The Best Summer Salads

It’s hot this week. And I don’t know about you but when it gets hot like this, the last thing I want to do is turn on my oven or even the barbecue. I want meals to be simple and fresh. And as much as I would like to eat ice cream for every meal, I grudgingly accept that’s probably not the healthiest choice, even on the hottest days.

This week I’ve got three salads to share with you. These are my go-to summer salads. Chances are if you invite me to a barbecue at your house I’ll show up with one of these recipes. All three salads are light and delicious. They use the best of the produce that’s available locally right now and chances are, you probably have almost all the ingredients at your house right now.

The fresh corn salad is a crunchy, slightly sweet salad that just gets better and better the longer it sits. Use this recipe as a guide but make it your own. The watermelon feta salad is one of my favorites. I make a riff on this recipe probably once a week and even my kids have started eating it. I love to swap the fresh red onion for pickled red onions if I happen to have a batch in my refrigerator. And finally, the cucumber salad is one of my husband’s favorites. I keep a batch in the fridge for him and he snacks on it all week. It’s cold and refreshing and easy to throw together in just a couple minutes.

Fresh Corn Salad

• 6 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cob

• 1 red pepper, diced

• ½ walla walla onion, diced

• ¼ cup fresh basil, minced

• ¼ cup olive oil

• 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

• Salt and pepper to taste

Shuck the corn and using a sharp knife, cut the corn from the cob. No need to cook the corn, if you buy it at the farm stand it’s so fresh and sweet, it doesn’t need to be cooked. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients, stirring well. Leave on the counter or cover and put in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to intensify. This salad tastes best when made a few hours ahead of time. Cherry tomatoes are an easy swap for the red pepper and a sprinkle of feta cheese is delicious with this salad.

Watermelon Feta Salad

• 3 cups seedless watermelon, diced into bite size pieces

• 8 cups spring greens or arugula

• ½ cup crumbled feta

• ¼ red onion, sliced thinly

• 2 tablespoons fresh mint

• Juice and zest of two limes

• ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

• ½ cup olive oil

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl layer the watermelon, feta and red onion over the greens. In a separate bowl combine the lime juice, zest, vinegar and olive oil. Dress the salad, sprinkle with fresh mint and salt and pepper. Serve immediately. I’ve made this salad many many times and sometimes I add avocado and crumbled bacon as well. Adding fresh basil along with the mint and swapping the feta for goat cheese is lovely too.

Quick Cucumber Salad

• 2 english cucumbers, peeled and cut into ½ inch slices

• ½ yellow bell pepper, diced

• ½ red onion, diced

• ½ cup rice wine vinegar

• 1-2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

• Dash of red pepper flakes

• Salt and pepper

In a bowl toss the cucumbers, bell pepper and red onion together. Pour the vinegar over the vegetables, sprinkle with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add the toasted sesame oil and gently mix the vegetables with a spoon. The oil has a very strong flavor and can quickly overpower the dish. Consider adding the oil a teaspoon to get the flavor just right for your taste buds.

Blueberry Crumb Bars

Last week I rallied my motley crew of three capable, but less than enthusiastic, kids and we headed to Sloop Blueberry Farm out in Naches. There’s a few things to know about me, and one of them is: I’m serious about blueberry picking. I’ve picked blueberries in 90 degree weather and 9 months pregnant, I’ve picked blueberries at 6 in the morning, I’ve picked blueberries with a 1-week-old infant. I don’t mess around. My goal is to stuff enough blueberries in my freezer for the entire year. It never quite happens, but every year I try.

I promised the person who picked the most blueberries (fully expecting it to be me) got to pick the ice cream treat on the way home. Well, my two boys ‘teamed’ up and they picked 25 pounds of blueberries, leaving my daughter and I in the dust with just 23 pounds. They gleefully announced to everyone within a one-acre radius we were headed to Dairy Queen for giant blizzards.

Before you think we were toiling away for hours, we picked almost 49 pounds of blueberries in under two hours. Blueberries grow in clumps, almost like grapes and picking them is literally the easiest thing you can do. The berries practically fall into your bucket as you gently pull the fruit from the stems. I want to go out and pick some more but I’m not sure I have the room in my freezer. To preserve my berries, I filled my clean kitchen sink with ice cold water and dumped the berries in. I laid out clean towels on my kitchen counter and using a colander, scooped the berries out of the water after a minute or two. I allowed the berries to dry on the towels and then stored them in gallon-size freezer bags. At just $1.75 per pound, I have enough berries for pancakes, smoothies, treats and snacking to last months. If you’re local, and want to find a u-pick farm near you, go to www.farmfreshfun.com for a list of farms and what’s in season.

These blueberry crumb bars are the perfect way to use blueberries. Whether you pick them yourself or buy a container at the grocery store, nothing says summer like this sweet, fruity dessert. The crust is basically a lightly sweetened shortbread cookie with a hint of lemon zest. The filling is just blueberries with a bit of corn starch to thicken the juices and the crumb on top is the same as the crust, just crumbled over the blueberries. I found this recipe on a website called smittenkitchen.com years ago and it’s one I go back to every summer once blueberries are in season. The original recipe calls for a 9×13 pan but I prefer to use a 9×9 square pan for a thicker crust. Whichever size pan you use, you can’t go wrong.

Blueberry Crumb Bars

·         1 cup granulated sugar

·         1 teaspoon baking powder

·         3 cups all-purpose flour

·         ¼ teaspoon salt

·         Zest of one lemon

·         1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

·         1 large egg

·         4 cups blueberries

·         Juice of 1 lemon

·         4 teaspoons cornstarch

·         ½ cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9×9 pan with parchment paper.

In a bowl, stir together sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly, kind of like a shortcake or biscuit dough where the butter pieces are the size of a pea. Pat a little over half the mixture into the bottom of the pan, forming an even layer.

In another bowl, mix the blueberries, cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice gently together. Layer the blueberry mixture over the crust. Crumble the remaining dough over the blueberry layer.

Bake in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes until the top is lightly brown and the juices are bubbling. The smaller pan will require closer to 60 minutes, the larger 9×13 pan will take closer to 45 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Store extras in the refrigerator.

 

Flank Steak with Chimichurri

Summertime in Yakima is easily my favorite time of year; between weekly trips to the Farmers Market to outdoor concerts at Gilbert Cellar’s Hackett Ranch, hiking in White Pass under crystal blue skies and the many impromptu dinners with friends; summer is all of my favorite things: food, friends, sunshine, and fun.

My husband built a huge farm table for our back-patio years ago. These days it’s getting little rickety but nothing makes me happier than to see family and friends gathered around it. Summer just makes it all a bit sweeter, the days stretching out long, making it possible to linger around the table.

Flank steak marinated in soy sauce, lemon juice and fresh herbs grilled on the barbecue to medium rare and sliced over a bed of crunchy greens is probably my favorite go-to summer dinner party meal. It’s easy and fast and doesn’t break the budget. Marinate the steak for a few hours or up to a full day before grilling it for the most flavor.

Inspired by my favorite salad at Cowiche Canyon Kitchen restaurant, I played around with a chimichurri dressing. Full of fresh parsley and oregano with a hint of heat from a splash of hot sauce, it makes the perfect steak sauce or salad dressing.

Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichurri

• 2-pound flank steak

• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

• ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce

• 4 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary

• Juice of a lemon

• 1 tablespoon Worchester sauce

• 1 tablespoon kosher salt

• 1 tablespoon black pepper

In a large baking dish combine all the ingredients except the flank steak, salt and pepper. Mix until combined and then place steak into mixture, turning several times to coat the entire piece of meat. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper making sure both sides are covered. Cover dish in foil and set aside for several hours or even overnight. The longer the meat marinates, the better it will taste.

Heat the barbecue to medium heat and grill each side for about 8 minutes or until desired doneness. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly to serve.

Chimichurri Dressing

• 1 large bunch flat leaf Italian parsley

• 2 tablespoons fresh oregano

• 3 garlic cloves, peeled

• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• ¼ cup red wine vinegar

• 1 teaspoon hot sauce

• Juice of one lemon

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, pulse the ingredients together until smooth. Taste and salt and pepper if necessary. To thin the sauce to make salad dressing, add additional olive oil.

To make the steak salad combine organic greens, cucumber, red bell pepper, mango slices, crumbled goat cheese and pickled onions.

For pickled onions slice a red onion thinly. In a bowl combine ½ cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 ½ teaspoons salt with 1 cup water. Pour mixture over onions and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Top the salad with slices of flank steak and drizzle the entire dish in chimichurri sauce.

Grilled Pork Ribs

It’s official, summer is here and with it comes grilling season. Anything I can think of goes on the grill: salmon, vegetables, every cut of steak and chicken, sausages, hot dogs and, of course, hamburgers. I look forward to the long warm early-summer evenings all year long. I think the memory of them is what gets me through each winter.

We love to entertain in the summer, inviting friends and family to barbecue with us, sitting on the back patio watching as our kids play baseball or fly down the slip and slide. I like to keep the meals easy. I choose a cut of meat and prep it early in the day. I look for a vegetable in season that I can throw on the grill as well. Some of my favorite sides are asparagus, zucchini, onions and peppers or romaine for a grilled ceasar salad.

But I do have a tiny little confession to make: historically, I don’t handle the actual grilling of our food. I do the prep; the seasoning, the marinating, the chopping and then I hand the actual cooking off to my husband. He mans the grill and in a perfect world I lounge on the patio with a cold beverage while our meal cooks.

This has never actually happened before, but you never know, it could happen one day. These days my lounging looks more like dodging a stay nerf gun war as my boys run past me, or watching my daughter do a dance or gymnastics routine. ‘Mom, watch this, Mom! Watch this.’

But in the last year or so, I got it in my head I wanted to learn the art of grilling. I started with pizza and moved on to hot dogs and sausages before finally trying my hand at a few cuts of meat. Initially, it was a disaster. I torched a few dinners before I got the hang of it. But once I learned the secret of the grill: low and slow, there was no turning back.

Country style pork ribs are perfect for an easy dinner on the grill. The cut of meat is, confusingly, not from the ribs at all. These meaty, boneless strips are from the blade end of the loin, close to the shoulder. They can be slow-roasted until fork-tender or quickly grilled. A dry rub seals in flavor and ensures the meat is tender and flavorful. I am always drawn to a sweet and savory flavor profile and this dry rub is no exception. Brown sugar, smoked paprika, onion, garlic and a hint of cayenne combine to give these ribs big flavor. While the ribs grill on the barbecue, I like to baste them a few times with my favorite barbecue sauce. The result is a tender juicy cut of meat everyone goes crazy for. Some grilled corn slathered in a little butter and lots of salt and pepper and a big juicy watermelon are all you need for the perfect summer dinner with friends.

Grilled Pork Ribs

• 4 pounds country-style pork ribs

• 4 tablespoons brown sugar

• 2 tablespoons kosher salt

• 1 tablespoon black pepper

• 1 tablespoon smoked paprika

• 1 tablespoon granulated garlic

• 1 tablespoon onion powder

• 1 tablespoon mustard powder

• 1 teaspoon ground ginger

• 1 tablespoon dried parsley

• ½ teaspoon cayenne powder

• ½ cup prepared barbecue sauce

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay the pork ribs evenly on the baking sheet and set aside. In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, salt and pepper and all spices. Use a spoon to combine the ingredients.

Liberally cover the pork ribs in the spice rub making sure to massage the rub into both sides of the meat and on the sides. Let the meat marinate at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours or cover with foil and marinate in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours. Discard any remaining dry rub.

When you’re ready to grill, pull the meat from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Set your grill to medium heat (about 350 degrees). Place the ribs on the grill and allow them to cook for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. Turn the ribs halfway through the cooking time and baste both sides of the meat with barbecue sauce three to four times while they cook. When the internal temperature of the meat reaches 155 degrees, pull the ribs off the grill and cover with aluminum foil for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Ribs serve 6 generous servings.

Roasted Tomato Pasta

I had a rare and blissful night last week where the only person who needed dinner at my house was me. My kids had bounced from one end-of-the-school-year party to another all afternoon and evening eating their weight in hot dogs and chips. They were so amped up on sugar and their new-found summer freedom they couldn’t be convinced to come in for a real meal. My husband was working late which gave me two options: make something special just for me or skip dinner altogether.

I finally corralled my kids inside, threw them into showers and settled them in front of a movie. I surveyed the kitchen for something to eat and was just about to pour myself a bowl of cereal when the pint of cherry tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter caught my eye.

Instantly I knew I wanted to roast the tomatoes in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If I had a loaf of sourdough bread, I probably would have just scooped the tomatoes onto toast and called it dinner. But I didn’t so I went to the next best thing, pasta.

Fifteen minutes later I had a pot of spaghetti noodles tossed with tangy and bright roasted tomatoes. A big pile of chopped basil from the pplant growing on my patio and swirl of goat cheese made for a decadent but light dinner. A little glass of red wine and eating my dinner in (relative) peace outside in the warm evening sunshine made my simple meal absolute perfection.

Roasted Tomato Pasta

  • 8 ounces spaghetti noodles
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 heaping tablespoons (or more) chopped fresh basil
  • 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While the oven preheats, start a pot of heavily salted water to boil over high heat. When the water boils, cook spaghetti to package instructions (about 8 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the tomatoes evenly on the tray. Mince garlic and sprinkle over the tomatoes. Toss the tomatoes and garlic in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes begin to burst and are very fragrant.

In a pot, combine the cooked spaghetti and roasted tomatoes, scraping the pan to add the juices and garlic. Toss gently to combine. Mix in chopped basil and goat cheese. To serve, portion the pasta onto a plate. Garnish with any leftover basil and goat cheese as well as a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Puff Pastry with Havarti, Prosciutto and Asparagus

I am officially the mom of big kids. My youngest ‘graduated’ from preschool last week and will attend kindergarten with her brothers at their elementary school in the fall. To say she is excited and ready would be an understatement.

For seven straight years I’ve had at least one preschooler. Most of that time I was also holding a grumpy toddler or wrangling an infant car seat while also attempting to get my preschooler to school. I was the mom with the spilled coffee and spit up on her shirt, just trying to make it through the day hour by hour. Those were some wild years and at times I thought they would never end.

And now suddenly here we are. On to the next season of life. It seems like all those hard and beautiful days were over in the blink of an eye. The more seasoned moms in my life constantly remind me that time only speeds up. I believe them.

I am looking forward to summer break, to soaking up time with my three wild and crazy big kids. I won’t think too much about kindergarten but instead try and squeeze every drop of fun out of our days together. I’m sure as the dog-days of summer catch up to us, school and structure won’t seem like such a bad idea.

After preschool graduation we had a little celebration. I whipped up these special puff pastries stuffed with cheese and prosciutto and thin pieces of asparagus. The buttery and flaky pastry with a rich and savory filling was out-of-this-world delicious. Puff pastry can be found in the freezer section of your local grocery store, usually near the frozen desserts. Simply allow the pastry to thaw on the counter or in your refrigerator until the dough is very cold but not frozen anymore. We made a big bowl of fruit salad to go along with our pastries but this dish could easily be served for lunch or dinner alongside a simple green salad. Served warm or at room temperature, you can swap the filling for whatever kinds of meat or cheese you prefer. Brie, smoke gouda or sharp cheddar are lovely cheeses to try as well.

 

Puff Pastry with Havarti, Prosciutto and Asparagus

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, cut into 9 squares
  • 4-5 slices Havarti cheese
  • 1 package prosciutto
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Lightly roll out the pastry so the dough is even and has no creases. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 9 squares.

Rinse asparagus and pat dry with a paper towel. Select the thinnest spears and cut them in half. Discard the bottom half the spears and set the tops aside.

To make the puff pastries, layer half a slice of cheese, one slice of prosciutto and two to three spears of asparagus diagonally on the puff pastry. Fold two corners over the filling. Place the pastry on the baking sheet and continue until all nine puff pastry squares have been filled.

In a small bowl, whisk an egg with a splash of water until well combined. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the pastries with the egg wash. Sprinkle the pastries with salt and pepper and bake for 25 minutes.

When the pastries are golden brown and the cheese is bubbling and melted, they are finished baking. Allow them to cool on the sheet for a few minutes before serving.

Hummus with Jalapeño Pesto and Marinated Olive And Feta Salad

Almost like clockwork, every spring, I forget we ever had winter at all and decide with unrelenting enthusiasm that the only things I want to eat are fresh vegetables and berries, preferably grown in my own garden or picked up at the farmer’s market during one of our leisurely Sunday strolls. I look forward to the farmer’s market (and my favorite fruit stand) opening all year long. In the 13 years I’ve called Yakima home, it’s been a regular weekend tradition and somehow signifies to my brain ‘summer is just around the bend.’

This idea, of course, is ridiculously preposterous for multiple reasons, the main one being my garden is hit and miss on its very best year, not to mention not too much is harvest-worthy in May and June. But never mind that. My point is that my adoration for our wonderful agriculturally rich Valley goes into overdrive and only ramps up each month as the sun stays out a little longer, growing and ripening all my favorite things that grow in the dirt.

And while I wait for lovely produce to become readily available, I’ll make batch after batch of easy and delicious hummus. This hummus is smooth and hearty all on its own, perfect for dipping vegetables or pita. Typically made with garbanzo beans, hummus is a versatile Middle Eastern dip and a wonderful canvas to add additional flavors. The cilantro jalapeno pesto I’ve included here is bright and flavorful without being overly spicy. You can add as little or as much of the pesto to the hummus and save the rest for another time. Paired with the smokey, salty and rich olive and feta salad, these dishes can be served together as a hearty appetizer or separately.

One of my favorite ways to serve hummus is to spread it evenly in a shallow dish. I pile toppings high and make sure to have lots of bread for dipping. Last year I was on a cucumber and tomato salad kick but this year my go-to is this olive and feta salad.

Sometimes I’ll toss salad greens like peppery arugula and spinach with a little olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice. I garnish the entire dish with the salad greens and call it dinner. With a bottle of crisp buttery chardonnay and a loaf of crusty bread, this dinner is the perfect late spring, eat on the patio, watch the sun set behind Mt. Adams meal I can think of.

Hummus

• 2 (15-ounce) cans garbanzo beans

• ½ cup fresh lemon juice

• ½ cup tahini

• 1/3 cup olive oil

• 3 cloves garlic

• Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper

Drain the garbanzo beans, reserving half a cup of the liquid. In a food processor, combine the garbanzo beans, reserved liquid, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, garlic and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Mix for a minimum of 2-3 minutes. Add an extra splash of water or lemon juice if the hummus is too thick. When the mixture is very smooth, turn the food processor off and scoop hummus into a bowl. Taste and add an additional pinch of salt if needed.

Cilantro Jalapeno Pesto

• 1 bunch cilantro

• ½ bunch parsley

• 2 green onions, trimmed into 1-inch pieces

• 1 jalapeno chili, stem and seeds removed

• 1/3 cup olive oil

• 2 cloves garlic

• Juice of 1 lime

• Salt

Combine the cilantro, parsley, green onions, jalapeno, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to break the herbs and vegetables down. With the processor running, pour in the olive oil and lime juice. When the mixture is well-combined, using a rubber spatula, transfer to a small bowl. Taste and add additional salt if needed.

To serve the hummus and pesto, make an indentation in the center of the hummus. Spoon the pesto into the indentation and swirl gently. Serve with toasted baguette, pita bread or tortilla chips.

Marinated Olive and Feta Salad

• 1 tablespoon cumin seeds

• 2 teaspoons fennel seeds

• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

• 3 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 teaspoons lemon zest

• 1 ½ cups olive oil

• 2 cups mixed Greek olives (drained and pitted)

• 8 ounces feta cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes

• 1/3 cup minced parsley, basil and cilantro (you can use any fresh herbs you prefer)

Place the cumin seeds, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes in a small skillet. Heat gently over medium heat for a minute or two, stirring once until the seeds are fragrant and lightly toasted. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Add the garlic, lemon zest and olive oil. Stir to combine. Add the olives and feta to the bowl and gently stir. Add the fresh herbs and gently stir one more time. Cover with plastic wrap and store up to three days in the refrigerator.