Salad Days

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Salad doesn’t just mean lettuce. I’ve been playing around with several non-lettuce-based salads, some lighter than others, but all supremely summery.

The potato salad is the ideal accompaniment to any barbecue. Both the Greek and pasta salads can stand on their own as a light summer meal or can be served as a substantial side to a meat or fish main dish.

Potato salad
Potato salad (Photos by Keri White)

Sabi’s Potato Salad with a Kick

Serves 8

My beloved father-in-law, may he rest in peace, was known to the extended family as Sabi, a diminutive of saba, Hebrew for grandfather. For every summer barbecue from Memorial Day to Labor Day, he made his famous potato salad, an excellent rendition of the Jewish deli classic — peeled potatoes, onions, salt, pepper, garlic powder, mayonnaise, cider vinegar.

While I am loath to mess with perfection, I am growing jalapeños in my garden this year, and am constantly looking for ways to integrate them into my recipes for a little extra kick.

One recent weekend, we had a hankering for grilled burgers and inspiration struck — I made Sabi’s potato salad and added some jalapeño and fresh garlic in place of some of the mayo and the garlic powder. So, with apologies to my father-in-law, I offer the following and, if you’re a purist, you can increase the amount of mayo, omit the jalapeño, fresh garlic and oil, and sprinkle in some garlic powder instead.

  • 10 white potatoes, a little smaller than your fist — if size varies, cut to be uniform
  • ½ cup mayonnaise (or more)
  • ½ of a red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon mild flavored oil (canola or vegetable)
  • Salt to taste (approximately 2 teaspoons)
  • Pepper to taste (approximately 1 teaspoon)

Rinse the potatoes and place them in a large pot of salted water. Bring the water to a boil, cover and simmer the potatoes for about 25 minutes until they are tender when pricked with a fork.

While the potatoes cook, remove the stem from the jalapeño (and seeds, if less heat is desired) and puree it with oil and garlic.

Drain the potatoes and cool them until they can be handled. Peel and cut them into bite-sized pieces.

In a large bowl, place the potatoes, onions, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and pureed jalapeño mixture. Stir gently, being careful not to break up the potatoes. Add more mayonnaise if needed to achieve a creamy texture.

Chill for several hours. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if desired.

Greek Salad

Serves 4

This is a mimic of a salad I had in a Greek taverna somewhere off the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut.

My daughter and I were driving home from Boston and encountered dreadful Sunday evening traffic. We stopped for nourishment and were fortunate enough to find an excellent, family-run Greek place a few miles off the highway. Their salad was wonderful — heavy on oregano and creamy, room-temperature feta — and conspicuously devoid of lettuce.

Unlike lettuce-based salads, this keeps well in the fridge for a day or so. Garnish it with a sprig of dill or whatever fresh herbs you have lying around for a bit of flair (or not). If a pareve dish is required, skip the feta; the olives deliver plenty of salty brine, and the salad will still be delicious.

And if you do use feta, look for the creamier kind. My cheesemonger, surprisingly, recommended French feta for a creamier texture, and he was spot on. But any type works in the salad.

  • 1 pound tomatoes, cut in bite-sized pieces, or cherry/grape tomatoes cut in half
  • 1 cucumber, peeled if desired, and sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • ¼ of a red onion, peeled, and sliced thinly
  • 1 cup black olives (I prefer pitted, but cook’s choice)
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled, or cut in small cubes (room temperature if possible)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil

In a shallow bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives and feta cheese.

Sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the salad and toss well. This can be served immediately, allowed to sit for several hours or even refrigerated overnight.

Pasta Salad

Serves 4

The tricolor rotini gives this salad a wonderful burst of visual pizzazz, and the shape catches the dressing well. But any short pasta — penne, ziti, even elbow — works with this dish — and you can get fancy with tortellini if you want a more substantial salad.

I make a classic Italian vinaigrette for this, but you could cheat and use your favorite bottled Italian or seasoning packet starter as a perfectly reasonable shortcut.

This is a great do-ahead dish; it keeps in the fridge for a couple of days.

  • 1 pound tricolor rotini, cooked to al dente (1 minute less than the package directions) and cooled thoroughly
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • ¼ cup onion, chopped finely
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (any color)
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small can chopped black olives, or ⅓ cup chopped, pitted olives
  • 1 cup cubed provolone cheese (optional)

Dressing (makes 1 cup):

  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Make the dressing in a sealable container and shake well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the pasta, tomatoes, onion, peppers, chickpeas, olives and cheese cubes, if using.

Toss half of the well-shaken dressing over the salad and mix well. Gradually add more dressing to achieve the desired texture and level of seasoning; you want the dressing distributed over all the ingredients, but you don’t want it soaking and soggy.

Allow the salad to sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature so the flavors blend, or store it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

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