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VOL. 37 | NO. 25 | Friday, June 21, 2013

Most celebrations end with good food

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One of America’s favorite celebrations – July 4th – will be here soon. This is always one of my favorites, not only because of what it stands for but:

  • It’s in the summer, so the celebrations are mostly outside
  • Most all the family gets together
  • There’s a shorter work week
  • It provides time for a short weekend vacation or road trip
  • I love the fireworks

The recipe I have for you today is perfect for a July 4th picnic, family get-together, camping trip, day at the lake or just a great dinner. Once you’ve made it, you’ll want to carry it with you everywhere. (Of course, there is one member of my family who doesn’t care for it because it consists of so many fresh vegetables – but he just doesn’t know what he’s missing)

Another great thing about this salad is that it takes full advantage of the fresh, summer vegetables now in ample supply at farmers’ markets. When chopping some of these, I chop extra and stick them in the freezer. They’ll be easy to pull out and use the next time I want to make this salad or a big pot of soup.

Add the vegetables below to a big pot along with a diced roasted chicken, chicken stock and some diced potatoes to make a fantastic Mexican-style soup. Yum – I think I’ll fix that tonight.

So, this salad calls for shallots. Many cooks don’t know what a shallot is, and get green onions, scallions, and shallots confused. While they’re interchangeable in almost any recipe, there is a difference between the three of them.

A shallot is a member of the onion family, but it’s formed more like garlic than onions.

Shallots are favored for their mild onion flavor and can be used in the same manner as onions.

A shallot looks like a small, elongated onion with a copper, reddish or gray skin. When peeled, shallots separate into cloves like garlic.

There are two main types of shallots: Jersey, or “false” shallots, which are larger, and “true” shallots, which have a subtler flavor.

Fresh green shallots are available in the spring, and dry shallots, which have a dry skin and moist flesh, are available year-round.

Shallots come in three sizes: small, medium and jumbo, the latter of which is the least tasty. The younger, or smaller, the shallot, the milder the taste.

When purchasing shallots, use the same thoughts as when you purchase onions. They should be firm and heavy for their size, not dry and light, which is an indication of age. They also should have no soft spots. Sprouting is also an indication of age, so try to avoid getting a sprouted shallot.

In the market, shallots are usually spread loose in a bin, so I buy only what I need at the time.

Store them as you would onions, in a cool, dry, dark place with plenty of air circulation.

You can also knot them together in clean pantyhose or a hanging metal mesh basket, or hang them from the ceiling in a dry space.

Shallots will last up to two months if stored properly. If they sprout, you can still use them. Just remove the bitter green sprouts if you don’t want a strong onion flavor or dice the sprouts and use them as you would use chives.

So, you are now well informed about shallots. Now get to the nearest farmers’ market, pick up some of these fresh veggies, and let’s celebrate.

Black Bean and Corn Salad with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

2 15-ounce cans of black beans, rinsed and drained

3-4 ears of fresh corn on the cob

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 yellow bell pepper, diced

2 large tomatoes, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of minced shallots, from one medium shallot

2 teaspoons of salt

2 teaspoons of ground cumin

Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1/3 cup of chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

2 avocados, chopped

Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon of sugar

1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup of fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon of lime zest

Blanch the corn in boiling water. Immediately dunk the corn in ice water to prevent further cooking. Drain and then slice the kernels off the cob. Combine the corn with the rest of the ingredients, except for the tomatoes and avocados, in a large bowl and mix well.

Make lime zest by rinsing off the lime well and running it over a rasp or small-holed grater. Make the vinaigrette by whisking the ingredients together in small bowl. Pour over the salad and blend well. Cover the salad with saran wrap and chill two to three hours or overnight.

Before serving, gently mix in the tomatoes and avocados, being careful not to mash them. If desired, garnish with more cilantro. The salad is best served at room temperature (alongside some mouth-watering ribs, BBQ chicken, or grilled pork chops!)

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