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Salad days: A Shakespearean idiom that means the period of life where one is young and inexperienced. It’s accompanied by idealism, innocence and enthusiasm.
Around here, salad days is more a reflection of what we’ve been eating — with enthusiasm, of course. I haven’t been turning on the stove all that much in favour of fresh vegetables, and sometimes fruit, thrown together in a bowl. This isn’t me being lazy. It’s really all I crave at this time of year when the heat bears down on my appetite and my desire to cook. Thanks to my crop of favourite summer cookbooks, we’re eating some stellar salads that would make Homer Simpson change his tune.
Tacos have also been in high rotation, along with anything else that honours — and makes a serious dent in — the bounty of the season. My CSA baskets are overflowing and my garden has decided to finally kick into high gear after a sluggish start when I lost my zucchini plant (how is that even possible?!) and my kale threatened to keel over. So maximum vegetable use is what I’m after when seeking dinner inspiration right now.
There are five cookbooks in particular, packed with maximum veg-consuming recipes, that I find myself constantly turning to this summer. They’re used so much that I don’t even bother putting them away. I just leave them stacked on my counter and turn to them nearly every night when I want someone else to do the thinking about supper for me.
The Love and Lemons Cookbook by Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Matthews
At this time of year, I’m all about easy living. This book epitomizes it. Maybe it’s the intuitive way the recipes are organized. It’s subtitle is An Apple-to-zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking, so rather than by season, recipes are grouped alphabetically by vegetable.
It could also have something to do with the simplicity of these recipes. No one needs to be an expert in the kitchen to take their cues from Donofrio on teasing out maximum flavour from their the farmers market purchases.
Favourite recipes are the Swiss chard and white bean tacos to help keep those greens harvests in check; double-chocolate zucchini muffins that remind me of mini-molten chocolate cakes; and the spring polenta with radishes and garlic scapes. That last one is so amenable to modifications that I’ve turned it into summer polenta with a mash-up of warmer-weather veggies. Oh, and the peach smoothie is a sweet way to start my day, too.
Dishing Up the Dirt by Andrea Bemis
This one is new to me this year. I borrowed it from the library to take it on a test drive and I was immediately smitten. When I finished a huge communications project that zapped my energy for creating in the kitchen, I treated myself to my very own copy.
This mostly vegetarian cookbook tells the story of Bemis’s transition to farming and how she celebrates another day’s work on Tumbleweed Farm in her kitchen. Her dijon tahini dressing has been the sauce of choice for every green salad that’s passed my lips this year. I also amped up her roasted rhubarb muffins with heat-kissed strawberries when that season’s time came. The kale, beet and walnut pizza is bookmarked and ready to make short work of the bunch of greens that will undoubtedly come from my garden or CSA in the next few days. The roasted vegetable and chickpea tacos with herbed tahini sauce are also beauties.
Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small that Redefine Vegetable Cooking by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby
I want to visit Philadelphia so I can eat at Vedge, the plant-based restaurant where the husband-and-wife team of Landau and Jacoby helm the kitchen, and this book’s namesake. There isn’t a recipe in this comprehensive cookbook that I don’t want to make. It’s filled with pages and pages of beautiful, thoughtful recipes that make vegetables mealtime heroes.
Hakurei turnips with falafel crumbs and creamy sesame turned dinner into a fine-dining affair with those first CSA baskets of the season. The zucchini, tomato and olive tart is a beauty meal for when sandals are the footwear of choice. There’s the sublime strawberry and sorrel bread pudding that strikes the perfect balance of sweet and tart. And white eggplant with Catalan spices and saffron aïoli is another dreamy concoction.
As fancy as it all sounds, nothing is difficult to make. The recipes are a beautiful homage to my favourite food group and I want to buy a copy for everyone just to show how elegant and satisfying vegetables are.
Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean & Southern Flavors Remixed by Bryant Terry
This book isn’t just a summer favourite. It’s all-season superstar. Terry’s precise how-to’s have helped me through heaving baskets of mustard greens in cooler weather. With some tofu, those spicy leaves make a bang-up stew. Ditto for squash and sweet potatoes, matched with dumplings in a peanut broth.
Recipes aside, Terry is one of my favourite food personalities. His activism and his efforts to educate make him someone I admire. I respect what he does as a chef, and I’m grateful to have his voice in my cookbook collection.
Come summer, Terry is who I rely on to work through heaps of beans. His ginger-pickled green beans are a quick solution. They also make my three-year-old’s vegetable intake increase dramatically at this time of year. She normally won’t touch green beans, but there are days they’re the only thing she wants if they’ve been done to Terry’s specifications.
My very favourite, though, is Terry’s fresh corn salad. It epitomizes summer, using fresh (read: raw) corn, tomatoes, hot and bell peppers, basil, olive oil and salt. It’s wickedly easy and everyone asks for the recipe as they reach for seconds. It’s a brilliant change-up to the usual corn on the cob.
The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons by Laura Wright
I wouldn’t complain if this was the only cookbook I had to get me through any season. I love this book by Niagara’s own Laura Wright. Every recipe delivers what it promises and can easily be made with the usual suspects of pantry and veggie crisper staples. I have so many favourites in this book but three standouts include the warm balsamic mushroom salad with pine nut parmesan. (I use that pine nut parm on just about everything.) The eggplant bolognese pasta is another mainstay. I love it even more for the fact it gets my picky kid eating yet another vegetable.
And then there’s the peaches, peas and beans summer salad. It is a gorgeous riot of some of summer’s — and Niagara’s — best flavours. When I posted a pic to Instagram, some people commented they would never think to put peaches in a salad. Well, if anyone could convince us to combine fruit and vegetables in such an elegant yet unpretentious way, it’s Laura Wright.
Lucky for us all, Laura let me share the recipe for this salad filled with farm stand finds that play well together in a salad bowl. It’s a beauty you’ll turn to often over the next month as the last of the freestones come off the trees.
Laura Wright's Peaches, Peas and Beans Summer Salad
This colourful salad is a riot of fresh summer flavours made with some of Niagara's best farm stand finds of the season. Reprinted with permission from the author, Laura Wright, The First Mess Cookbook, copyright 2017.
For the dressing
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) gluten-free tamari soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) sunflower oil
- salt and pepper to taste
For the salad
- 3/4 pound (341 grams) young green (or yellow or burgundy) string beans, trimmed
- 2 ripe, but firm, peaches
- 1 small shallot, peeled and sliced paper thin
- large handful of snap peas, trimmed and sliced down the middle
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) whole toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
1. Make the dressing: In a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, tamarind, sunflower oil, salt, and pepper. Tightly secure the lid, and shake the jar vigorously until the dressing has a smooth consistency. Set aside.
2: Make the salad: Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Salt the water and then throw in the trimmed green beans. Blanch the beans for 3 minutes or until tender and crisp. Drain the beans and place them in a bowl of ice water to cool immediately.
3. Remove the pits from the peaches and cut the fruit into thin slices. In a large bowl, combine the sliced peaches, shallots, and snap peas. Drain the green beans and lightly dry them. Add the beans to the large bowl. Season the salad with salt and pepper.
4. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and peaches, and toss lightly to combine. Scatter the chopped basil and almonds over the top and serve.