Summer Salads

Summer is in full swing. It seems like every time I turn around, one of my friends is having a picnic, going to the beach, or hosting a BBQ. When it comes to summer parties, there are a few staple dishes that I love to bring and they all fall under the same category: salads. Corn salads, fruit salads, potato salads – they are all perfect for get-togethers and so simple to create. The best part is that they can be fixed for any palate, so creative freedom is endless with the bounty of summer produce available: corn, peppers, peaches, berries…the list goes on.

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Two salads that I’ve been craving the most in these dogs days of summer are ones that I’ve recently started crafting: egg salad and chicken salad. I’ve never really been drawn to them – I always thought that many are made with too much mayonnaise or didn’t have the most appetizing texture. So I made it my goal to create the best egg and chicken salads I could, using only peak-of-season produce and items from the market.

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One thing you may be thinking is “where on earth did you find mayonnaise at the market?!” While I have done some research and found that mayo is not in fact necessary to create either of these salads, I am happy to tell you that there is a fabulous place to procure this item at both Pike and Bethesda Central Farm Markets! Nicole, owner of Two Acre Farm makes mayos in a variety of flavors. They contain no eggs which is how she’s able to sell them in her jars at the market. Farmhouse mayo is the regular flavor, but there is also garlic and sriracha! This makes it easy to elevate ordinary sandwiches and dishes into very different, creative ones. Stop by her tent – she will be delighted to give you a sample!

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For both salads, I wanted to try something a little different. Typically, both egg and chicken salads contain celery. While I love the flavor and the crunch, it isn’t celery season yet. So I set out to find an adequate replacement that would mimic the texture of celery but enhance the flavor and add some “pizzazz” to the dishes. The chicken salad uses two ingredients that are just as great raw as they are cooked: corn and green beans. I have discovered the beauty of both these items raw and you really can’t beat the texture that they give to the dish. Plus, the sweet corn balances out the spiciness of the jalapeno (should you choose to use it). For the egg salad, I minced a sweet green pepper for crunch and added some fresh arugula for a touch of “pepperiness”. The flavors work together seamlessly and the arugula changes the consistency of the salad, bringing it to a whole different level of awesome.

You can try different veggies in these recipes. Find something to substitute, change the flavor of the mayonnaise, add some spice. That’s my favorite part about what I call “sandwich salads,” there really isn’t a wrong way to make them!

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Summer Egg Salad

Ingredients:

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Directions

Hard boil the eggs. When they are room temperature, remove three yolks and set aside. Coarsely chop the remaining eggs and egg whites. Finely dice the green pepper and the onion. Using a whisk, combine the three egg yolks with the mayo until smooth. Combine all ingredients and salt and pepper to taste.

*This salad will last quite a few days. However, if you are making this in advance, I recommend adding the arugula at the last minute. This will ensure it doesn’t wilt.

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Summer Chicken Salad

Ingredients

*Optional

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Directions

Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry with a paper towel. Cover with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast uncovered in the oven at 350 F until a meat thermometer reads at least 165. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Once cooled, peel the meat from the bones and shred it.

Finely dice the onion. Cut the corn off the cob. Cut the tips off the green beans and chop into quarter inch pieces. Mince the jalapeño, if using. Combine all ingredients and salt and pepper to taste.

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All Things Olive

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There is so much to learn about olive oil! I really never knew the extent of it until I got a chance to sit down and talk to Keith and Lynne Voight of All Things Olive. They invited me to their house for a lesson and a tasting, and I was floored. ATO 2I’ve tasted olive oil before, but never like this. They took me on a journey through the different flavors and smells, the complexity of each variety, and the importance of pairing each with its proper meal combination. Trust me, they know their olive oil.

It all started while walking around Paris in 2001. Keith and Lynne ventured into a fancy olive oil boutique and found their calling. Three years later, after a lot of research and tasting, they brought a card table and a beach umbrella to the Kensington Market and started selling small batch, limited production olive oils from California. They soon became the first member of the California Olive Oil Council outside the state of California and realized that they needed to educate people in order to have them to understand the difference that real olive oil makes.

I was lucky enough to have a one-on-one lesson, so I will do my best to impart this wisdom to you.

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Olives are a type of fruit. They are the only fruit that produces oil as it’s juice. All other oils come from seeds and need further processing in order to be edible – either using steam, heat, or chemicals. With olives, you can pick, squeeze, and use the “juice” without any further processing. There are over 100 different varieties of olives and each one has different subtleties that will change the composure of the oil, much like grapes and wine. Also similar to wine, the flavor of the oil will change depending on the harvest time, the soil in which they are grown, and how the olives are handled.

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There are four different flavor profiles of olive oil. The greenest olives, pressed early in the harvesting season, produce a “grassy” flavor great for robust dishes like tuna, lamb, or salmon. Olives that are still somewhat green will produce “peppery” oil, often referred to as “Tuscan style,” and is great with crusty bread or pasta dishes. The next category is “fruity”- pressed from olives that are almost fully, but not quite ripe. This oil is a great choice for salads or cooked veggies. The ripest olives produce a “buttery” and delicate oil that is often used as a substitute for butter. It is the most widely used type of olive oil and is great for everyday use.

ATO 4A common question that Keith and Lynne get is regarding the terms “Virgin” or “Extra Virgin” Olive Oil. Both virgin and extra virgin olive oils are made without the use of heat or chemicals – the olives are “cold-pressed.” In order to make the leap from virgin to extra virgin, there can be no taste or odor defects, as determined by an independent taste panel. Also, the acidity level has to be below a certain percent to be called “extra virgin.” Interesting fact: California standards of labeling an oil as “extra virgin” are stricter than in Europe!

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So, after learning all of this I was given a tasting tour through the world of olive oil and I left that house full! On the plus side, olive oil has been proven to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, so at least I was getting some health benefits! You can stop by Pike Central or Bethesda Central Farm Markets and have a tasting of your own. Lynne or Keith would be more than happy to answer your questions, show you the amazing difference between a buttery oil and a peppery one, and have you taste some of the other amazing products they sell, like wine vinegars or fruit flavored oils. And stay tuned for news about an All Things Olive tasting event at the market in the future!

The Rabbit Operation at Liberty Delight Farms

I started writing Dishing the Dirt almost exactly a year ago. The purpose was to visit farms and tell the stories of the farmers. I also wanted to share some great recipes using items from the markets. It’s been a great year and I’m so grateful for the people who follow and read my blog regularly. You are the reason I do this.

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My very first post last year was about Liberty Delight Farm in Reisterstown, MD. I got a great tour from the farm’s owner, Shane Hughes, and learned so much about what it takes to maintain a farm. I would go on to visit many other of our fabulous farms, but I always looked at my first visit as a starting point and just built on my knowledge from there. Shane taught me the ins and outs of cow breeding, what it takes to raise healthy animals, and the dedication that is necessary to manage and own such a large farm operation.

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At last year’s visit, Shane was just starting to raise rabbits. There were five or six of them at the time. He showed me the skeleton of a building that he and his staff were constructing that would eventually house their next project, the Rabbit Operation. I returned to Shane’s farm last week, one year later, with my best friend, and found that they had built an amazing house to raise healthy, well cared for rabbits.

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The operation has grown immensely in just a year – there are now nearly 150 rabbits! The rabbits range in age from a little over a year to just a few days old. I can’t tell you how great it was to hold a two-week-old rabbit in my arms! I was careful not to get too attached…

Some people aren’t too keen on introducing a “new” meat into their meal routine. But rabbit is not as new as you might think – back in the 1940s and ‘50s, rabbit meat was nearly as common as chicken meat! Shane told me that the market for rabbit meat has grown substantially in the Washington, DC area. People are becoming accustomed to rabbit on menus in our restaurants. Shane sells many of his rabbits to these restaurants, some requiring 20 or more a week to keep up with demand! Here are some reasons why rabbit meat is a good choice:

  • It is one of the most sustainable forms of meat. Rabbits reproduce like…rabbits – therefore it is easy for farmers to continuously maintain a high level of output.
  • Rabbit meat has a high percentage of digestible protein and contains significantly less fat when compared to other meat.
  • Low sodium and low cholesterol levels mean that rabbit meat is a great option for those trying to maintain a heart healthy diet.
  • It’s fun to try new things! I’m looking forward to creating dishes with rabbit meat and bringing you great, creative recipes in the near future.

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While we were there, we took another little tour of the farm and checked out the two month old piglets. You really haven’t experienced the sight of farm animals until you’ve seen little pigs like this playing around, jumping on each other, and just generally acting like happy little creatures. It is so clear that Shane and his workers go to extensive lengths to make sure their animals are well cared for and happy. The smell of the pig sty, however, is something I could do without. In Shane’s words “pigs smell much better as bacon!”

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I loved revisiting Liberty Delight Farms. Stop by their stand at all three markets and have a chat with any of their great staff. Check out the rabbit meat too and try creating something delicious with it. I’m really interested to see what everyone has to say about their recipes with this “new” meat.

Spicy Grilled Peach & Pepper Salsa

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‘Tis the season for picnics and barbecues. It is also the season for juicy peaches and sweet corn. What is better than celebrating summer by creating a delicious dish that showcases the season’s best?

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This salsa recipe uses some of summer’s greatest produce, and the favored pastime – grilling. By grilling the ingredients in this salsa, you allow another layer of flavor to come through; unreachable by simply using raw ingredients. Grilling peaches brings out a smoky flavor, onions become sweeter, and we all know that grilled corn is the only way to go!

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Another abundant item in the last few weeks is peppers. Both sweet and spicy peppers are popping up at all the produce stands and that’s great for me because I’m a huge fan of spicy dishes. When deciding which hot pepper to use, it is important to ask the farmer for a recommendation. Sometimes a jalapeño can be spicier than a habanero, which was actually the case with the jalapeño I bought from Westmoreland Produce for this recipe. The farmers know the heat level of each kind of spicy pepper, so ask them to make sure it fits your spice preference.

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Eat this salsa just as it is, served with fresh handmade chips from Betty’s Chips and Salsa. It is also makes a great addition to grilled fish or chicken, served on top or on the side. I grilled some chicken wings from Liberty Delight Farms and served the salsa on top. What a treat!

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Spicy Grilled Peach & Pepper Salsa

INGREDIENTS

DIRECTIONS

Light the grill. Halve and pit the peaches, leaving the skin on. Shuck the corn.

Quarter and de-seed the sweet peppers and mince the hot pepper (use your personal taste to determine how much hot pepper to include- about 1 Tbsp. would be medium heat). Peel and slice the onion into thick (½ inch) slices.

Be sure to spray the grill! The peaches will stick.

Put the peaches, corn, peppers, and onions on the grill.

The peaches will be done first – they need about 5-7 minutes per side. Place them in a bowl and make sure they cool completely (I put them in the refrigerator while I finished grilling the rest of the veggies)

Next, the peppers should come off. Its fine, even preferable, if the skin is a little charred. Once they have cooled, the skin will just peel off.

Leave the onions and corn on the grill for at least 20 minutes, making sure all sides are browned. Once done, remove them from the grill and allow them too cool completely.

While the grilled veggies are cooling, add the minced hot pepper, lime zest, and lime juice to a medium bowl.

When they cool to room temperature, small dice the peaches. This will get messy, but try to contain the juices as much as possible as it is needed for the salsa.

Remove any charred skin from the peppers and small dice them.

Chop up the onions to your desired size and cut the corn off the cob. Roughly chop the cilantro, add to the bowl, toss all ingredients together and salt and pepper to taste.

If using this as a salsa with chips, it is much tastier the next day. It can be room temperature if used as a salsa on meat or fish.

Bon appetit!