Summer of strange salads, part deux

Ahh, cool evenings, finally.

But not too cool to toss together a one-dish supper that includes some protein, some greens and some vegetables.

Traditional salads bore me. I’m a big whiner when a plate of iceberg, carrot shreds and one lonely cucumber round lands in front of me. Ask anyone.

At home, we get experimental because we’ve found that organic mixed greens are some of the most accomodating hosts ever.  Top them with hot popcorn chicken and homemade Green Goddess dressing, or slather them with roasted peanuts and broccoli slaw in a Thai peanut dressing. It’s all good – so far.

We threw together a new one last week and revisited an old favorite pasta salad.

Ginger Sesame Tofu Salad and Salami Pasta Salad may sound like polar opposites, but they have one thing in common – both offer a great way to use up those waning summer herbs – cilantro in the tofu salad and basil in the pasta. Fresh herbs brighten things up and satisfy appetites. And we have found another bonus  – dessert cravings seem to diminish when strong herbal flavors linger on the tongue. Maybe that is why obesity is not an epidemic in Asian and European countries, where fresh herbs are used liberally.  I’m just saying.

Ginger Sesame Tofu Salad

Two dinner servings

8 ounces extra firm tofu, drained and patted dry

2 cups organic mixed salad greens

1/2 cucumber, peeled and diced

2 carrots, diced

a handful of cilantro

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted

1/2 cup purchased ginger/soy salad dressing

Slice tofu into bite-size pieces and drain on a paper towel.

Toss greens, cucumber and carrots. Pick leaves off cilantro stalks and keep small leaves whole. Coarsly chop largest leaves. Set aside.

Heat oil in skillet on medium-high heat. Add tofu and cook about eight minutes, until it starts to brown, turn pieces and brown on other side.

(Note: The first time we made this salad, we rolled the tofu in the sesame seeds, but most of them came off during cooking and started to burn in the pan. It’s better to just toast them and add them later.)

Remove tofu to a plate, and pour dressing over it. Toss sesame seeds and cilantro into the mixed salad, divide onto serving plates and top each salad with warm tofu and dressing.

Salami Pasta Salad

makes four dinner servings

1 1/2 cups orzo pasta

2 large tomatoes or 8 ounces of grape tomatoes

6 ounces hard salami, cut into strips

2 carrots, diced

1/2 sweet onion, diced

1 cucumber, peeled and diced

2 handfuls of basil leaves

3/4 cup of Italian salad dressing of your choice

Boil water and cook pasta according to directions until it is al dente. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again  and place in a large bowl.

Slice tomatoes and add them, along with any juices, to the pasta. Add salami, carrots, onion, cucumber and basil. Toss with dressing. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Good additions include diced feta, green olives, anchovies, roasted red peppers or capers. Since many people dislike one or more of these foods, it’s best to let them customize their own salad.

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