamy potato salad with lots of hard-boiled eggs, so I created a recipe for lemon potato salad with little added fat, but still has a creamy texture.
Anything Goes Lemon Potato Salad is just what the name says. Potato salad with lots of vegetables and lightly coated with a lemon-mustard vinaigrette. To replace the hard-boiled eggs of traditional potato salad, I added tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and fresh corn. I believe this salad will work with any variety of vegetables, such as scallions, green beans, sugar snap peas, or traditional celery and carrots.
For the dressing, I wanted it to be lemony and bright without it being too sour. So, I tamed the lemon with mustard, olive oil and my secret ingredient, pickle juice. Just a touch of pickle juice from a jar of bread and butter pickles adds the final touch needed for a delicate balance of sweet and sour flavors. If you do not like pickles then omit their juice, but you may need to add a pinch of sugar to the dressing. As I always recommend, taste and season as you like.
Besides my secret ingredient, one other trick I use for potato salad is to add vinegar or lemon juice to the potatoes while they are still hot after cooking. The potatoes absorb the lemon juice and this added squirt of acid brightens them with flavor.
My inspiration for this recipe came from a delicious tomato salad. It is filled with grape tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh uncooked corn, avocado and basil. A perfect end of the summer salad to enjoy when corn and tomatoes are at their peak. Because potatoes and corn make the perfect pair, I decided to make a lemon potato salad version like this sunny tomato salad.
Eating fresh corn just scraped off the cob is a treat. The kernels are nicely sweet and crisp. It is raw, but it does not taste raw. If you want to add some extra corn flavor, run the back of a knife down the naked cob. This pressure pushes out some corn milk to mix with the fresh kernels. This technique is also great to use when making corn chowder or creamed corn.
Summer is a great time to highlight the fresh flavors of the garden. This is a simple salad to make and is very refreshing. A meal filled with the summer bounty and enhanced with a lemon vinaigrette. Pair Anything Goes Lemon Potato Salad with any grilled meat, chicken or fish. It is perfect to bring or make for a party, or make for a weeknight family dinner.
This is a very fresh tasting and bright salad. It is loaded with crisp fresh vegetables to contrast with the soft and creamy potatoes. My secret ingredient is pickle juice which helps round out the tartness of the lemon juice with a slight touch of sweetness.
Like most salads this is best served the same day it is made, but it will last and still taste good in a 24-hour period.
If you need to make this ahead, prepare the potatoes and the vinaigrette earlier and store in the refrigerator in separate sealed containers. Add the vegetables and vinaigrette before you are ready to serve, or no more than an hour before serving. Add more vinaigrette if necessary. See note.
1.5 lbs (691 g) medley of baby potatoes
Zest from 1 lemon
Juice from half a lemon
1 ear corn on the cob
Half a cucumber about 6 oz (160 g) Quartered, seeds removed, and chopped
2 fire and ice radishes, sliced thinly
One handful of grape tomatoes, about 4 oz (120 g), sliced in half
3 scallions, white and light green parts only sliced thin
Scrub the potatoes under cold running water. Fill a large sauce pan part way with water, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add a large pinch of Kosher salt to the water, then add the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are just done. A knife or fork will easily slice all the way through the middle without resistance. This could take anywhere between 10 to 25 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes. I start checking my potatoes after 10 minutes, then check them every 5 minutes thereafter. You do not want to overcook the potatoes or they get mushy.
Once done, remove the potatoes from the boiling water and place on a cutting board. Let cool slightly or use tongs to hold each potato in place while you slice each potato in half. This needs to be done before the potatoes cool, because you squeeze lemon juice over them while they are still warm. It does not matter which way you cut the potatoes in half. I mixed it up for fun and variety and sliced them randomly in half lengthwise or crosswise.
Place the warm sliced potatoes in a large mixing bowl, add the lemon zest and juice to the bowl and gently mix. Allow the potatoes to cool after the lemon juice is added.
While you are waiting for the potatoes to cool, cut the kernels off the corn cob. Cut off the stem of the corn cob to create a flat surface. Place the shucked and cleaned ear of corn in a medium bowl with the flat stem side down in the bowl. Holding onto the tip use a sharp chef's knife and run the knife down the side of the corn cutting the kernels off the cob. Turn the cob a quarter turn and slice off the corn kernels. Repeat all the way around the corn cob until all the kernels are removed. Set aside.
Add the corn and the remaining prepared vegetables to the cooled potatoes, then toss in the fresh herbs. Add the vinaigrette, a couple of tablespoons at first. Mix then taste to see if dressing is needed. If so, add more salad dressing until it reaches your preferred consistency. You should have leftover vinaigrette. Store the leftover vinaigrette in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator to use for another salad.
Garnish with mint leaves and serve.
Potatoes are great sponges and will absorb anything you add to them. If you make this salad too far in advance the potatoes will soak up the dressing and it will appear dry. More dressing might be needed, just be careful not to make it too heavy the vinaigrette and oily.
Several years ago I discovered two cookbooks that opened a new world of food and cooking, Jerusalem and Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. When first published, I resisted reading these cookbooks because of the hype surrounding them. It is my experience, hyped-up media often disappoints and does not live up to the claims. Later, when I got around to reading the books for myself, I realized how completely wrong I was. These cookbooks and all their other publications, are worthy of all the praise they receive. Jerusalem and Ottolenghi cookbooks changed the way I approach learning about new ingredients, cuisines, and cooking.
There are many recipes between these two books that I love, like Roast Chicken with Clementines and Arak, and Basmati Rice with Saffron Barberries Pistachios and Mixed Herbs, just to name a couple. However, I wanted to feature their recipe for Saffron Chicken with Herb Salad. I just learned this recipe and believe is perfect for this time of year. I renamed it, Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Saffron Dressing. This recipe is fresh and vibrant and easily prepared. Perfect for the days when the warm sun is beckoning you outside.
Grilled chicken salad with orange saffron dressing shows how well bitter and sweet flavors blend to form a perfect union. To start, a whole orange simmers for an hour with honey and saffron until soft and the liquid is reduced. The bitterness of the orange peel mellows when combined with grilled chicken salad, crisp fresh fennel, and handfuls of fresh herbs. This is a well composed salad and with each ingredient plays an important role. The grilled chicken provides the backbone and mellows the concentrated flavor of the orange dressing. A composed blend of fresh herbs brightens and lightens the salad with sweet aromas and a refreshing bite. The finishing touch that ties everything together, is a spark of heat from the fresh hot red pepper.
Additionally, this recipe taught me a new trick. The secret to making this dressing is to blitz the whole cooked orange in the food processor with the reduced syrup. Using the whole fruit developed intense orange flavor that reminded me of concentrated frozen orange juice. Also, the best orange popsicle you ever had on a hot summer day. It is amazing how bittersweet fruit flavor can cut the heat of summer in an instant like diving into a mountain pool.
Personally, I hate throwing away citrus rind and am always looking for ways to include the zest in my meals. Citrus zest makes everything taste better so I was more than happy to use the orange rind. There is also less food waste. This grilled chicken salad recipe will turn heads and enlighten taste buds because of a simple and brilliant idea. It is a healthy and refreshing salad with hardly any added fat to weigh the meal down.
The moment I read these two cookbooks, it was love at first sight. Savoring the bold flavors in each tested recipe, inspired me to be more daring in my cooking. I no longer shied away from unfamiliar spices like za’atar and sumac, but embraced them. For the past several years, Jerusalem and Ottolenghi hold an influential spot in my life like The Silver Palate and Marcella Hazan cookbooks did in the 1980’s. Not only are they inspirational, but educational about new ingredients, fresh insights, and different cultures. I am forever grateful.
Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Saffron Dressing
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Category: Dinner Salad
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
This is a bright and refreshing salad. By itself the orange dressing has a very concentrated bitter-orange flavor lightly sweetened with honey and saffron. The dressing mellows with the other ingredients and the freshness of the herbs are key to the bright flavor. A kick of heat from the fresh red chili pepper ties everything together.
You can mix the salad with arugula if desired.
Best eaten the day it is made.
This recipe is from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad.
2 1/2 TB (50g) honey
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 TB white wine vinegar
1 1/4 (300 ml) cup water
2 1/4 lbs / 1 k skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 small fennel bulbs, or 1 large bulb
1 cup / 15 g picked cilantro leaves
2/3 cup / 15 g picked basil leaves, torn
15 picked mint leaves, torn
2 TBS freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 red chili, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Make the Orange Saffron Syrup
Cut a thin slice off the top and bottom of the orange so it will stand flat on a cutting board. Cut the orange in half then cut each half into 6 wedges. Add the orange wedges into a medium sauce pan. Add the honey, saffron, vinegar, and water to the saucepan. If any of the orange wedges are exposed and not submerged under water, add more water so all oranges are covered. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the oranges to a boil. Then turn the heat down and simmer the oranges for about 1 hour. By the end the wedges will be soft and there will be about 5 tablespoons of syrupy liquid.
Once reduced, add the oranges and syrup to a food processor and process until the orange syrup is smooth. If needed, add water to thin out the sauce and reach a runny and smooth dressing. Set aside.
While the oranges are simmering, preheat the oven to 400F /200C. Gently pound the chicken breast with a meat mallet or the heal of your hand to create an even thickness in each piece. Mix the chicken breasts with 2 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/2 tsp kosher salt and a couple of grinds of pepper. Sear the chicken breasts for 2 minutes on each side on a stovetop grill pan, or cook on a grill. Transfer to a sheet pan or baking pan and cook in the oven until done. (If you are using the grill there is no need to cook the chicken in your oven.) Pierce each breast with a fork, if the juices from the chicken are clear, not pink or cloudy, then the chicken is done. Internal
temperature of 165F - 170F (74C - 77C). Depending on the thickness of each piece of chicken, roasting time could last for 5 to 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the oven (or grill) and set aside to cool.
Putting it all together
Once the chicken is cooled, shred the chicken breasts into decent size pieces and place in a bowl. Mix 1/2 of the orange dressing with the shredded chicken. Cut the fennel bulb in half and slice as thin as possible, lengthwise. Trim off the core if desired. Add the fennel, fresh herbs, remaining olive oil, crushed garlic, and lemon juice to the chicken. Gently stir to combine. Add the sliced red chili. Taste and correct for seasoning with olive oil, lemon juice or Kosher salt if needed.
For an easy shortcut, substitute the grilled chicken with shredded rotisserie chicken, or any leftover chicken.