Escape the Heat: Mediterranean Salad

Therm We're gonna cheat a little on the no-cook mandate, but the weather is cooling down, so can you handle about 15 minutes of stove work?  You can even prepare the ingredients in advance on a cool day or at night and store them in the fridge until later.

I can't expound the benefits of this salad enough.  While I have a healthy love for brown sugar Pop Tarts, a juicy NY strip, cheese of any kind and bacon, this recipe is my redemption.  It takes advantage of all the fresh tomatoes and basil in the markets right now and can serve as a complete, guilt-free meal.  It's also ultra-nutritious:  pack a container for lunch and I promise it will carry you through the mid-afternoon doldrums and give you the energy to get to the gym.


Try to find French green lentils, also called lentilles de Puy and not to be confused with those bags of light Lentilsgreen lentils in the super.  This variety of lentil holds its shape when cooking, but if you have to use the light green ones, subtract a couple minutes cooking time and aim for al dente or you'll end up with a mushy salad.  I've had a difficult time finding them lately, but I refused to believe there was an area-wide run on French lentils, so a random stop at Rodman's turned up 17.5-oz. boxes of Roland Green Lentils.  (Can I take this moment here to express my love for all things Roland?  This company single-handedly provides a fix for multiple food addictions, many of them olive-related.  And also Rodman's, while I'm at it.  They are a foodie's version of a methadone clinic.)

How much do you use?  Simmer a cup of dry lentils for about 15-20 minutes.  Drain, cool for a few minutes and season them with a tablespoon of vinegar (white, red wine or balsamic...your pick, depending on your palate), salt and pepper.


Use whole wheat couscous if you'd like to increase the healthfulness, regular couscous if it doesn't matter to you (or if that's all you can find).  About one cup, prepared according to directions.  You can cook this at the same time as the lentils.

By the way, you can find all the ingredients for this in Rodman's or Trader Joe's.  TJ's doesn't have French green lentils, but they do sell bags of pre-cooked black Beluga lentils, which can be subbed in with no problem (and no cooking!).TJ lentils


Mash a garlic clove** with 1/4 tablespoon salt.  Whisk this with another 2 tablespoons of vinegar, about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  In a large bowl, stir together this dressing with the lentils and couscous.  **If raw garlic is too powerful, toast the clove in a dry pan on a medium-heat stove for a minute or two until lightly browned to tone down the flavor.


Tomatoes:  two cups of halved cherries, pears or grapes, or seeded and diced Romas, heirlooms or any garden variety tomato you can find.

Cheese, glorious cheese:  feta is the traditional choice.  I prefer goat feta because I like its tanginess but I've also used regular goat cheese (one that is on the firmer side).  Chop a 4-oz. chunk and add.

Greens:  basil, definitely, at least a cup.  Spinach and/or arugula are fantastic in this salad, too, and increase its nutritional value tremendously -- try a chopped cup of each or 2 cups of one.  Arugula_300 You could probably add mint, too, but there are so many strong flavors competing in this already that it might be overkill.

Pignolis, or pine nuts:  totally optional, but if you have them on hand, add a quarter cup.   Toast them first (with the garlic!) for a nuttier flavor, but watch carefully as they can turn from brown to burnt in a heartbeat.

Give everything a stir and let it chill for an hour or more.  It will last several days in your fridge...if you can keep it around that long.  Enjoy it as a side dish with any grilled protein or as a complete meal by itself.  Bring it to a potluck and you will be asked for the recipe.

Again, this recipe is highly customizable.  It's also a good vehicle for testing your palate, so taste frequently and adjust according to your own preferences, regardless of the amounts I provided, which are really just guidelines.  However, be cautious with salt, as the cheese will add its own, and with this recipe it's hard to undo the damage of too much salt.


Escape the Heat: Ceviche

Therm People can be squeamish about fish.  I used to work in the seafood department of a supermarket and frequently fielded such head-shaking questions as, "Does it smell like fish?" or my favorite, from a woman standing in front of a tank of lively rainbow trout, "Are they fresh?"

Don't fear the fish.

The truth is fish are among the most versatile, healthy and easy to cook proteins available to us.  Grill it, fry it, poach it, flash-cook it -- it's quite hard to screw it up.  Hell, you can even stick it in the oven still frozen and have it turn out great.  But it's hot, it's humid, and it's DC, so we're all about no-heat meals right now.  Which brings us to the next Escape the Heat recipe:  Ceviche.

Technically, ceviche is not cooked, per se, because the process doesn't use heat.  But the citric acid marinade denatures the proteins in the fish enough to change the texture and appearance.  Read this for a brief but more comprehensive explanation of this process, along with some alternatives if you're still a little undecided about raw fish.  If you'd like to try ceviche professionally prepared before attempting it on your own, I highly recommend Oyamel, which serves some fantastic varieties.

Your basic components are fish, acid and seasonings:


Use a firm fin- or shellfish, the freshest you can find.  Tuna, mahi mahi, snapper, grouper.  I like wild salmon, such as sockeye, sliced thin.  For shellfish, scallops, shrimp and crab all work well.  Or any combination of these.

Cut or slice the fish in bite-size pieces.  If the shrimp are small, shell and tail them and leave them whole.  Scallops may be sliced or chopped.  If you use a combination of fish, just make sure they're uniform in size, since they're all "cooking" together. Ceviche


Lime juice is key.  (Again with the limes!  I can't say it enough:  a well-stocked summer kitchen needs a lot of limes!)  Some people also use lemon and/or orange juice, or a combination of the three.  How much?  For about a pound of fish, you'll need at least a 1/4 cup of juice, maybe a little more.


Onions:  usually red, maybe shallots, too, if you like. One onion should do it.

Cilantro:  a good-sized handful, chopped, with stems.  Then add some more.

Jalapenos, one or two, minced, with the pith and seeds if you like heat, without if you don't.

Sea salt, to taste.

Other options:  tomatoes or tropical juicy fruit like pineapple, mango, papaya.  It's really hard to screw up the ratios, so if you feel like being more liberal with the onions or jalapenos, go for it.  The only ingredient you need to make sure you have enough of is the citrus juice.


Mix the lime juice with the seasonings , or grind the seasonings first in a mortar and pestle (or my version:  a Pyrex measuring cup and the handle-end of a citrus reamer) if you want to really bring out the flavors before mixing them into the juice.  Spoon a little of the mixture in the bottom of a nonreactive baking dish (i.e. glass, ceramic or Pyrex), layer the fish on top and add the rest of the juice/seasonings.  If you're using a small dish, layer it like lasagna, alternating between fish and juice.  The fish does not need to be swimming in the marinade, or even completely covered, although you will need to turn it partway through the cooking time to ensure all fish has contact with the juice.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap and store it in your fridge. 

So how long do you let it marinate?  It depends on the size of the fish, but a couple of hours will do it.  You'll notice a whitening of the fish as it "cooks," or in the case of already-white fish, an opaqueness will develop.

Do not let it sit for too long, however, because it is possible to overcook it, which renders it tough and chewy, just like if you used too much heat.

Serve it up!

Ceviche2The easiest method is to simply serve it in a bowl.  If you want to be authentic, toss in a handful of popped popcorn.   But ceviche also makes great tacos:  fill a corn taco shell with a little shredded cabbage or lettuce, sliced avocado, maybe some fresh corn, too?

Provide your version in the comments:  what's your favorite fish?  What ingredients do you use?  How do you like to serve it?