Today is Independence Day. Apart from celebrating our successful split from the British Empire with bikinis, bar be ques and beer we are really paying homage to our diverse immigrant roots and what freeing themselves from their homelands to start a new life here, such as our founders did, means to all of us. Little in the United States is uniquely American, contrary to popular opinion. We begged, borrowed and stole our way into a Western Culture by adopting, adapting and otherwise assimilating everything we brought with us from our origins into a what we see now, and the creation is still no where near complete two hundred plus years later. With every new generation of immigrants contributing to our combined culture and each of us incorporating our own interpretation of the world around us Americanism is hardly limited to the Apple Pie (discretely stolen from the English, Dutch and Swedes, to name a few)…
In keeping with this theory, one of the more overlooked parts of the backyard extravaganza are the salads. Typically the meat takes center stage and everything else becomes some kind of afterthought with anything not called corn resembling a vegetable being relegated to some unknown void far, far away from the party. Therefore, I am going to focus on salads and put some twists on some typical favorites. I’ve made all these separate other times so if I were throwing the party this time this is about how I might have done it
There’s the mayonnaise version that it seems like everyone knows and variants of yogurt, sour cream, miracle whip and who knows what other creamy substitutes people use. Then, there’s the vinegar based ones. I’m a sucker for the mayo type my mom makes (of course, who doesn’t love mom’s recycled Red Book recipes from the 50s!) but there’s something to be said for the tangy tartness of the vinegar ones especially with a little spice… A soft spot for Cajun (from my French Canadian Arcadian brothers) produced Salade Créole de Pomme de Terre:
Stone-ground or whole-grain mustard
cracked black pepper
finely crushed rosemary
Combine the mustard and vinegar about 1:1 ratio in the mixing bowl and season with the black and cayenne pepper, rosemary and paprika, mix thoroughly and let rest.
Boil water with some salt in the stock pot
Cube the potato and add to the stock pot
Dice the onion, pepper and celery and finely mince the garlic
Add the garlic to the mixing bowl
As the potato are close to finished cooking (they should be fork tender when done, 20-30 minutes) quickly blanch the onion, pepper and celery in the boiling water
Drain the potato and vegetables thoroughly and allow to completely cool
Combine the drained potatoes and veggies with the mustard mixture in the bowl and toss until coated.
A little smoked andouile sausage is one consideration, thick cut bacon or other smoked ham product would add a bit of depth to this. The traditional sliced boiled egg with the potato is also something to consider.
Oh there’s about 101 ways to manipulate the cold pasta salad and everyone has some ingenious preference for this from the Mediterranean to the Asian, from the mayonnaise to the vinaigrette, from the pasta-only to the everything and then a rumor of pasta too. Due to the over-indulgence of every chef putting their personal spin on this and everyone and there mother having an opinion it gets pretty hard to come up with some new and clever way of presenting it. My Iberian heritage generated the Ensalada de Pasta :
Pasta (bow tie)
Olives (black, pitted)
Red bell pepper
Red wine vinegar
Flat leaf parsley
Combine the oil and vinegar about 2:1 ratio in the mixing bowl and season the saffron,
Boil water with some salt in the stock pot
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package instructions until al dente (7-10 minutes)
Dice the onion, pepper and tomato, shred the collard leaves and parsley, slice the olives in half and finely mince the garlic
Add the garlic, tomato and parsley to the mixing bowl along with the black olives
As the pasta is close to finished cooking quickly blanch the collard, onion, pepper in the boiling water
Drain the pasta and vegetables thoroughly and allow to completely cool
Combine the drained pasta and veggies with the oil and vinegar mixture in the bowl and toss until coated.
Other leafy greens can be a substitute. Some broiled or grilled Chorzo or linguica sausage makes a nice addition to this as well if it is cut up small and tossed in cooled. Another idea I considered was to include squid, or other seafood, also tossed in for another variation sometime.
The Dutch origins somehow morphed and turned this into a quintessential picnic dish of shredded cabbage. Like potato salad there are a few staple ways to approach it, usually from the direction of mayonnaise although more and more often the vinegar variations seem to be coming out. Cabbage is a staple of many Eastern European fairs and being I have connections to the region personally, I decided to cobble together the little I know about Russian cooking and give this a try, which I found surprisingly intriguing when complete. It draws a little bit on Salade Russe (the beet salad not the incorrectly attributed Salade Olivier) another dish I had while visiting I don’t know the name of. Sorry, my Russian vocabulary and ability to type Cyrillic is aweful so no attempt to name this here:
Apple (preference is green granny smith)
cracked black pepper
Caraway or fennel seeds
Combine 3:1 ratio cider vinegar and mayonnaise in the mixing bowl and season with black pepper and seeds and a bit of the beet pickling
Shred the cabbage, beet and carrot, coarsely shred the apple, juilenne pickled beets
Add to the mixing bowl and toss
Super simple, right? Other hearty greens or root veggies shredded could also be used to broaden the flavor. If you really have to add sugar to “sweeten” it up I would suggest unrefined sugar or brown sugar.
Tossed Green Salad
The shredded iceburg lettuce salad is about as cliche as they come and you know that field green salad will end up wilted in the summer heat if you put it out, but you know you want to get the greens out. You could do a typical mixed salad and try to figure out what dressings to serve on the side with it only to hear someone complain their favorite is still missing, or, you could give your guests something slightly unexpected to enjoy as more than just the mandatory “American” side-salad. Inspired by my love of Asian (especially Thai) I came up with this Bok Choy and Somen Salad:
Lime Juice & zest
Rice wine vinegar
Combine 2:1:1 ratio of soy to lime juice to vinegar and about a 2:1 ratio of oil to the soy-vinegar in the mixing bowl
Dice the shallot, mince the ginger, shred the bock choy, kale and basil and combine in the mixing bowl with the bean sprouts and lime zest
Boil water with a little salt in the stock pot
Add the Somen and cook according to the package instructions (2-3 minutes, they should cook very fast)
Drain Somen and while still hot toss in the mixing bowl with the vegetables and dressing and cover to allow the greens to slightly wilt
Chill in the refrigerator to cool down the Somen
Crush the cashews and peanuts
When ready to serve, retoss and then top with the nuts
Additional or alternative greens can be added. The somen can be substituted with ramen or angle hair spaghetti. I considered using mushrooms at one point as well as slices of blood orange at another point but both ended up being considerations for future variations instead.
Arguably everyone’s least favorite aspect of a picnic is the inclusion of veggies. Even the attempt at a raw vegetable platter is met with upturned noses until the dips are brought around. Roasted veggies on the other hand bring a completely different element to the concept with their smokey charred goodness compared to the twiggy raw veggie taste. This Italian inspired recipe dresses them in a simple pesto sauce and includes a few surprises like crunchy white Cannelloni beans and everyone’s favorite: cheese.
Small fry pan
Toast the pine nuts lightly in a fry pan, do not let them burn
Roast the garlic in broiler or on the grill
Grate the Parmesan and Romano cheeses
Add to the blender the garlic, pine nuts, cheese and basil along with a little olive oil
Start the blender to combine the ingredients adding additional olive oil in a drizzle to the process until the desired consistency is achieved.
Cut the cheese, tomatoes, asparagus, pepper, squash and artichoke into bite sized pieces
Roast or grill the asparagus, pepper, squash until lightly charred
Roast the beans
Allow everything to cool
Combine all the veggies, cheese and beans along with basil leaves in the large mixing bowl and toss lightly with the homemade pesto and some fresh cracked black pepper
Just remember to dress it lightly, the meal is about the veggies, go easy on the pesto and perhaps try cubed Panchetta and/or some large green olives and some whole pine nuts if you are so inclined.