I can hardly believe it, but here we are in grill season, beach-picnic season, salad-for-dinner season — summer, my favorite time of year to cook. Some people prefer fall for its crispness; winter for its coziness; spring for its promise of something green. Not me. I am here for summer.
Proof that this is one of my favorite subjects: Yesterday, I was a guest on the WNYC show “All of It,” talking summer cooking and having a ball. We discussed fried chicken biscuits with hot honey butter at length. (Other recipes that came up: gazpacho, chilled corn soup, egg salad, lemon potato salad with mint, blueberry pie and Caprese antipasto — aka the super Caprese.)
Here are three salads you can make for dinner, all which take 35 minutes or less to prepare.
SALMON AND COUSCOUS SALAD WITH CUCUMBER-FETA DRESSING
(Recipe by Yasmin Fahr)
The dressing in this 30-minute recipe is inspired by green goddess dressing and mast-o khiar, a Persian side dish of cucumbers and yogurt. Here, thick yogurt is combined with fresh herbs, tangy feta and crunchy Persian cucumbers. If you have trouble finding Persian cucumbers, they can be swapped for similarly sweet-skinned English cucumbers or peeled regular cucumbers. Flaking the salmon into the salad evenly distributes it and is a nice alternative to serving a fillet for dinner. Leftover salad can be enjoyed cold for lunch the next day, freshened up with a squeeze of lime juice and more fresh herbs.
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
Three 6-ounce skin-on (or skinless) salmon fillets
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 limes, 1 halved and 1 zested and juiced
1 1/2 cups pearl couscous
1 1/2 cups baby arugula
1 cup thick, full-fat yogurt, such as Greek, Skyr or labneh
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 packed cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, cilantro or dill leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
1/4 packed cup fresh mint leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
1 Persian cucumber, diced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3/4 cup)
2 scallions, light green and white parts sliced
Heat the oven to 400 F. In the center of a sheet pan, place salmon skin-side down. Pat the salmon dry, then coat with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, 1/2 teaspoon cumin and 1/2 teaspoon turmeric. Coat 1 of the lime halves in some of the olive oil in the pan, then place cut-side up in the corner.
Roast the salmon on the center rack until opaque on the outside and light pink in the center, about 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
While the salmon roasts, make the couscous: In a lidded pot over medium-high heat, toast the couscous, uncovered, stirring until fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add 3 cups water, season with salt, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain an active simmer, then cook until the couscous is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the couscous in a colander, then drizzle with olive oil, tossing to coat. Stir in the arugula, letting it wilt. Leave in the sink to cool slightly while you make the dressing.
Prepare the dressing: In a serving bowl, combine the yogurt with 1/4 cup room temperature water and the zest and juice of 1 lime, then whisk until smooth. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cumin, plus 1/4 cup feta, most of the herbs (reserving some for garnish) and the cucumber. Stir to combine, then season to taste with salt. Set aside.
Add the cooked couscous and arugula to the yogurt mixture, tossing to combine. Remove the salmon from the skin, then flake with a fork. Add half the salmon to the couscous, mixing it together. Place the remaining salmon on top, squeeze the roasted lime half over the dish, then garnish with the scallions, remaining feta, parsley and mint. Quarter the remaining lime half and serve it on the side.
CREAMY PASTA WITH RICOTTA AND HERBS
(Recipe by Melissa Clark)
In this simple, springy pasta, milky ricotta thinned out with a little starchy pasta cooking water makes for a saucy, soupy dish that’s seasoned with loads of black pepper and herbs. For the best flavor, use at least three different kinds of herbs, break out some nicer olive oil and look for fresh ricotta. Lemon lovers can grate in the zest of half a lemon as well.
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
1 pound short pasta, such as shells, cavatappi, chiocciole, farfalle, ditali or wagon wheels
12 ounces fresh, whole-milk ricotta (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper, plus more for serving
2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped soft herbs, such as basil, chives, fennel fronds, parsley, mint, tarragon, chervil or dill (try for a combination of at least 3 kinds)
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Reserve 2 cups pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.
In the same pot, make the sauce: Add ricotta, Parmesan, olive oil, pepper and a large pinch or two of salt, and stir until well combined.
Add 1 cup pasta water to the sauce and stir until smooth. Add the pasta and herbs, and continue to stir vigorously until the noodles are well coated. Add more pasta water as needed for a smooth, soupy sauce. Taste and add more salt if needed.
To serve, spoon the pasta into bowls and finish with more Parmesan, olive oil and pepper.
SKIRT STEAK WITH SALSA VERDE SALAD
(Recipe by Lidey Heuck)
Salsa verde made with scallions, mint, parsley, capers and garlic becomes both the marinade for the steak and the dressing for the greens in this summery dinner salad. For extra smoky flavor, try grilling the romaine hearts (drizzle with olive oil and grill, cut side down, until lightly charred). Or, if you love bitter greens, substitute roughly chopped escarole leaves for the romaine.
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 35 minutes, plus marinating
1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions (about 2)
2 tablespoons capers, drained and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 romaine hearts
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 3 ounces)
If necessary, cut the steak crosswise into large pieces that will fit into a shallow, nonreactive dish. Transfer the steaks to the dish. In a glass measuring cup or bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, scallions, capers, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Pour about 1/3 of the dressing (about 1/3 cup) over the steak and turn to coat both sides.
Add the parsley and 1 tablespoon mint to the reserved dressing, stir, and set aside until ready to use. Cover and refrigerate the steak for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. (If marinating the steak overnight, cover and refrigerate the reserved dressing.)
In a small saute pan set over medium heat, toast the pine nuts, tossing often, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
Set the grill to medium-high heat, or heat a grill pan on the stovetop over medium-high. Pat the steaks dry with a paper towel and grill for 3 to 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate, sprinkle with salt, and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
While the steak rests, cut the romaine hearts lengthwise into quarters. Arrange the romaine hearts in one layer on a large platter, leaving room on one side for the steak. Sprinkle the feta, pine nuts and the remaining 1 tablespoon mint over the romaine. Slice the steak crosswise into 3-inch pieces, then slice against the grain to cut the steak into wide strips. Arrange the sliced steak on the platter, then drizzle the reserved dressing over the romaine and steak. Serve immediately.