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Colorful grain salads are potluck pleasers

Published: Wednesday, July 2, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Change things up a bit, to make sure you bring a unique dish to a potluck, with a colorful salad such as this couscous salad with roasted cauliflower and Dijon.
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Main-course salads, such as this salad of red curry mango and pork rice, can taste great anywhere from the picnic blanket to a neighborhood block party.

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 might 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.

Red Curry Mango and Pork Rice Salad

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 35 minutes

Makes: 6 main-course servings

You can cook the pork or chicken on a medium-hot grill if preferred. Tinned French fried onions offer a time-saving alternative to the shallots.

11/3 cups uncooked long grain brown rice

1/3 cup uncooked quinoa, red quinoa preferred

2 to 3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste, to taste

1 pound pork tenderloin or boneless, skinless chicken thighs

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 large shallots or 1/3 red onion, peeled, very thinly sliced

1 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced

1 ripe mango, peeled, seeded, diced

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Cilantro lime dressing, see recipe 2 cups fresh bean sprouts

½ cup roasted flaked coconut, optional

½ cup chopped roasted salted peanuts, optional

Put rice, quinoa, curry paste and 23⁄4 cups water into a medium saucepan. Heat to a boil; cover tightly. Reduce heat to very low; simmer until rice is tender but not mushy, 15-20 minutes. (Alternatively, cook the rice, quinoa, curry paste and 22/3 cups water in a rice cooker according to manufacturer’s instructions.) Remove from heat; let stand, 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork; transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Cut pork or chicken into scant ½-inch pieces. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots. Cook and stir until golden, about 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer shallots to a plate.

Reheat the oil left in the pan. Add half of the pork or chicken. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 3-4 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate. Repeat with another tablespoon of the oil and remaining meat. Transfer cooked meat to the plate.

Add remaining tablespoon oil and the red pepper to the skillet; cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Add to the meat. Stir cooked meat and red peppers into rice. Add mango, chopped cilantro and mint. Cool and refrigerate up to 2 days.

To serve, stir in enough of the dressing to lightly coat everything; taste and mix well. Top with bean sprouts, toss lightly. Top with coconut, peanuts and the reserved fried shallots. Serve at room temperature.

Cilantro lime dressing: In a blender, put 1/3 cup vegetable oil and ¼ cup each: fresh lime juice and fish sauce. Add 2 or 3 thin slices peeled ginger, 1 clove garlic and ½ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves. Process until smooth. Makes about 3⁄4 cup. Refrigerate and use within 1 day.

Nutrition information per serving (using all of the dressing): 641 calories, 34 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 53 milligrams cholesterol, 58 grams carbohydrates, 28 grams protein, 1,305 milligrams sodium, 7 grams fiber

Couscous Salad with Roasted Cauliflower and Dijon

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

Makes: 4 to 6 main-course salads

I like to use bright orange, green or light purple cauliflower here when it is available at the local market. For the couscous, you can substitute 12/3 cups (10 ounces) cracked wheat (medium-grain bulgur) soaked in 3 cups very hot water to cover in a large bowl until nearly tender, usually about 1 hour. Drain well before using.

1/2 head cauliflower, cored, separated into small florets (total about 8 cups)

4 tablespoons expeller pressed canola oil or olive oil

3/4 teaspoon salt, about

1 box (8.8 ounces) whole wheat Israeli couscous

1/2 cup golden raisins

4 large ripe plum tomatoes, cored, diced

1/2 large seedless cucumber, peeled, cut in small dice

1/2 small red onion, finely diced, well rinsed

Dijon dressing, see recipe

4 ounces crumbled goat cheese or feta cheese

4 cups watercress, arugula or baby kale (or a combination)

1/4 cup roasted and salted sunflower seeds

Balsamic glaze

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix cauliflower with 3 tablespoons of the oil on a large rimmed baking sheet (or use two baking sheets). Sprinkle lightly with salt, about 1/4 teaspoon. Roast cauliflower, stirring occasionally, until golden and fork-tender, 20-25 minutes. Cool.

Meanwhile, put remaining 1 tablespoon oil into a medium saucepan. Add 3 cups water; heat to a boil. Add couscous and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to low; cover the pot. Cook until nearly tender, about 8 minutes. Let stand a couple of minutes; drain in a colander. Transfer to a large bowl, stir in raisins and let cool.

Stir roasted cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumber and onion into couscous. Refrigerate covered up to 1 day.

Just before serving, add dressing to couscous mixture to taste. Gently mix salad. Add cheese crumbles and watercress. Toss to mix. Serve sprinkled with sunflower seeds and drizzled with a little balsamic glaze.

Dijon dressing: Mix 1/2 cup oil (I like to use a combination of olive oil and safflower oil), 1/4 cup white wine vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar), 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well before using. Makes about 3/4 cup. Dressing will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

Nutrition information per serving (for 6 servings, using all of the dressing): 554 calories, 35 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 24 milligrams cholesterol, 51 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 672 milligrams sodium, 6 grams fiber

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