Food & Drink

Trade typical dinners for the Cowgirl Chef’s super summer salads

Japanese carrot ginger salad is easy, exotic, impressive –and the vinaigrette’s a keeper, great for roasted summer veggies
Japanese carrot ginger salad is easy, exotic, impressive –and the vinaigrette’s a keeper, great for roasted summer veggies Special to the Star-Telegram

It’s officially summer, so we need to think about eating lots more salads!

For me, it’s a natural shift of craving less and eating cooler, lighter things anyway. My coffee’s iced. So is my tea. My snacks, something from the freezer — frozen almonds or blueberries and mangoes that I’ll make into a smoothie.

By dinner, because I still eat earlier than most people, I want something that’s fresh, light and usually not cooked (although I make an exception for the subtly salty/sweet/spicy Turkey picadillo number below), which is where salads come into play.

Fluffy lettuce-y salads. Salads with meat, chicken or fish add-ons. Salads with only veggies, like zucchini and tomatoes. What I’m saying is, don’t get boxed in by the word salad. It can mean any number of things. I learned this in France, where all lettuces are called salade, but all salades aren’t made with lettuce.

I like to put salad right into tortillas and call it a taco salad. Salads can be beany, meaty, vegan — or not. Vinaigrettes, with oil and vinegar or just one or the other, or nothing at all. It’s up to you.

Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press)., @cowgirlchef.

Zucchini and tomato salad

Makes 4 to 6 servings

  • Basil oil (recipe follows)
  • 2 medium zucchini (1 green, 1 yellow)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, for serving
  • 8 fresh mint leaves, for serving
  •  1/3 cup toasted, unsalted almonds

1. Make basil oil. You can do this 1 day or a half-day ahead. (It’s actually better if you do.)

2. To make salad, shred or spiralize zucchinis so you have long, noodlelike strands. Toss in a large salad bowl. Slice baby tomatoes in half and toss them in. Tear up basil and mint leaves and put on top.

3. Roughly chop almonds. Don’t worry about making uniform pieces — you want large and small bits. Sprinkle over salad and drizzle with basil oil.


Basil oil

Makes about a half-cup

  • 15 large basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  •  1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon lime or lemon zest
  • Pinch of sea salt

Put all of the ingredients in a small food processor or blender and purée until blended. Pour into a jar and refrigerate for at least a half-hour before using.

Cowgirl tip: This raw veggie salad also makes a great taco filling. I sometimes add avocado, too. You could add leftover chicken if you’ve got it on hand, or tuna fish (packed in olive oil).

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4 (entire recipe): 342 calories, 33 grams fat, 10 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, no cholesterol, 42 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 84 percent of calories from fat.

Japanese Carrot Ginger Salad
Japanese carrot ginger salad is easy, exotic, impressive –and the vinaigrette’s a keeper, great for roasted summer veggies Ellise Pierce Special to the Star-Telegram

Japanese carrot-ginger salad

Makes 4

For the dressing:

  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into thirds or fourths
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
  •  1/2 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or grapeseed
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

For the salad:

  •  1/2 head romaine lettuce, torn or chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1 English cucumber, seeds removed and cut into cubes or 2-inch matchsticks
  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

1. Make the dressing: Put ingredients in blender and purée until you have a nice, fluffy dressing. Taste for seasonings.

2. Make the salad: Put lettuce, grated carrot and cucumber pieces in a large bowl and toss. Divide among plates or bowls, top with some of the dressing and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Cowgirl tip: This dressing isn’t just for Japanese-style salads. It’s great on grilled summer veggies, chicken, fish — you name it.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 319 calories, 30 grams fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, no cholesterol, 28 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 80 percent of calories from fat.

Picadillo salad 1
Turkey picadillo salad is a lighter version of the classic Cuban empanada – and just as satisfying Ellise Pierce Special to the Star-Telegram

Turkey picadillo and avocado salad

Makes 6 servings

  • 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  •  1/2 cup chopped white onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (10-ounce) can Ro-Tel tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2/3 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup green olives stuffed with pimentos, sliced
  • 2/3 cup currants

For serving:

  • 1 head red leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • Small handful of cilantro, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, then spread on a large baking sheet. Bake 30 to 45 minutes or until browned, turning once or twice.

2. Put remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until they start to become translucent and fragrant. Add ground turkey, stir, and let it cook it through. Add bay leaves, tomato paste, Ro-Tel tomatoes, spices and salt. Cook 30 minutes or until the flavors have come together. Right before serving, stir in vinegar, chopped olives and currants. Add crispy potatoes last. Taste for seasonings.

3. To assemble salad, put lettuce on a large platter and layer on the picadillo. Put sliced avocado on top or on the side, along with lime wedges. Sprinkle chopped cilantro over the whole thing.

Note: If you don’t have Ro-Tel tomatoes, use diced tomatoes instead and chop up half to 1 whole jalapeño or add a little cayenne pepper.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 486 calories, 23 grams fat, 52 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, 60 milligrams cholesterol, 548 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber, 42 percent of calories from fat.

Lime Cilantro Chicken Salad
Marinated chicken goes green in this salad, a simple toss-up of romaine with a tangy cilantro dressing Ellise Pierce Special to the Star-Telegram

Jalapeño-lime chicken salad with cilantro dressing

Makes 4 servings

For the dressing:

  • 2 cups (16 ounces) full-fat Greek yogurt
  • Large handful of cilantro, stems included
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt to taste

For the chicken:

  • 1 pound chicken tenders
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Small handful of cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 head of romaine lettuce
  •  2/3 cup pepitas

1. Make the dressing: Put all of the ingredients in a blender and turn it on high until you have a uniformly smooth, green sauce. I usually do this a day in advance and keep it refrigerated.

2. Slice chicken tenders into 1  1/2 -inch pieces and put in a bowl with lime juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, cilantro and chopped jalapeño. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to marinate for a couple of hours or overnight.

3. Bring chicken to room temperature before cooking. Turn oven to broil and grease a baking sheet with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Put chicken pieces on baking sheet, letting whatever bits of the marinade stay on the meat. Add salt and pepper. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, or until slightly firm yet slightly springy to the touch. Transfer chicken to a plate, cover with foil and let rest for 5 minutes.

4. To serve, cut romaine lettuce into thin strips and heap onto individual serving plates (or one large platter for family-style). Add chicken pieces. Drizzle cilantro dressing all over and sprinkle with pepitas just before eating.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 394 calories, 16 grams fat, 25 grams carbohydrates, 40 grams protein, 73 milligrams cholesterol, 193 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber, 36 percent of calories from fat.