Sensational salads

Tomato, grilled zucchini and bocconcini salad as as simple to make as it is elegant to behold.

I’ve been to many a summer party where, when I asked the host what I could bring, they said: “How about a salad?” I’ve also been the host of a party making that request.

It’s a logical thing to do. Quite often, if it’s a casual event the host will whip up the main dish. It might be baked and chilled salmon, burgers, steaks, chicken or some other creation — things that won’t clash with a few different types of salad on the plate.

Some people have a go-to salad that they love making. Others like to switch things up and make a new creation each time.

I have my feet in both camps.

I do have salads I enjoy making over and over again, such as potato salad, which so many people enjoy. Today’s recipe is called creamy old-style red-skinned potato salad. I call it old-style because it’s rich with mayonnaise and is flecked with hard-boiled egg and chopped pickle, things my late mother used to mix into her potato salad.

Over the years, I’ve also made all kinds of rice salads. In today’s recipe, I dressed it up Caribbean-style by adding beans, aromatic spices, citrus juice and a mix of vegetables.

Other times, I’ll tweak a salad I’ve made before, such as a simple but always well-received tomato and bocconcini cheese salad. I did that in today’s recipe by adding some grilled slices of zucchini, a vegetable always plentiful in the summer.

As for a new-to-me salad, I used a very old food that’s popular again as the base: quinoa, the ancient grain of the Incas. When cooking it in water until tender, I added some curry powder, which infused the quinoa with a wonderful flavour and gave it a golden colour. Once it’s cooled, I toss the quinoa with cooked and cooled cubes of yams, dried cranberries, almonds and other flavour-building ingredients.

All of today’s great-to-bring-to-a-potluck salads serve 12, or maybe more, depending on how many other salads adorn the table. The potato, rice and quinoa salads can all be prepared a few hours before needed. The elements of the tomato, zucchini and bocconcini salad could be sliced and grilled in advance. However, for the best look, assemble that salad close to serving time.

If you’re transporting a salad to a party, be sure to put it into an ice-cold cooler to keep it at a food-safe temperature.

Tomato, Grilled Zucchini and Bocconcini Salad

This colourful summer salad is simply but tastily dressed with good olive oil and tangy balsamic vinegar.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 2 to 3 minutes

Serves 12

  • 24 (1/2-inch/12-mm thick) slices ripe tomato (about 4 to 6 tomatoes, depending on size)
  • 24 (1/2-inch/12 mm thick) slices zucchini (about 2 small-to-medium zucchini)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 bocconcini cheese balls, each cut into 4 slices (see note, below)
  • 24 small leaves or sprigs of fresh oregano or basil
  • Balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high. Place the zucchini and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) oil in a bowl and toss to combine. Grill the zucchini 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per side, or until nicely coloured and just tender. Set on a baking sheet and cool to room temperature.

On a large serving platter, arrange zucchini, cheese and tomatoes in a slightly overlapping spiral. Top with basil or oregano. Drizzle salad, to taste, with balsamic vinegar and olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let salad sit 5 to 10 minutes to allow flavours to meld before serving.

Note: Bocconcini cheese sold in tubs or in bulk is available in the deli section of most supermarkets.

Curried Quinoa Salad with Yam, Almonds and Dried Cranberries

Nutritious quinoa, simmered and infused with the taste of curry powder, then cooled and tossed with nuts, dried fruit and brightly coloured vegetables.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: About 20 minutes

Serves 12

  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) quinoa (see note)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) mild curry powder
  • 2 3/4 cups (625 mL) water
  • 1 small to medium yam, peeled and cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch (6- to 12-mm) cubes
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) honey
  • Salt, to taste
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) whole skin-on almonds
  • 30 snap peas, each cut into 3 slices, blanched (see note)
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped fresh mint

Place the quinoa, curry powder and water in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook, undisturbed, 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and the water has evaporated. Spoon the quinoa onto a wide plate and cool to room temperature.

While quinoa cools, place the cubed yam in a pot and cover with cold water. Simmer the yams until just tender, about 5 minutes. (Do not overcook or they’ll break apart in the salad.) Drain yams well, cool in cold water and drain again.

When quinoa is cool, place the lime juice, oil, honey and salt in a salad bowl and mix to combine. Add quinoa, cranberries, almonds, snap peas and mint and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate salad until needed. Can be made a few hours before needed. Gently toss salad again before serving.

Note: Quinoa is sold in bags or in bulk at most supermarkets. To blanch snap peas, plunge in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain well, cool in ice-cold water, drain well again, and they are ready to use.

Creamy Old-style Red-skinned Potato Salad

A classic, creamy potato salad accented with egg, mustard and pickles. Serve it alongside anything cooked on the barbecue.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: About 10 minutes

Serves 12

  • 2 pounds (900 g) miniature red-skinned potatoes, quartered and rinsed well
  • 2/3 to 1 cup (up to 250 mL) mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons (50 mL) sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons (50 mL) whole-grain Dijon mustard (see note)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 small carrot, grated
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 large dill pickle, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 to 4 large hard-boiled eggs, halved and sliced

Place potatoes in a pot and cover with 2 inches (5 cm) of cold water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until potatoes are tender, but still holding their shape, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain potatoes well, spread onto a wide plate and cool to room temperature.

Place the mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, mustard and Worcestershire to taste in a large bowl and mix to combine. Add potatoes, carrot, green onion, pickle, salt, pepper and three-quarters each of the egg and green onion. Gently toss salad to combine. Cover and refrigerate salad until needed. When you’re ready to serve, transfer to a decorative bowl, garnish the top of the salad with remaining egg and green onion, and serve.

Note: Coarser whole-grain Dijon mustard, sometimes called country- or old-style, is sold alongside the smooth Dijon at most supermarkets.

Caribbean-style Rice and Black Bean Salad

Rice salad dressed up Caribbean-style, by adding beans, spices, citrus juice and mix of vegetables.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves 12

  • 1 cup (250 mL) long white rice
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) water
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons (50 mL) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) paprika
  • Pinch, ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
  • Salt, to taste
  • One 19-ounce (540 mL) can black beans, drained well, rinsed, and drained well gain
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) frozen or fresh corn kernels

Place rice and water in small- to medium-sized pot. Bring to a boil and then cover, reduce heat to its lowest setting and steam rice until tender, about 15 minutes. Spread rice on wide plate and cool to room temperature.

Place the oil, citrus juices, honey, spices, hot sauce and salt in salad bowl. Add the rice and all remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate salad until needed. Can be made a few hours before needed. Gently toss salad again before serving.

Connect with Eric Akis |eakis@timescolonist.com