Friday, August 17th, 2012

Maine: Vacation Salad Bars

Going on a family holiday means that there’s a good chance you’ll be entertaining and feeding a crowd of people at some point in time. At its best, this is an occasion for living out your Stealing Beauty/Kinfolk Magazine/Gerald and Sara Murphy/Peter Mayle fantasies of long lazy meals in some bucolic Provencial, Tuscan or Portlandia-type setting, fueled by lots of chilled wine, goat cheese, and visits by John Malkovich. At its worst, it can mean sharing a Sprite and a warm tuna fish sandwich with a sunburnt 2 year old who’s not nearly as charming as John Malkovich.

I aspire to create a milieu somewhere in between. That’s where the salad bar comes in. If a counter or table is laden with several salads, a jar of vinaigrette, cheese, and bread or a grain (quinoa or farro were my go-to), with everyone assembling their own plate, you’ll most likely everyone happy (add wine and you can be sure of this).
The salad bar is best pulled off in the summer because, obviously, there is no shortage of vegetables like this…

I put out salad ingredients almost every day for lunch, always tweaking and substituting, but keeping most everything separate like a bar (as opposed to making one large composed salad nicoise, which is nice too), so it was slightly less work for me, but allowed everyone to create their dish however they like. Here s my list of favorite ingredients (all displayed in a motley assortment of rental house bowls and cutting boards):

Sliced tomatoes, corn cut off the cob and briefly cooked in olive oil and tossed with herbs, basil or swiss chard pesto, olive oil soaked tuna, farro, quinoa, crisp bacon, crusty bread, sharp cheddar/parmigiano/chevre, sliced avocado, cucumbers, shredded raw beets and carrots, toasted seeds like sesame or sunflower, soba noodles, hardboiled eggs, toasted and chopped walnuts or almonds, and of course a big platter of greens (“borrowed” daily from a nearby garden).

I also self-converted and started adding fruit to my salad. Last year I put watermelon and cucumbers together and fell in love. This summer is was adding a handful of wild blackberries, which we picked obsessively from bushes that lined almost every road near our house (wild berry picking can become an addiction). Here is one such salad I concocted with kale, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and goat cheese, with blackberries on top.

And then there is also the vinaigrette. You can feel fine just putting out the bottles of olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper and letting people drizzle as they like. I tend to make a big jar of something because I can’t help it. We had two dressings on rotation: maple syrup, whole grain dijon, really good quality and thick balsamic vinegar, and fleur de sel OR lime juice, rice wine vinegar, and peanut oil.

So what is your favorite family summer holiday lunch standby?


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