"If you can't stand the heat," as the popular saying goes, "stay out of the kitchen." While that line is usually used to suggest that people shouldn't attempt more than they are capable of handling (or bite off more than they can chew, you might say!), it also applies perfectly to the realities of cooking during the dwindling days of summer.
Now is the time of year when many people really do want to stay out of their kitchens as much as possible. Not only don't they want to subject themselves to a room warmed up by an oven, broiler, or stovetop burners, but they also simply do not want to feel weighed down by a hot and heavy cooked meal.
When you find yourself disinclined to cook in late summer, that means it's the perfect time to prepare yourself a generous salad. You want something that adds up to more than just the usual side salad of mixed greens and other vegetables. But that doesn't mean you have to go to any great culinary lengths to achieve satisfying results.
Think of a bed of salad leaves as the vegetable side dish for a main-course protein, and consider the salad's dressing the equivalent of a flavorful sauce for that featured item. (After all, remember that the French call vinaigrette dressing sauce vinaigrette, a "little vinegar sauce.") With that perspective, you can transform virtually any plate of dressed greens into a main dish by topping it with your protein of choice: leftovers such as slice of chicken, beef, pork, or lamb, or generous flakes of fish fillets; drained canned tuna; or a julienne of thinly sliced cured meats or other cold cuts.
One of my favorite salad stars, however, is the fresh, creamy goat cheese sometimes labeled with its French term, chevre. As you'll see in my recipe for Goat Cheese Salad with Arugula and Radicchio, which yields four appetizer portions or two generous luncheon main-dish salads, I start with a log of goat cheese, which you'll find these days in most well-stocked supermarkets. I cut the log into individual portions and marinate them in some seasoned olive oil to enhance their flavor. Then, after making a vinaigrette and dressing the leaves -- nutty-flavored arugula and mildly bitter radicchio, both perfect complements to the rich tang of the chevre -- I very briefly warm and brown the cheese in some oil and then place the slices on top of the salad.
So, yes, a little actual cooking is involved. But, if you can stand the heat for just that brief minute or two, you'll wind up with a plateful of food that leaves you feeling fresh and cool while satisfying you completely.
WARM GOAT CHEESE SALAD WITH ARUGULA AND RADICCHIO
Serves 2 to 4
DIJON MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
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