Labor Day is one of my favorite holidays. It evokes both happy and sad emotions for me. I live near the beach in New England, which means I am inundated with house guests during the warm summer months. There is a large stretch of beach that has picnic tables and barbeque grills. On a nice evening breezes keep the bugs away and the sunsets are spectacular. My friends, family, and I gather for informal dinners along this stretch. Everyone brings something. These are happy times. Labor Day weekend marks the last of my seasonal visitors until next summer. If the weather is nice, it is nearly impossible to find an open picnic table. It doesn’t stop us from dining at the beach. We have folding tables in the backs of our cars, just in case. This “last supper” is a little sad, as the next day the beach seems eerily quiet when kids are back in school and Summer homes are closed up.
We can’t always count on grilling at the beach so, my friends and I have figured out how to prepare all of our food at home and will transport it via coolers and beach bags. We have learned what dishes best withstand being prepared ahead of time, what packs easily, and what stays fresh in the evening sun. A melting wedge of Brie comes to mind as one of our not so good foods to bring. For me, vegan food survives the conditions best. Recipes lacking dairy, eggs and certain other animal proteins make good sense. The following easy salad recipes are dressed with citrus and light on greens that tend to wilt. The infusion of citrus helps to keep the dishes fresh and imparts sweet and cooling fruit flavors for a warm summer evening.
Wild Rice and Orange Lime Salad
1 cup of Wild Rice
2 1/4 cups of water
2 celery stalks sliced thinly
2 scallions in small slices, white and green parts
1 yellow or orange bell pepper julienned (thin slices) use a carrot if you are avoiding nightshades
3/4 cup of toasted pecans chopped
1 tsp orange zest
Juice of 2 oranges
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 tsp. dried mint or 2 tsps. fresh minced mint
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the rice by bringing the water to a boil with a pinch of salt. Rinse and drain the rice in cold water, place in the boiling water, cover, turn the water down to a low simmer and leave it alone for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes check to see that the rice has absorbed the liquid and has opened like little flowers.
If you have not purchased toasted pecans, take your fresh pecans and place them in a toaster oven at 350 degrees for up to 10 minutes. Be sure to check them often so they don’t burn. Chop after toasting.Prepare the zest from your oranges before juicing them. In a large bowl whisk together the citrus juices (without seeds), vinegar and olive oil. Add the mint, salt and pepper, tasting for proper seasoning. Cut all of your vegetables and add to the dressing. When the rice and nuts have cooled, add them to the bowl. Add the orange zest last. Toss all ingredients to coat with dressing.
This recipe can be made a few hours ahead of time and stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
Fennel and Grapefruit Salad
1 fennel bulb + a few reserved fennel fronds (leaves) for garnish
1 pink grapefruit
1 medium red onion
2 large handfuls of arugula salad leaves
Juice of 1 lemon (seeds removed)
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
Cut off the stalks of the fennel so that only the bulb is left. Discard the stalks, as they are tough. Remove some of the feathery leaves and reserve. Cut the bulb in half from the top down through the root. Cut out the tough root section at the bottom of each half. Cut the bulb in halves once more, lengthwise. Slice the bulb quarters as thinly as possible. Add the fennel to the bowl of dressing.
Cut the onion in half. Remove the skins and one root end of each half. Place the onion flat side down and slice both halves as thinly as possible. Toss the slices in the bowl with the fennel.
Cut the grapefruit in half. With a small sharp knife, cut around the fruit inside the white pith, separating the sections from the pith. Do this on both fruit halves. Cut between each section, separating the fruit from the membranes between the fruit sections. With a teaspoon, remove each section and place in the bowl.
Add the arugula leaves and gently toss the salad to coat all ingredients with dressing. Chop the fennel leaves and place on top of the salad as garnish. These have a strong licorice or anise flavor so, don’t use too many if the taste does not appeal to you. The grapefruit compliments and mellows the flavor of the fennel.
This salad can also be made ahead of time. Though, I would add the arugula leaves just before serving or just before packing up for your picnic.
Enjoy and Happy Labor Day!