Friday, July 20, 2012

Farm Stand Salad

I've read quite a bit recently about the importance of "rebalancing your plate" to eat primarily plants and grains.  Animal proteins are supposed to play a lesser role.  That doesn't mean we all have to become vegetarians and eat tofu, but health advocates often suggest eating meatless one day per week as part of a healthy lifestyle.  If not totally meatless, it's a good idea to cut down on the amount of meat in a meal.  Summer is a perfect time to adjust your diet a little with the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables that are available.  This salad is an example of a healthy summer meal with plenty of market-fresh veggies and a sprinkling of bacon.  If you're feeling particularly inspired you could leave the bacon out completely but it does add a nice counterpoint to the tangy goat cheese dressing and we all know how well bacon goes with fresh lettuce and juicy tomatoes.  Other major flavor components of the salad include fresh sweet corn, toasted walnuts, red onion, and fresh basil.  The overall flavor profile is very bright, bold and satisfying.

Growing up in the midwest I never really realized that midwesterners are the fortunate few who can eat sweet corn picked fresh that morning and sold at a roadside stand.  At the start of the corn season the ears have tiny, tender kernels that are bursting with sugar.  At that point you can literally cut the kernels off the cob and put them in a fabulous black bean and corn salad without cooking them at all. Of course, if you do cook them, it's only for a minute or two to heat them up enough to cover them with butter and salt until they drip all over your plate (and chin) as you gobble the entire cob, rows upon rows of sweet buttery salty heaven.  Once picked, the sugars in corn quickly turn to starch so corn that's been transported never has that heavenly taste.  And later in the season the corn tends to have starchier, tougher kernels as well.  But oh, those first fleeting days of corn season!  If you've never had that type of fresh corn all I can tell you is that it's a revelation.   A local farmer told me it has something to do with the rich soils and temperature/rain balance in the midwest.  Whatever, all I know is that sweet corn ranks right up there in my food memories with the tomatoes of my youth.  At the beginning of the harvest you can very easily make a meal of corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers and be extremely happy.  Plate rebalanced!

Even if you don't have access to that ephemeral corn, it's still worth it to buy fresh corn at your local market when it's available.  My tip of the day is how to cut corn off the cob without it ending up all over your kitchen.  Put a large bowl on the counter and place a smaller bowl (with a flat bottom) upside down inside it.  Balance the corn cob on top of the small bowl and when you cut down, the kernels fall neatly into the large bowl instead of all over your counter top.

I like to break the large chunks up just a little but not completely so everyone can see they came fresh off a cob when you serve your salad.

Cold crisp salads are perfect for hot summer days like we're all experiencing this year, don't you think?  Serve your salad with a fresh crusty baguette from your favorite bakery and have a (balanced) feast! 

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Farm Stand Salad
Serves 4

4 pieces of cooked and crumbled bacon
2 ears fresh corn, husked
2 ripe tomatoes
¼ red onion, thin sliced
1 bag baby salad greens or 2 small heads of baby lettuces, rinsed, dried and cored
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup soft cheese, such as feta or goat’s cheese, crumbled
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Drop the corn in, cover, and cook for approximately 5 minutes. Remove from the water and let cool, then cut the kernels off the cob and set aside. Core the tomatoes and thin slice. Depending on the size of the tomatoes you may wish to cut the slices in half.

In a small bowl combine the oil, vinegar and lemon juice with a whisk. Add the crumbled cheese and whisk. Add the basil, salt and pepper and whisk briskly until creamy and well blended.

Combine the lettuce, onion and tomatoes in a large bowl. Pour half the dressing over the salad and toss. Divide among 4 plates and top with corn, bacon, and walnuts. Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve.

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