We can measure our summer in hours, so there’s no time to spare.
Anything fresh from the earth that delivers maximum pleasure with minimal fuss demands a place of honour at our tables.
So, why do we smother those wonderful seasonal fruits and vegetables in bottled toppings?
By all means, tote the store-boughts to work to go along with prepared lunch salads from the grocery store, but if you’re starting or ending dinner with a fresh dish tonight, please give one of these quick and easy dressings a try.
Each of these recipes makes enough for a large salad that will serve 6 to 8 people.
If you prefer the non-creamy types of dressings, sometimes with different vinegars or herbs, this is the starting point for a vast array of choices.
2 tbsp. white or red wine or sherry vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine vinegar and mustard. Add oil slowly, whisking vigorously to form a smooth dressing. Add salt and pepper.
If you like your salad to include heartier chopped vegetables as opposed to just leafy greens, add a minced shallot or clove of garlic, or both.
For an Italian note, substitute balsamic vinegar and add some chopped or torn basil and maybe a pinch of fennel seeds.
For Greek, substitute lemon juice for vinegar and add fresh chopped or a pinch of dried oregano.
If you enjoy the exotic, use chili or herb-infused oil. If you add toasted nuts to your salads, use walnut or grape seed oil to complement the flavours.
For a great potato salad, change out the Dijon with hot or grainy mustard and add some smoky bacon and green onion.
Finally, don’t limit yourself to tossed salad.
Pour a vinaigrette over any grilled or steamed summer vegetable from asparagus to zucchini and you have a side dish dressed for dinner.
If you gravitate towards ranch or Thousand Island, then you probably prefer a dressing with a dairy and mayonnaise base.
Naturally, you can make your own mayonnaise, but I find it goes off really fast, so the stabilizers in a good bottled variety are an acceptable compromise.
Try one of these over a wedge of crisp iceberg lettuce or as a dip with bell peppers, broccoli and cauliflower.
Stir any one of them into warm pasta or drizzle on a piece of grilled fish for an instant flavour boost.
1 shallot, peeled
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise (not salad dressing)
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/8 tsp. each salt and pepper
A food processor makes this one easier. Throw everything in and process until smooth.
Alternatively, mince the shallot and garlic and whisk in remaining ingredients.
For the best ranch you’ll ever taste, add 2 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley and 1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill.
For a great Thousand Island dressing or burger sauce, reduce the buttermilk to 1/4 cup and add 1/4 cup chili sauce, along with 2 tbsp. each sweet pickle relish and minced bell pepper.
If Russian is your thing, add 1/4 cup ketchup, 1 tbsp. prepared horseradish and 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce.
Blue cheese fans should crumble in 1/4 cup of their favourite variety, but if blue is a bit over the top for you, stir in 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan.
To make the ultimate Green Goddess, stir in 1 tsp. anchovy paste, a couple of chopped green onions and lots of chopped fresh parsley—whiz it in a food processor if you enjoy that old-fashioned lime-green silkiness.
Basic fruit toppings
Yogurt is the magic ingredient for fruit dressings.
Try the natural variety for a wonderful texture and mouth feel, or cut back on the fat with a lighter version.
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. salt
Whisk ingredients together and keep chilled until ready to serve.
If you like the look of whole or thickly sliced fruit, then you’ll want to spoon on poppy seed dressing for maximum effect — just add 1 tsp. poppy seeds, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard and a pinch of paprika.
For a great natural pairing with grapes and bananas, substitute lime juice for lemon and add 1/2 tsp. grated fresh gingerroot.
To invoke the tropics, omit the lemon juice and add 2 tbsp. pineapple or orange juice.
If your usual choice is to pair crisp apples with toasted nuts, then substitute sherry vinegar for the lemon juice and change out half the yogurt for olive or vegetable oil.
Stir in a handful of chopped fresh mint and a pinch of coarsely ground black pepper and serve with big chunks of watermelon or whole strawberries.
For an intense citrus hit, add the grated zest from a whole lemon, an orange, or both, and serve over any mixture of fruit you can think of.
Mash up a banana and stir it in, then add a cup or so of finely chopped fruit and freeze in a pan; cut out in hunks for a fabulous frozen treat.
If you can’t get your kids to eat fruit salad, substitute 1/4 cup marshmallow fluff for the honey and serve it on top of fruit chunks, sundae style.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.