Thursday, March 30, 2023

On Cooking Southern: Summertime Fill-Em-Up Salads

Marinated green bean vegetable salad
Marinated green bean vegetable salad

By Laurie Triplette
Southernism of the Week:
Sweetie Pie Sugar Pie Honey or Honey Bunch: All refer to someone in an attempt to be nice, and even as someone to whom you are close; derived from “sweet as pie” or “sweet as honey,” and in the case of “sugar pie,” referring to the extremely sweet transparent sugar-based pies popular in the South, Southeast and Midwest such as pecan pie and chess pie and plain ol’ sugar pie … Intertwined with generic American slang such as cutie pie and honey bunny. 
Don’t know about the rest of the Cornbread Nation, but The Old Bride has been loving our Fall-ish weather that blew in this week.
What a reprieve from the 100-degree steam bath heat through which I traveled on Saturday from the Gulf Coast to the (relatively) cool 93 degrees of the north Mississippi hills country!
But who’s complaining. It is, after all, summertime. And my air conditioning has only gone out once. And the fruits and veggies of our region have been bountiful this season.
We’re at that turning point during the summer when life is getting hectic again. It’s just too much trouble to hover over a stove to prepare a family meal.
That’s what grills are for, isn’t it? Grill food and all-in-one salads containing produce direct from the garden are the perfect solution to feeding our hungry families this time of year.
The recipes we are sharing this week are what I call fill-em-up salads because they make huge quantities by virtue of the many veggies added. They are filling AND healthful, and work equally well for the family or a poolside gathering of friends.
Pasta-Veggie Salad
pasta-veggie salad-DSCN2412This dish makes a huge volume and is a sure-fire party favorite! It’s also pretty. 
16 oz package of vermicelli, broken twice
3 Roma tomatoes diced into small chunks
4 celery stalks, sliced
1/2 c chopped onion
Large cucumber, halved, seeded, and sliced
12 radishes, sliced
Large green bell pepper, diced
3 medium carrots, sliced
Broccoli and/or cauliflower broken into flowerets
Sliced water chestnuts
Sliced mushrooms (about one 8-oz pkg)
2-4 medium to large summer squash, peeled and sliced thin
2 pkg of Buttermilk Ranch Dressing dry mix
16 oz VIVA or Wishbone regular Italian dressing
Salt to taste
Cook and drain noodles. Rinse in cool water and drain well. Combine all veggies in a large mixing bowl. Add pasta and toss to mix. Sprinkle with the dry ranch dressing mix and toss to coat.  Add Italian dressing and toss well. Salt to taste, if needed. Chill about 2-3 hours before serving.  Keeps up to 3-4 days. Yields 10 or more servings.
greenbean-veggies-DSCN7454The classic church version of this salad calls for 2 cans of French-style green beans, 1 can of corn and 1 can of green peas, all drained. Our version relies on fresh-picked garden veggies.
1-1/2 c white distilled vinegar
1-1/2 c white granulated sugar
3/4 c vegetable oil such as canola or extra light olive oil
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp table salt
4 c steamed and blanched green beans
4-oz jar of diced pimento
1/2 c diced green bell pepper
4 ears of blanched fresh corn
4 c fresh or frozen butter beans
1/2 c diced celery
1 large white onion, diced
Combine first 5 ingredients in a jar. Cover tightly with lid and shake to blend. Set the jarred marinade aside.
Prep the green beans by pinching off ends and removing any strings. Bring water to a boil in a stockpot and drop in the beans. Bring back up to a boil and cook for 2 minutes; scoop out into a strainer, leaving water boiling in pot. Drop beans into pan of ice water to shock and stop beans from cooking further.
Remove green beans to a strainer, replenishing ice in water bath. While beans are cooling, repeat the blanching process with the ears of corn in same stockpot of boiling water; boil corn for 3 minutes before removing from the water and shocking in ice water bath for 3 minutes. Remove corn to strainer, replenishing ice in water bath. Use same boiling water to cook the butterbeans, which will take about 5 minutes (fresh ones take a bit longer). Scoop out butterbeans to ice bath for about 2 minutes, then drain completely.
Pat dry the green beans. Use a paring knife to slice the beans lengthwise to make French-style cut beans. Place sliced beans in a large mixing bowl. Dry the cooled corn and cut kernels from the cobs. Add to the beans in bowl, and repeat with the drained butterbeans. Add remaining veggies to bowl.
Pour the vinegar marinade over the veggies and toss gently to coat completely. Make more marinade if needed, to cover all the veggies. Marinate, covered, in the fridge for at least 8 hours. Drain and serve. Keeps about a week. Yields about 10 servings.
grilledeggplantsalad-DSCN7472What makes this salad so delicious is the grilled-char flavor in the veggies and the chicken. The grilled eggplant is delicious served hot, even without advancing to the salad stage! The Tuscan Herb Spice Blend tastes terrific on chicken, pork roast and most veggies. Most commercial Tuscan herb spice blends contain oregano, which can overpower a dish. I add separate sprinkles of crushed oregano to my Tuscan-inspired dishes as appropriate. Experiment with your own version. Feel free to omit the garlic or red pepper. 
Homemade Tuscan Herbs Spice Blend
4 T dried marjoram
4 T dried basil
2 T dried rosemary
2 T sage
2 T thyme
1 tsp crushed bay leaf, optional
2 T garlic powder
2 T red pepper flakes
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and blend with a whisk. Cover tightly in a jar. Shake to use when needed.
CLASSIC VARIATION: Omit the sage and bay; add 2 T crushed oregano.
3 T white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Homemade Tuscan Herb Spice Blend
1/4 c honey
1/4 c extra light olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, Dijon, Tuscan herb spice blend, honey and extra light olive oil. Whisk in the sea salt and black pepper until emulsified. Set aside until ready to use.
3 small-to-medium Italian (purple) eggplants, cut into 1-inch-thick slices, skin on
3-4 medium red onions, cut into quarter-inch rounds
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Homemade Tuscan herb spice blend
4 ears of fresh corn
2 T softened butter
1 small red or yellow bell pepper
1 smallish green bell pepper
1 large avocado
2 T fresh lime juice (juice of 1 to 2 limes)
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 to 1 tsp crushed oregano leaves, to taste
2 grilled chicken breasts, sliced into strips, or 1 pkg of frozen grilled chicken strips
Rustic bread
Soak the eggplant slices in salted water for about 20 minutes to draw out any bitterness (the larger the eggplant, the more bitter it might be). Drain and pat dry.
Brush the eggplant slices with EVOO on both sides, dusting each oiled side with Tuscan herb spice blend and a light sprinkle of Kosher salt. Rub the onion slices with a small amount of EVOO. Rub softened butter on the ears of corn, and place ears on a sheet of foil. Prep the bell peppers by slicing away the tops, de-seeding, and cutting into halves.
Preheat grill to 400˚F. Place the eggplant slices on heated grill and close cover for about 5 minutes. Flip and repeat about 5 minutes, making sure the centers of the eggplant slices are grayish and soft, with sharply defined grill marks. Remove grilled eggplant to a pan and set aside. Cut into cubes and place I large bowl. Grill the onion slices, cooking about 5 minutes on each side. Remove to pan to cool and loosely chop before adding to bowl.
Place the open sheet of foil in the center of the grill, close cover, and roast for about 5. Turn the corn and repeat, until corn has been evenly roasted all around. Remove to large bowl (stacked vertically to cool) for about 10 minutes before cutting kernels off the cob. Add corn to the eggplant in large bowl.
Flatten the bell peppers. Lightly brush on all sides with EVOO. Place prepped peppers directly on the grill, allowing about 5 minutes per side. Set aside to cool. Cut into strips and add to the bowl. (NOTE: Peeling the skin is optional and I don’t do it unless it has blistered.)
Pour the dressing over the eggplant mixture and gently toss to coat completely. Peel and pit the avocado. Cut the flesh into cubes and toss in the lime juice. Add to the bowl of veggies and gently toss.
Sprinkle oregano and lemon zest over the salad and toss two to three times before serving with fresh rustic bread and strips of grilled chicken. The chicken may be served on top of the eggplant salad or on the side. Yields about 10-12 servings.
Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian, and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA)  and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site: and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).