By Angela Stephens
Gannett News Service
When it comes right down to it, summer gives us the best excuse of all not to cook. It's hot. We're saved from the obligation of cooking steamy soups or rich casseroles. No one wants to eat them, anyway. It's too hot, remember?
So we can wield our freshly sharpened knives and chop up fruits and vegetables for salads.
OK, so maybe we cook a teensy bit - boiling some pasta for that salad, or grilling bread to accompany. That's 10 or 15 minutes, tops. Not nearly long enough to heat up the kitchen.
After a heavier than normal lunch out, last night's dinner could only be a salad. A refreshingly cool, fruity tropical pasta salad can become a refreshing delight.
The salad can be something very simple - your usual ingredients - with one or two "fun" things added for interest, such as diced mango or toasted coconut or slivered almonds. It can be a bit more complex with an Asian-style pasta salad dressed with a spicy peanut sauce.
Often, all it takes is a different salad dressing to perk up the same old salad. Whether you make something or purchase one of the many specialty ones available everywhere, ditch the everyday commercial fat-free Italian tonight for a red wine vinaigrette, a citrus-ginger blend or a spicy chipotle-pepper-based dressing.
Even if it's nowhere near fat-free, it's not likely you'll do too much damage to your diet if you have a few tablespoons on occasion.
Summer Spinach Salad
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese rice wine)
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1 cup thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
8 ounces baby spinach
4 ounces Jarlsberg cheese, grated
8 slices sourdough baguette
In a bowl, whisk together the honey, mirin, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the radishes, red onion, corn and mushrooms and toss to coat.
Divide spinach onto four plates and spoon the vegetables with dressing on top.
Preheat the broiler. Divide the cheese onto the baguette slices and broil until bubbly. Place two of these Jarlsberg "croutons" on each of the salads and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
From La Crema winery in Vegetarian Dishes (Celestial Arts; $9.95) by Leslie Mansfield.
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