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Pan Dulce

Beat the Heat with Main Dish Salads

By Lori Grossman

Forget about the calendar. I have my own way of knowing when summer comes to Texas. Like when the neighbors start mowing their grass at 7:30 a.m. to avoid suffering from heatstroke. When the temperature is in the mid-90s by noon.

Or, when you break into a sweat just walking from an air-conditioned building to your car (and then burn your hands on the steering wheel). Another sign is that I start craving cool foods or food that doesn’t require much cooking. A timely subject for this month, don’t you agree?

When I was little, the heat never bothered me. I remember playing outdoors in hundred-degree temperatures with no ill effects. I look back now and wonder how I tolerated the heat. I’m guessing that the vinyl kiddie pool in the backyard, plus frequent helpings of ice cream or Popsicles, might have had something to do with it. Mom prepared main-dish salads for supper as often as possible, which was fine with the family. Food that is light-tasting and/or cold goes down easier in the throes of a Texas summer.

Summertime also brings back picnic memories, which is another column all by itself. Mom and I fixed as much of the food ahead of time as we could, then my dad handled the grilling when we reached our selected picnic location. Why does food taste so wonderful when you’re eating outdoors? Picnics in our backyard, or a friend’s or relative’s backyard, allowed us to be a bit more creative, but we tried to stick to light and cool food as much as possible.

The great thing about these first two recipes is that they require very little cooking, and they aren’t heavy on your stomach. Don’t let the long list of ingredients in the tuna salad scare you away. The actual cooking involves just the green beans and homemade croutons. The corn and black bean salad is a vegetarian alternative to a meat or poultry dish, and provides that all-important protein.

Tangy Tuna Salad

You can shorten the cooking time even more if you use store-bought croutons, but why bother when homemade tastes so great?
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces (half of an 8-ounce long loaf) Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed with the side of a chef’s knife
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 can (12 ounces) solid white tuna in water, drained and broken into large pieces
  • 1 can (16 to 19 ounces) white kidney beans (cannellini), rinsed and drained
  • 2 tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 head green-leaf lettuce, torn into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 small head chicory, torn into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 small red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
In a nonstick 12-inch skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add bread cubes and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is lightly browned. Remove skillet from heat and discard garlic.

In a 2-quart saucepan, heat green beans in 1 inch of water to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 to 8 minutes until beans are crisp-tender. Drain and rinse beans under cold running water.

Why does food taste so wonderful when you’re eating outdoors? In a large salad bowl, with a fork or wire whisk, mix red wine vinegar, capers, sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, and remaining 1/4 cup olive oil until blended. To the dressing in the bowl, add tuna, white kidney beans, tomatoes, lettuce, chicory, red onion, green beans, and croutons. Toss well to distribute the dressing evenly. Makes 4 main-dish servings.

I’m so excited about this next salad. It’s delicious, and t makes a wonderful presentation, too, with the salad in its own serving "bowl" made from the corn husks. Of course, if you want to skip the cornhusk business altogether and serve it on a plate, go for it. You'll find Texas-grown sweet corn in your grocery store now, so get some and try this salad.

Corn and Black Bean Salad

  • 4 small ears corn with husks (about 2 pounds)
  • 1/2 small head iceberg lettuce
  • 1 medium-size red pepper
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 16-to 19-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 17-ounce can lima beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • Tortilla chips, cilantro sprigs and jalapeño peppers (for garnish, if desired)
Pull husks back from each ear of corn, making sure to leave husk attached to the corn stem. Break off ears of corn at the base from husks and discard corn silk. In an 8-quart saucepan over high heat, in 3 inches boiling water, heat corn and corn husks to boiling. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain corn and husks. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, thinly slice the lettuce. You should have about 2 cups, loosely packed. Dice the red pepper.

When corn is cool enough to handle, slice off the kernels with a sharp knife.

In a large bowl, with a wire whisk or fork, mix the apricot preserves, lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and chili powder. Add the corn kernels, lettuce, red pepper, black beans, lima beans, chopped jalapeño and cilantro. Toss gently.

Spread the cornhusks open to form pockets. Fill each pocket with an equal amount of corn salad.

If not serving right away, place the filled cornhusks on a large platter. Cover and refrigerate. To serve, arrange filled husks on 4 dinner plates and garnish with tortilla chips, cilantro springs, and whole jalapeño peppers. Makes 4 main dish servings.

I may have saved the best for last. This cake is beautiful to look at and a refreshing treat on a hot summer day. No one will believe how easy it is to make. (Keep that as your secret!). You can substitute other sorbet flavors, if you prefer. Try different combinations. You’ll make this cake more than once.

Sorbet-Ice Cream Cake

Make sure you allow enough time to freeze the cake (at least 4 hours).
  • 30 vanilla wafers
  • 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel
  • 2 pints vanilla ice cream
  • 1 pint strawberry sorbet
  • 1 pint mango sorbet
  • 1 pint lemon sorbet
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced, for garnish
  • Fresh raspberries, for garnish
In a food processor with knife blade attached (or in blender at medium speed), blend vanilla wafers until fine crumbs form. You should have about 1 cup of wafer crumbs.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a small saucepan, melt butter over low heat, then stir in lime peel for a minute or so.

In a 9-inch springform pan, stir wafer crumbs and melted butter together with a fork until moistened. With your hands, press the wafer mixture firmly onto the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.

When you take the crust out of the oven, place 1 pint of the vanilla ice cream and the three sorbets in the refrigerator to thaw slightly, about 30 minutes.

Spoon alternating scoops of vanilla ice cream and the three sorbets into the springform pan making two layers. Press the mixture down to eliminate air pockets. Place pan in the freezer to harden the mixture slightly, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place remaining vanilla ice cream in the refrigerator to soften slightly. With a metal spatula, evenly spread the softened ice cream over the frozen layers in the springform pan. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

To serve, place warm dampened towels around the side of the pan for about 20 seconds to slightly soften the ice cream. Remove side of pan and place cake on a platter (at this point, remove pan bottom also, if you like).

Cover and keep cake frozen if not serving right away. Or, let stand at room temperature about 10 minutes for easier slicing. Before serving, garnish top of cake with slices of mango and fresh berries. Makes 20 servings.

Stay cool this Summer!

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