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Fresh Summer Salads

By Chef Judi Gallagher.

To know me is to know that I am definitely a self-proclaimed ‘saladaholic’. I grew up having salad every night, with the exception of Chinese night. If we had pizza, which was rare, we had a composed salad. My Nana’s specialty was what she called a chopped Greek salad. Although there was not a single olive or piece of feta, let alone oregano, the salad was crisp and refreshing. Chopped green and purple cabbage mixed in with diced cucumber, chunks of red and green peppers, chopped pickled herring, diced farm fresh tomatoes and fresh minced dill tossed with white vinegar and a perfect balance of sugar and kosher salt.

My mother taught me to season a tossed salad with garlic salt and a package a G. Washington beef broth. Along with a squeeze of fresh lemon and fresh ground pepper, this is a perfect base with a splash of olive oil, red wine vinegar and balsamic. Back in the 1960s, people did not worry about blood pressure; margarine was the rage and corn oil was in everyone’s pantry. I have since nixed the broth for its extremely high sodium content, but still crave the days of Mom’s homemade mayonnaise and ketchup dressing with the saltiness of the seasoning on a salad of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and curls of carrots. That salad was almost always served on roasted chicken night.

In the 80s I learned how to make the seven-layer salad that tastes like a BLT without the bread and continues to be a mainstay for summer holiday cookouts. On a hot summer night, I love a classic caprese with fresh mozzarella, layers of garden fresh basil, roasted peppers and thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes (this time of year best to order them from a Jersey farm.) In the cooler months, I often lay the stack of caprese on grilled focaccia bread and broil it for a few moments to add slight warmth to the experience.

I have been known to carry the makings for a tossed salad to the beach. Olive oil, kosher salt, pepper mill and balsamic packed neatly next to the large wooden salad bowl. I love the crunch of a great Asian salad with a hint of spiciness, the creaminess of bleu cheese dressing on a wedge salad with crumbled bacon and the balance that fruit adds to spinach salads. This month, my husband requested I post the prawn and mango salad that is one of his favorites. The romaine gives it a nice crunch. The salad can be served as an appetizer in a small dish with a glass of champagne or as an entrée on layers of tostadas if one small serving is just not enough.

-Flavors And More Magazine: July 2009

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