- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Informal alfresco dining is the way to go on a summer evening when it is just too hot to cook. Appetites and energy might be low, but that doesn’t mean spirits can’t be high.

All you need is to prepare a salad-bar dinner at home. Stop by a farmers market, make a salad dressing or two, clean and prepare the vegetables, and make a beautiful setup — all pleasant, stove-free activities. This can be a stay-at-home picnic dinner that is served on the porch or patio while watching the sun go down.

Once you have the salad dressings made and the greens cleaned and dried, the rest is up to your imagination as dictated by the contents of your refrigerator. Shredded or sliced cheeses or vegetables, pickles, hard-cooked eggs, toasted nuts or seeds, cheese (crumbled, sliced or grated), leftovers of any kind — everything is welcome on this spread.

A salad-bar dinner is a great excuse to hit the late-summer market. Farmers markets have grown exponentially in the past decade, a reflection of the public’s desire for food that is fresher and tastier and to feel a connection with the people who grow our food.

Take your friends or your children with you and make an outing of it with the salad bar dinner in mind. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate late summer. And don’t forget that the farmers market is a great place to buy flowers and home-baked bread, in addition to fruits and vegetables.

Children can help prepare a lovely spread and maybe even take some photos. Why wait until you’re on vacation for that? To round out the salad-bar menu, serve a cold soup, such as vichyssoise or gazpacho, fresh bread, lemonade or iced tea, and fruit and cookies for dessert.

Orange and sesame dressing

1 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

cup canola oil

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

teaspoon salt

teaspoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon minced fresh dill

1 medium clove garlic, minced

Combine orange juice, red wine vinegar, canola oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, dry mustard, dill and garlic in a small jar with a lid. Cover tightly and shake well until blended. Refrigerate; shake well before using. Makes a scant 2 cups

Minted cucumber-buttermilk dressing

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 cups buttermilk

1 medium clove garlic, minced

teaspoon salt

3 scallions, chopped (include white and green parts)

2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 to 2 tablespoons light-colored honey

Combine cucumber, buttermilk, garlic, salt, scallions, mint, red wine vinegar and honey to taste in a food processor or blender; puree until smooth. Refrigerate in a tightly closed container for up to 2 weeks. Stir from the bottom before serving. Makes 2 cups.


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