Salads

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts

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Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts (2)

My history with both strawberries and walnuts goes back a long, long way. Growing up as the oldest of a large family, we always had long rows of strawberries where we fought with varied feathered and furred creatures to be the first to get to as they ripened. Later I married into the Martin family and they had a pick-your-own patch in those early years. I remember picking with Asian pickers and being simply agog at their flying fingers while chatting at equal breakneck speed with each other. After the stork began using our home as a drop-off location, I sold strawberry plants in the spring from our house as a little sideline income as a stay-at-home mom. It turned out to be a great way to meet the neighbourhood, as well as neighbouring communities. I also got to know the berry types and which ones grew best in certain soils. Those were good years.

We children considered walnuts the bane of our existence. Our property had formerly been a black walnut grove and my parents had opted to keep about a dozen trees on our lawn. Starting in September, we had to pick up those big green globes before we could mow. At the end of the season we saved a few bushels of them and spread them out on the lower garage floor, then drove over them with the garden tractor to remove the thick pulpy, leathery skin. When the skin was squashed and cracked, we peeled them off, wearing rubber gloves. You know what walnut stain colour on wood looks like, right? Well, dear ones, that’s the colour our gloves were after that job was done and the stain dried. We let the nuts dry in their hard wooden shells for weeks down there, then gathered them in bushel baskets and stored them in the furnace room. Then…and this is the good part…on a cold, rainy night those old enough to help would gather in a circle and pound those wooden little nuts with a hammer until the shell split and pry out the nutmeat inside. We would beg dad to tell stories of his boyhood and he obliged with delight. When we were done, we trooped upstairs and Dad (or Mom, if the little ones had been put to bed already) would fry up those little hard-earned beauties in butter until they were sizzling and fragrant, shake some salt over them, and we devoured them with gusto. To this day, I cannot brown a nut without having memories of those late autumn delights flood my being. It’s funny how memories are attuned to smells like that.

Summer Strawberry Salad (2)

This salad uses an assortment of fresh seasonal goodies that are available now. I had to use English walnuts because I have no black walnuts on hand, but it was still delicious. The dressing is from the yummy Festive Tossed Salad in our cookbook. I cut back the sugar and butter amounts from the original recipe, as I often do.

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm and my blog is featured on their new website. The views and stories presented here are my own.
Strawberries come in many varieties and types. It is best to grow them in raised rows so that the berries don’t sit in water and rot during wet weather. The plants need to be covered in winter with straw to prevent winterkill (hence the name). With the advancement of the day neutral or ever-bearing berry, we are able to have strawberries much earlier in the spring and later in the fall than we used to. Ontarians are now making fresh strawberry pies in October for Thanksgiving, alongside the iconic pumpkin pie! They are easy to freeze for smoothies or shakes.

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts

Ingredients

NUTS:

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts (2)

  • 1 cup walnuts, or pecans if you prefer them
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

DRESSING:

  • 1/2 olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar or honey
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (2 teaspoons dried)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or basil (1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in quarters
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

SALAD:

  • 10 – 12 cups torn romaine, or a mix of lettuces
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
  • 1/2 cups sliced green or red onions
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese, or your favourite kind

Directions

NUTS: Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add nuts and cook until sizzling and fragrant over medium heat (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and sprinkle with sugar, salt and pepper; stir it in. Set aside until serving time. These can be done ahead.

DRESSING: Blend dressing ingredients together in food processor or blender lightly.

SALAD: In a large salad bowl, layer half the lettuce, strawberries, onions and cheese. Repeat layers. The salad can be covered and refrigerated at this point for several hours. When ready to serve, top with the candied nuts and drizzle with enough dressing to suit your tastebuds. Eat and remember those who gathered the walnuts.

End-of-Summer Grilled Salad

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End-of-Summer Grilled Salad
End-of-Summer Grilled Salad. Such an abundance of flavours and textures!

This is my farewell-to-summer salad recipe. I made it about a month ago, thinking I would save it to post next summer, but summer is extending waaaay beyond its normal Canadian boundaries, so I couldn’t resist sharing it now. Besides salad is good for you anytime, even if it’s a summer salad teetering on the cusp of Fall. We have all winter to feature beets, apples and pumpkins.

It all began very innocently: I was planning to make Grilled Peppers with Feta for our retail girls because we had such beautiful peppers at the store, and they are amazing marinated, grilled and stuffed with feta. I was telling them about our family’s introduction years ago to the cute, but hot cherry bomb peppers by one of our employees at market. He’s from Laos and told us how to cut off the top, hollow out the inside, sprinkle salt on the edges, then turn them upside down on a paper towel-lined pan to drain. This cuts down the heat factor. Then you stuff them with feta cheese and seasonings. I’ll tell you, our horizons have really broadened with our ethnic friends’ influence! We didn’t grow up eating hot stuff, but we love heat now. I make these cute, flaming delights once a year for our family.

One busy day this fall when I was assisting the girls at the store, I promised to make some for them. They agreed with reserved enthusiasm. I decide that to save time, I would employ the marinated pepper recipe that I love, using both sweet and hot peppers, and cut them smaller. It was a bit anti-climactic because the peppers aren’t very hot this year, due to all the rain they got during their growing season. But the girls loved them, and didn’t need to chase them down with milk.

 

Then I started thinking about all this delicious marinade, and the leftover peppers that I didn’t use. It hurts me to throw away perfectly good marinade that simply had peppers sitting in them for a few hours. It was a beautiful warm day, the grill was hot, I had other vegetables and chicken breasts thawing in my fridge. I marinated the vegetables in one bag and the chicken in another, and that is the backstory to the End-of-Summer Salad.

Note: You can use whatever vegetables you like that are grillable. That’s the beauty of salads! 

 

As stated above, peppers are hotter in a dry year. It makes sense that a pepper with a higher water content would be milder, right? Keep them in the fridge in a bag. I have discovered that a grapefruit spoon works wonderfully to scoop out the seeds in a hot pepper.  

For the Grilled Stuffed Peppers, simply marinate them, sear them, and melt a spoonful of the herbed feta mixture in the cavity. So simple; so good. 

End-of-Summer Grilled Salad

Ingredients

Salad:IMG_20170922_184035490-3.jpg

  • 2 sweet peppers
  • 2 – 4 hot peppers (I used cherry bombs)
  • 2 zucchini
  • 4 – 6 green onions
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup of herbed feta cheese or mix your own like I did
  • mixed greens, washed and dried

Marinade:

  • 2 – 3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup good quality olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Directions

Cut peppers into halves, thirds or quarters, depending on their size. Cut zucchini in half crosswise, then again in half lengthwise. Leave the green onions whole. 

Whisk or shake together the marinade ingredients. Place chicken in one zippered plastic bag and vegetables in another. Pour half of the marinade into each bag, turning a few times to distribute it. Refrigerate and marinate for at least an hour, turning several times. Remove from the marinade and grill the vegetables quickly  on medium high heat. Don’t overcook them; you just want to sear them. Brush with remaining marinade. Remove the chicken from marinade and grill on medium until no longer pink inside. Again, brush with remaining marinade. I make a small slit in the fattest part of the breast to check doneness. Remove from the grill. 

To serve, slice the vegetables and meat and arrange on a bed of mixed greens. Add herbed feta cheese, drizzle with your favourite dressing, and say farewell to summer.

 

 

Chicken, Corn and Black Bean Salad

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Chicken, Corn and Black Bean Salad

When I think of corn, I remember rows and rows of it in our Shop Garden. When I remember the rows in the Shop Garden, I recall picking the corn, and hearing the satisfying crack as the cob snapped off the stem. I remember emerging from the patch with corn tassels in my hair and arms itchy from the hairy, bristly leaves. Then came the next family project, shucking bushels and bushels of the stuff, with Dad helping us and telling us stories while Mom expertly cut the kernels off the cobs. As our hands grew and steadied, we were allowed to help cut it off. It was like a rite of passage; once you were able to cut off corn to Mom’s specifications, you were an adult. There was a knack to it, you see. It had to be cut close enough to the cob that you weren’t wasting any of that precious commodity, but not so close that you were shearing off the hard gristle from the centre of the cob. And finally, it was quickly blanched, cooled and bagged for the freezer, to be hauled out and served later in the season.

I’m lucky, though, I just tell Steve how many dozen cobs I want Martin’s to set aside for me, and presto, we have beautiful sweet corn appearing at our back door with no itchy arms or corn tassels in our hair. We had a family Corn Day recently and I, as the matriarch of the clan, was telling the cutters not to cut it too close to the cob, but still close enough. Since it was a cloudy, drizzly day we did it inside, but the stories flowed freely as the cobs were denuded of their kernels.

In the evening, the sun came out and we had a campfire, roasting the corn on the grill while the salmon fillets cooked over the fire. We ate the corn with a Mexican Street Corn sauce which made it taste delicious. Since the Mexican cotija cheese is hard to find here, I substituted feta. The texture is similar and it still tasted great. I made sure to grill extra corn because I wanted some for this Chicken, Corn and Black Bean Salad, which is also amazing. To grill it, I simply remove a few of the outermost husks, then place the corn on the BBQ and grill it covered for about 20 minutes, turning it a few times to cook each side evenly. If you don’t have time to grill it, or can’t for some other reason, you can achieve a similar flavour by thawing and draining frozen corn, then sautéing it in a dry skillet until it begins to brown.

I have served this salad times without number and it is always received with gusto. It is especially good served with foccacia, naan or some other flatbread. Grill some fresh peach or apple halves or pineapple wedges for dessert, drizzle with a fancy balsamic, honey or maple syrup, add some cinnamon and some ice cream, and you have a delightful summertime meal.

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We used to grow acres of sweet corn here at Martin’s and I learned from that time that quickly cooling down the cobs after picking is critical to maintaining flavour and crispness, especially if you aren’t able to use it all immediately. We had a big vat of cold water that the bins of freshly picked corn would be dunked into before hastening them into the coolers. This way, the corn can easily stay fresh for days without losing flavour or crispness. I am wary of wagons of sweet corn for sale beside the road that have been sitting in full sun for hours.

Chicken, Corn and Black Bean Salad

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup olive oil (you can use whatever oil you like best) IMG_20170704_183845338-1
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro (parsley for me, thank you), finely chopped
  • 1-3 teaspoons honey (it’s your call on the sweetness level here)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or chili pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups grilled chopped chicken (cooked is okay too, just not as flavourful)
  • 19 oz. (540 ml) tin black beans, rinsed and drained (I use half of this amount)
  • 1 cup of cooked (or grilled) corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup of thinly sliced red or green onions
  • 1 medium bell pepper, sliced or diced
  • Bed of torn lettuce (I like a mixture of leaf and romaine)
  • Chopped tomatoes or grape tomatoes
  • Shredded cheese

Directions

Combine the first eight ingredients to make the dressing. This can easily be made ahead, in fact it should sit for at least thirty minutes for the flavours to blend. Place the torn lettuce on a large plate or flat-sided bowl; top with the remaining ingredients in whatever order you wish. Sometimes I create rows, sometimes wedges, circles, random sprinkles; it’s your choice. Drizzle with the dressing just before serving and stir lightly to distribute the ingredients.