Hot nights, cool dinners
Henri empties the fridge for the perfect summer salad
From time to time, Henri receives fan mail. Here’s an email—and my response—that’s perfect for the summer weather.
My friend and I love Chico summers. We love to walk over to the Pageant Theatre and then afterward downtown for a cappuccino or over to Shubert’s for an ice cream on the benches on the sidewalk outside. Sometimes we end up at One-Mile, cooling off in the pool before heading home to bed.
We also adore your little column (although we do feel that the heading “Chow” is an affront to your culinary dignity and discretion) and over the past year we have reproduced, quite successfully, we think, many of your recipes. However, with summer upon us, we’re finding ourselves wanting to cook less and fantasizing about nice, light, cool summer salads that we could prepare quickly, before heading out for the evening. At the same time, our refrigerator’s packed with leftovers—pasta, rice, vegetables. Do you have a recipe for a quick summer salad that might put some of it to use?
By the way, we think we saw you at Shubert’s last Saturday night. You were wearing Bermuda shorts and Argyle socks with Teva sandals and eating a double scoop of what looked like Chico Mint, and reading a Liza Minnelli biography. It sounded like Edith Piaf coming from your headphones.
Merci for your note, and I know exactly what you mean: Sometimes a quick, light salad is the best thing before a summer evening out. When it’s 95 degrees, the last thing you want to do is heat up your kitchen with a hot oven or stove. You’ll be happy to know that I have a fail-safe method for the salade été parfait.
Summer salad à la Henri
Note: The following should be used as loose guidelines only, as long as you include the key ingredients: the leftover cooked grain (cold), the veggies and the vinaigrette dressing. Other than that, use whatever else you have on hand and whatever sounds like it would work—and in virtually whatever amounts. I don’t think I’ve ever made this salad the same way twice, and it always comes out très bon.
Scoop several cups of the leftover cooked grain into a large mixing bowl. Henri’s favorite is couscous, but rice or bulgar works well also, as do some small pastas, such as orzo. Mix in 3 to 6 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and let sit for a half hour or so. (Note: You can also simply cook the grain earlier in the day and then refrigerate until you prepare the salad.)
Add about 1/4 cup of sun-dried tomatoes, chopped fine, and any or all of the following: sliced artichoke hearts (one jar), chopped roasted bell peppers (1/4 cup) and capers (a couple of tablespoons).
If desired, add chopped leftover meat (chicken, beef, lamb, pork).
Add any or all of the following fresh vegetables, diced: red onions, green onions, carrots, celery, green beans (boiled for four minutes), zucchini and bell pepper (green, red, yellow or orange).
Add whatever fresh herbs you have on hand, including basil (first choice), mint (second), oregano, thyme and parsley.
Add toasted nuts (preferably pine nuts or sliced or slivered almonds).
Add 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.
In a small jar (with lid), make a vinaigrette dressing with two parts olive oil, one part vinegar (or try using half vinegar, half lemon juice), two or three cloves of pressed garlic and one tablespoon Dijon mustard.
Toss all salad ingredients, dress with vinaigrette.
This salad, like a good lasagna or winter stew, will keep in your refrigerator for several days and just gets better and better as the ingredients interact with each other. It should be the perfect meal before a summer evening on the town in Chico.
By the way, Henri would never wear Teva sandals. What do you take him for, some kind of skinny, dreadlocked, hemp-necklaced river guide Américain? I was wearing my new black-calf Rivieras, by Prada.