Fill your plates with summer fare

July 5, 2019

Earlier this week I was invited by the hosts of “Delmarva Life” to present a cooking demonstration. Since the Fourth of July would fall a few days later, I focused on some color-coordinated dishes. And, since no one likes to spend time in a hot kitchen for the holiday, I assembled two simple dishes that didn’t require an oven or stove. As always, it was great fun.

There are very few foods that are truly blue in color, so that was the most challenging shade to find in the grocery store. Gorgonzola, Stilton and blue cheese can add hints of blue to a sandwich or dip. Some beet and potato varieties fill the blue niche in salads; blueberries and blackberries are the dessert standbys. 

While blue crabs have the right color in their name, their cooked shells only give us red and white. Tomatoes, certain peppers, cherries and strawberries are dependable red ingredients. You can also incorporate prepared tomato sauces, bruschetta and salsas for bright color. In addition to mozzarella, white cheddar, crab meat and flakey fish filets, sweet white foods can be sourced from cake icing, ice cream and whipped cream.

We’ve all seen the standard sheet cake frosted in white buttercream and covered with red and blue berries arranged to resemble the flag. I’ve become frustrated trying to make this with strawberries, because you can only use the outside slices for enough red. Using blueberries for the reverse field of white stars is also a challenge – none of the berries are exactly the same size.

As an alternative dessert, I opted for a layered parfait made with macerated strawberries, fresh blueberries and creamy vanilla yogurt. To macerate fruit, you add a bit of sugar and liquid, which will begin to partially break down the flesh, extracting some of its juices. If you prefer ice cream to the yogurt, that’s always an option, as is a topping of whipped cream and a cherry.

For an unusual sweet and savory salad, I combined chunks of seedless watermelon, blueberries and crumbled feta cheese. The delicate dressing included just a splash of olive oil, lemon juice and rice wine vinegar, which mixed with the watermelon juice. There are several types of rice wine vinegar available; I used the very slightly sweet version called “seasoned” for a nice balance.

Referring to this variety of watermelon as seedless is not quite correct. If you look closely, you’ll see tiny white seeds and an occasional small brownish seed. However, the term is correct relative to their ability to reproduce. Most plants have two sets of chromosomes; sterile seedless watermelons have three sets of chromosomes and don’t produce viable seeds.

Another difference between the standard oblong watermelon and the seedless type can be found inside. The large brown seeds take up space in the flesh, giving it more chance to dry out, while the seedless flesh is firm and juicy. The biggest chore with any watermelon is cutting through that tough rind and keeping the juice from spilling onto your shoes.

Now that we have a salad and dessert, we can fill our plates with the usual summer fare: barbecued burgers and hot dogs. And, for a colorful adult beverage, consider sangria, a mixture of light red wine and fruit. Happy Fourth of July!

Fruity Sangria

1 large orange
1/2 C sliced strawberries
1 cubed peach
1/4 C fresh blueberries
1 sliced lemon
1/2 C brandy
1 T maple syrup
1 bottle Grenache wine

Slice the orange in half lengthwise and squeeze the juice from one half into a pitcher. Cut the other half into thin slices and place in the pitcher. Add strawberries, peaches, blueberries and lemon. Add the brandy and maple syrup; stir to combine. Pour in the wine and place the pitcher in the refrigerator for several hours. Serve over ice.

Yogurt Parfait

1 1/3 C sliced strawberries
1 t sugar
1 C granola
1 1/3 C blueberries
2 C vanilla yogurt
whipped cream (optional)

Place the strawberries in a small bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Stir to combine and allow to macerate for about 15 minutes. Place 1/3 C strawberries in the bottom of four parfait glasses. Sprinkle each with 2 T granola. Spoon 1/2 C yogurt into each glass, sprinkle with 2 T granola and top with 1/3 C blueberries. If desired, garnish with a dollop of whipped cream. Yield: 4 servings.

Watermelon Salad

2 C cubed seedless watermelon
1 C crumbled feta

1 C blueberries
2 T olive oil
2 T rice wine vinegar
1 T lemon juice
salt & white pepper, to taste

In a serving bowl, toss together the watermelon, blueberries and feta. Whisk together remaining ingredients and drizzle over fruit; stir gently to combine with watermelon juices. Yield: 4 servings.

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