August 2008

Getting Ready for the Dog Days of Summer

I’m not sure where the phrase “dog days” came from, but every time I hear it, I visualize a drowsy dog, asleep in the sun on a porch. Days like that inspire light, refreshing, healthy meals that won’t weigh you down to feel like said pooch: I’ve spent the better part of the summer developing salad recipes that can double as a whole meal, with the addition of a nice, grilled protein. There are, of course, obvious choices this time of year: corn is great, tomatoes in every variety are bountiful and sweet, but I’ve turned to some ingredients you would not initially consider when you reach into your produce drawer to make a salad.

I know I’ve been riding the “salad train” for the better part of this summer, but the truth in fact is that when I was writing “Daisy Cooks! Latin Flavors That Will Rock Your World”, I was hard pressed to come up with many different traditional salads. In Puerto Rico, “salad” is a couple of lettuce leaves with a slice or two of tomato and a slice of avocado. In my home, I have always been a fan of different salads and I serve it at least five times a week (it was my way of sneaking in those 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables in my kids diets!), but this summer, it seems, I have had a salad epiphany! So please forgive me, if you look back on the past couple of months and see that I have gone quite salad “mad”…just remember that September’s cool breezes are right around the corner, and my mind (and heart!) turns to heartier fare.

On my trip to Buenos Aires, last Christmas, I was surprised by the fact that Argentina seems to be the only country in Latin America that isn’t rice “centric”. In fact, pasta is much more the starch of choice, because the huge Italian influence on the food and its culture. Rice is used in salads, with sweet peppers, corn, peas and such: I remember eating it for dinner at an Argentine friend’s home, but never as the main event. Don’t think cold, but definitely think room temperature. Try my Arroz Verde, which you can eat hot or at room temperature. Delicious! In Buenos Aires, chances are better than not that you will find an Ensalada Rusa on any particular menu. This is also a salad that is very popular all over Latin America, so you can imagine how surprised I was when I encountered it on the curriculum in culinary school!

Arroz Verde

Try my refreshing Shaved Fennel, Ruby Red Grapefruit and Red Onion Salad, and add your favorite briny olive for a salad that is delicious by itself or with a piece of grilled chicken or fish.

Shaved Fennel, Grapefruit and Red Onion Salad

Not too shabby, huh? I could go on, and on, but I can’t turn this newsletter into a book! Think of Arugula Salad with Watermelon and Honeydew Balls with Jamon Iberico; add a light sherry vinaigrette and you’ll be transported to paradise. The wonderful thing about salads is that you can be as playful as you want to be!

To finish up, I’m going to leave you with a recipe from my childhood. I remember happily risking bloody knuckles on the guallo, to grate coconut for my mother, so that she could makes us Limber de Coco. I would grate the coconut, and then Mami would add a bit of warm water to it, and then squeeze the coconut meat with a clean kitchen towel, catching the delicious coconut milk in a bowl. To that she would add sugar to taste, and a bit of vanilla, and place the delicious nectar in ice cube trays to freeze. That was always the hardest part for me. I knew that in a few hours, my siblings and I would be enjoying those sweet little treasures.

Today, there is no need to go through that involved process, with the easy availability of canned coconut milk and canned cream of coconut. You can see a tutorial on Boriqua Blog, but it’s just a matter of stirring the coconut milk, cream of coconut, water and ½ and ½ plus a bit of vanilla. I found that this most approximated the nostalgic flavors of Mami’s kitchen, and the time that I spent with her in it.

Buen provecho!


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