Joni Woolf: Stay cool with summer salads

Published 4:31 pm Monday, July 18, 2016

As much as we love all the bounty that summer fields and gardens provide, we have to heat up a kitchen to have pots of peas, butterbeans, cream-style corn, fried okra. And hot kitchens are not where most of us want to be in mid-July. So, taking a break from those wonderful, old-fashioned Southern ways of cooking vegetables (along with the required fried chicken and cornbread, of course), let’s look at a couple of easy salads that offer sustenance, variety and quite good flavor.
Several years ago, a friend gave me a cookbook published by the Fresh Market grocery folks. It’s called The Fresh Market and Friends, and though I don’t refer to it often, there is one recipe I return to whenever I want to take a large salad to a covered dish affair (and save a little back just for me). I did not know what orzo was until I got this cookbook, so that was a discovery. Since then, I have found many orzo salad recipes, but the one from Fresh Market, as well as one from Bon Appetit that a friend copied and sent, are two very good ones. They stay fresh two or three days (if refrigerated) but are usually consumed wherever they are taken or presented. Orzo is a versatile pasta. I’m glad I found it.

¾ pound orzo (about 2 cups)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
½ cup olive oil
3 Tablespoons white vinegar
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
Pinch of thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
3 oz. spinach, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
1 red bell pepper, chopped
½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and slivered
½ cup scallions, minced
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained
3 Tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
3 Tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Cook orzo al dente. Rinse briefly in cold water and drain. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Prepare dressing by combining remaining oil through cumin, whisking until smooth. Toss with orzo. Add spinach, pepper, olives, scallions and capers. At this point, salad can be refrigerated several hours. At serving time, add crumbled feta cheese and pine nuts. (Note: I usually omit the pine nuts — they are expensive, and don’t make that much difference — to me.)

8 ounces orzo (about 1 ¼ cups)
2 Tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ¼ pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes, cut into ½ inch pieces (or tomatoes from market)
¾ cups chopped green onions
½ cup sliced pitted oil-cured olives
¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Cook orzo in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Rinse under cold water; drain well. Transfer to medium bowl; cool. Whisk vinegar and lemon juice in small bowl; gradually whisk in oil. Pour dressing over orzo. Mix in remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made two hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Stir before serving)
The third recipe I found on New York Times website this morning, but have changed to suit me.  It is for GRILLED CORN SALAD, and it will keep you out of the kitchen also. Light the grill, (maybe you’re already cooking steak, or shrimp, or chicken breast, or even hamburgers).
½ cup balsamic vinegar
Olive oil, to taste
2 ears corn, shucked, silks removed
Salt and pepper
Two tomatoes, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 scallion, finely chopped
¼ cup Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped
¼ cup red onion, finely chopped
1 medium size avocado, pitted, roughly chopped
In small saucepan, over very low heat, reduce balsamic vinegar to 1 Tablespoon. Let cool. Drizzle olive oil on corn and season with salt and pepper. Place on grill and cook till lightly browned (or roast in oven 15 minutes, turning twice — but that will heat up the kitchen!) Remove, let cool, and cut off kernels. Mix corn, tomatoes, scallions, parsley, red onion and avocado. Season with reduced balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss well.
I can’t wait to try this one.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at