Colorful grain salads are potluck pleasers

Summer is season for salads, but that doesn’t always mean using leafy greens

Chicago TribuneJuly 16, 2014 

Thank goodness for potluck gatherings. We attend or host these easy repasts all summer long. Sharing meal preparations removes much of the stress. That is, unless everyone brings the same dish.

When the party hosting falls to me, I offer a theme and then keep track of who said they’d bring what. Sometimes, we’ll select a cookbook and everyone brings a dish from its pages. I always have ideas for those who don’t cook or haven’t the time — great hummus and pita chips from the store or a tray of sushi rolls from a local restaurant.

I relish the friend who always brings chocolate candies. We welcome any and all contributions to the table.

I love making (and eating) salads, so I keep an arsenal of recipes ready when it’s my turn to contribute.

With a few simple tricks, these main-course salads can taste great anywhere from the picnic blanket to a neighborhood block party. The first recipe is for a seasoned rice and pork salad laced with herbs, mango and a touch of red curry. Quick-cooking whole wheat couscous forms the backbone of the second salad peppered with ripe tomato and zesty greens.

It may sound counterintuitive, but using high heat for some of the salad add-ins means better flavor and varied texture.

In the first salad, I stir-fry tender pork over high for great flavor, then sweet shallots get a light fry for a crunchy topping. In the second salad, cauliflower gets roasted in a hot oven for golden goodness before it goes in the salad.

Another salad tip: Employ a variety of textures among the components. Some soft items such as tomatoes and crumbled cheese make a nice contrast to crunchy radish slices or shreds of cabbage. Color and contrasting size of ingredients likewise contribute to a well-made salad.

Incredibly easy, homemade salad dressings always steal the show. It never fails to surprise guests how much fresher the salad tastes with a dressing free of thickeners and sweeteners. People always ask for the recipes for the pale green, herby cilantro lime dressing and the five-ingredient Dijon dressing that follow.

No matter where you enjoy your salad, plan on a last-minute assembly. Most salads, when dressed too far in advance, become mushy.

I love to sprinkle on a salad surprise just before serving. Croutons will do, but try those large coconut flakes from Trader Joe’s, crispy chow mein noodles, roasted nuts, toasted sunflower seeds, broken tortilla or kale chips, even cheddar popcorn.

One more potluck tip: Bring copies of your recipes and ask for others so you always have ideas for the next outing.

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