Make a summer salad – but hold the greens

Bread, orzo, and corn are some of the unusual (but delicious) ingredients in this trio of salad recipes.

By , Correspondent

Plymouth, Mass. - It wasn't that long ago when the average salad served at home and in hometown restaurants was nothing more than a few shards of iceberg lettuce, a wedge or two of mealy tomato, and maybe a slice of onion, all drowned in some kind of orange dressing.

Tomatoes are certainly much better today. Gone, for the most part, are those plastic four-pack corrals of pale tomatoes wrapped in cellophane. Alas, the hard, tasteless balls of iceberg lettuce live on. Personally, I never put anything in a salad I can bowl with. So unless you've joined a candlepin league, reach for something else. The options are limitless.

A recent perusal of the produce department at a local supermarket revealed a variety of interesting possibilities: Sharing the cool, misty shower with romaine and the afore-mentioned iceberg, were bunches of blue-green kale, curly endive, bright green watercress, broccoli rabe, Swiss chard, Chinese and Napa cabbages, arugula, ruby red radicchio, and baskets of mesclun.

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Next to them were the prewashed and packaged organic greens as simple as romaine with radicchio and as esoteric as an Asian mix of red chard, lolla rosa, mizuna, tango, and arugula. (Could someone please find the dictionary?!)

The salad-dressing aisle had a dizzying display of more than a hundred varieties. Hard to believe that the word "salad" is derived from the Latin word sal (salt), the usual dressing for salads in ancient times.

But even with these endless variations for a salad, it's not always easy being green. Salads can be devoid of anything green at all. And they can be served as a side dish or as a meal in themselves. They can be warm (German potato salad and wilted spinach with bacon drippings are two classics); or cold, with meat, legumes, fish, pasta, grains, poultry – and on, and on, and on.

These three salad recipes are absent of all but token greens, but they're simple, interesting, and fun to make.

Bean and corn salad

I've never been a fan of bean salads, but this one I like; it's colorful and the corn gives it a bit of crunch.

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed

15-ounce can white kidney beans, rinsed and drained

15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped red onion

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, cumin, salt, and pepper.

Combine all remaining ingredients in a large serving bowl. Add oil and vinegar mix. Toss to coat thoroughly. Taste. Season with additional cilantro and salt and pepper if necessary.

Best to let it stand at room temperature for about an hour before serving, to let the flavors meld. Serves 6 to 8.

Orzo salad with shrimp and feta cheese

Orzo is an underused pasta. It is available in most supermarkets, and its small ricelike size is perfect for cool summer salads. Feta cheese is available in blocks or crumbled, and mixed with herbs. Use whatever herbed variety you prefer.

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

3/4 cup orzo

4 ounces herbed, crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped chives or scallions

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar. Set aside.

Drop shrimp in a large pot of salted, boiling water. Remove from heat. Cover, and let stand 3 minutes; drain.

Cook the orzo in one quart of boiling, salted water for 10 minutes. Drain it in a sieve and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain thoroughly.

Combine shrimp, orzo, feta, pepper, chives, and parsley in a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette, season with salt and pepper.

Serves 4.

Bread salad with kalamata olives

This wonderful, simple, and delicious salad from Tuscany works especially well with day-old, or even grilled bread. Although it's traditionally made with Italian bread, I prefer it with a crusty French baguette or a loaf of stale rosemary bread. Use fresh herbs if possible and ripe juicy tomatoes. If ripe tomatoes are unavailable, use canned Italian tomatoes, drained, or cherry tomatoes, halved. Ingredients and amounts can vary greatly, so use your imagination.

1 slightly stale French baguette

3 cups chopped fresh toma­toes (or canned Italian tomatoes, drained; or cherry tomatoes, halved)

About 3 dozen fresh basil leaves

1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved

2 cloves finely minced garlic

1/2 cup chopped red onion, or scallions

1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley

1 teaspoon each of fresh oregano, thyme, and rosemary, or whatever is available (optional)

3 tablespoons balsamic or red-wine vinegar

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cut bread into bite-sized pieces and place in a large serving bowl with tomatoes. Chop basil leaves and add to bread along with olives, garlic, onion, parsley, and any optional herbs. In a small separate bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper; add to bread and toss until all ingredients are coated with vinaigrette. Let stand about 10 minutes, toss again before serving.

Serves 6.

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