Summertime salads

6 dishes to wow a crowd

By Jan Roberts-Dominguez / For The Bulletin

Published Jul 1, 2014 at 12:11AM

Recently I committed to bringing a party-sized bowl of homemade potato salad to a Fourth of July gathering. It got me thinking about all the other events over these sunny months that will be requiring super-sized edible offerings. Indeed, this is the time of year when lots of people are teaming up with lots more people, eating lots and lots of food. The gatherings range from informal picnics to fancy weddings, with the goal being to fill a long buffet table with plenty of delicious savories and sweets that will stand up to time and ambient temperature.

When contributing a dish to one of these affairs, you’re probably not wanting to invest an outrageous amount of time to the process. But you still want your dish to shine. So, take a cue from me and offer to provide one of the salad courses, because I have a few here that are delicious and easy to prepare.

The great thing about salads is that they typically have plenty of components that can be assembled or prepared far in advance. Chopped salads, for example, are all the rage these days and are one of the most buffet-friendly dishes you can consider since they typically are composed of ingredients that benefit from a bit of mingling with a flavorful dressing. On the other hand, shy away from the style of salad that requires too much last-minute fussing, or ones that will wilt within minutes of assembly.

Snazzy garnish

Tossing edible flowers onto a salad can jazz up a simple bowl of young salad greens. Then there’s the pea-shoot concept. Although a prominent ingredient in Asian cuisine for eons, pea shoots now are showing up at your local farmers markets and in community-supported agriculture boxes. Their soft, tender leaves, with the spiraling tendrils and crunchy stems, provide a hint of pea flavor. Use them raw in salads for a delightful visual effect as well as a tasty contribution.

Several years ago, when plotting the menu for a large gathering, I decided that pea shoots would be a delightful garnish on the salad course. So three weeks before the July event, I simply planted several flats of sugar snap pea seeds, just enough for the 150 guests I’d be feeding. On the eve of the dinner, the shoots were about 4 inches tall and I was able to harvest. They were, of course, a hit.

Aside from their garnishing potential, they taste wonderful in soups when added at the last minute, or tucked into a tortilla roll-up or pocket bread filling.

— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Contact: janrd@proaxis.com.

Chopped Salad

Makes 10 to 12 generous servings.

This is a great salad to bring to a potluck event. No wilting, no tossing at the last minute, and it can be dished out with a single spoon, so in a buffet line diners aren’t teetering a dish of food on the edge of the table to free both hands.

3 tomatoes, seeded, chopped and drained

1 fresh, local cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and chopped

1 each red and green sweet bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 C chopped celery

1 C chopped carrots

1 C chopped dry salami (start with deli-cut slices, then cut into strips and then chop)

1 C chopped ham (optional, but tasty)

1 C sliced black olives, well drained

1 C chopped sweet onion

½ C chopped green onion (all of the white and pale green portion and a bit of the dark green)

1½ C coarsely shredded mozzarella, gouda or Swiss cheese

Vinaigrette (see recipe below)

The vegetables can all be washed and chopped up to 24 hours ahead. Store in separate containers until you’re ready to assemble the salad.

Two to 5 hours ahead, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, sweet bell peppers, celery, carrots, salami, ham, olives, sweet onion, green onion and shredded cheese in a large bowl. Toss with enough of the vinaigrette to evenly coat the salad. Cover and refrigerate.

Vinaigrette recipe: This dressing can be prepared up to a week ahead and refrigerated. Whisk together ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 3 cloves finely minced garlic, ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves, ¼ teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon sugar or honey, ¾ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Whisk in 1¼ cups extra-virgin olive oil.

Cobb Salad for a Crowd

Makes about 30 servings.

All the individual ingredients in the California-style salad are chopped or diced, which makes it easy to eat buffet-style. A food processor saves a lot of time and effort.

4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken (I use 2 lbs of breast meat and 2 lbs of thigh meat; the thighs always produce a bit more flavor)

1 qt teriyaki marinade (see note)

1 TBS Dijon-style mustard

1 TBS finely chopped fresh garlic

2 tsp sugar

1½ tsp anchovy paste

1 tsp salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

¾ C red wine vinegar

2 C extra-virgin olive oil

1 head iceberg lettuce

2 heads Romaine lettuce

3 C baby arugula

6 ripe avocados, peeled and diced

5 TBS fresh lemon juice, divided

1 dozen hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped

2 lbs fresh, local tomatoes, finely chopped (reserve the juices)

2 sweet onions, finely diced

12 oz good quality blue cheese, crumbled

1 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled

Marinate the chicken in the teriyaki marinade for 3 to 6 hours. Grill up to 72 hours ahead and refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare the dressing: Whisk together the mustard, garlic, sugar, anchovy paste, salt and black pepper. Whisk in the vinegar then the olive oil. May be prepared up to 72 hours ahead and refrigerated until ready to use.

To assemble the salad, chop the iceberg and Romaine lettuce into small pieces and layer in the bottom of a large, wide bowl. Add the arugula and mix it into the lettuces. Arrange the avocado in a row down the center of the salad. Drizzle on 2 tablespoons of the fresh lemon juice over the avocado, then whisk the remaining 3 tablespoons into the prepared dressing. To the right of the avocado arrange a row of the chopped eggs. To the left of the avocado, arrange the tomatoes in a row. Next to the tomatoes, arrange a row of the sweet onions. Next to the chopped eggs, arrange the blue cheese. And finally, to the left of the sweet onions, arrange a row of the cooked bacon.

To serve, drizzle on the dressing and toss well.

Note on teriyaki marinade: For a simple one, I like to whisk together my favorite teriyaki sauce, Veri Veri Teriyaki produced by Soy Vey, with a bit of olive oil, a splash of red wine and red wine vinegar. For a 4 cup finished volume, start with 2 cups Veri Veri Teriyaki, 1 cup olive oil, ½ cup red wine and ½ cup red wine vinegar.

Panzanella for a Crowd

Makes about 20 servings.

An Italian classic using local tomatoes and day-old artisan bread. In my version, I don’t wait for the bread to go stale; I grill it! A little time over coals imparts a lovely hint of smoke that translates into more flavor in the salad.

1 baguette, sliced into ¾-inch-thick slices

3 lbs of vine-ripened local tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped

Heaping ¼ tsp salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 sweet bell peppers (green, yellow or red), seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces

2 sweet onions, peeled and diced

2 C pitted black olives, coarsely chopped

1 local cucumber, peeled and chopped (if too seedy, then scrape it out before chopping)

1 C shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

Vinaigrette (see recipe below)

Up to several days before serving, grill the bread slices over hot coals until golden brown (with dark grill marks) on both sides; when cool, break each slice into 3 or 4 pieces; set aside in a zip-top bag.

Prepare the vinaigrette and refrigerate for up to a week ahead.

About 30 minutes before serving, place the pieces of bread in a very large salad bowl (large enough to accommodate all of the ingredients). Pour the tomatoes (with their juice) over the bread and sprinkle lightly with the salt and pepper; set aside.

When ready to serve, toss the bread and tomatoes together, then add the peppers, onions, olives, cucumber and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Toss to combine the ingredients, then add some of the vinaigrette and toss again. Add more vinaigrette until the right balance of dressing to salad is reached. Delicious served at room temperature or lightly chilled.

Vinaigrette recipe: Whisk together 2⁄3 cup red wine vinegar, ¼ cup Dijon-style mustard, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, 5 cloves finely minced or pressed garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Whisk in 1 1⁄3 cups extra-virgin olive oil. Adjust seasonings and set aside. Makes about 2¼ cups vinaigrette.

Potato Salad Vinaigrette

Makes about 30 servings.

9 lbs white, red or Yukon gold potatoes

1 C dry white wine

½ C wine vinegar

2 TBS Dijon mustard

1½ C olive oil

2 tsp salt (more to taste)

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

½ C minced green onion

2⁄3 C chopped fresh dill

Boil the potatoes carefully so that they do not over-cook, split and crumble. Cool slightly and cut into quarters. It’s not necessary to peel them, but if any of the peeling is separating from the flesh, pluck it off. Pour the wine over the potatoes and toss gently; set aside until the potatoes are cool.

In another bowl, combine the wine vinegar, mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper, green onion and dill weed. Adjust seasonings, adding additional salt and pepper to taste. Pour the vinaigrette over the cooled potatoes, adjust seasonings and chill.

— Adapted from “Entertaining,” by Martha Stewart.

Tortellini Salad

Makes about 20 servings.

2 lbs fresh cheese tortellini, cooked al dente and drained

1 C minced fresh parsley

1 lb salami, cut into ¼-inch chunks or julienned

1 lb Havarti cheese, cubed into ¼-inch chunks or julienned

3 red or green bell peppers, seeded and chopped

1½ C pitted black olives, sliced or coarsely chopped

8 green onions including tops, sliced

Tortellini Dressing (see recipe below)

In a large bowl, combine tortellini, parsley, salami, cheese, bell pepper, olives and green onions. Pour dressing over salad and toss thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour. May be prepared 24 hours ahead, but if making more than 3 hours ahead, reserve half the dressing and toss with the salad just before serving.

Tortellini Dressing recipe: Whisk together ½ cup red wine vinegar, ¼ cup finely minced fresh basil (or 1 tablespoon dried), 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, ¾ teaspoon salt, ¾ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1½ cups extra-virgin olive oil. Blend well.

— Adapted from “Creme de Colorado,” by the Junior League of Denver.

Snazzy Wild Rice Salad

Makes about 20 servings.

Wild rice is so rarely served, yet so delicious and easy to work with. I think you’ll find that your guests will appreciate this offering.

9 C water

3 C wild rice

2 (6-oz) jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained

1 (10-oz) package frozen peas, thawed but not cooked

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 bunch green onions, white and pale green portions, chopped

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

Toasted slivered almonds

Dressing (see recipe below)

In a large saucepan, bring water and rice to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, or until tender (it will still be “chewy”). Drain excess liquid from rice, and cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, drain artichoke hearts, reserving the marinade for another dressing, if desired. Halve or quarter the artichoke hearts (depending on their size) and add them to the rice, along with the peas, green bell pepper, green onions, cherry tomatoes, reserved marinade and half the dressing. Toss well. Cover and chill (may be prepared up to 24 hours ahead, but the peas shouldn’t be added until you are within a few hours of serving or they lose their crispy-fresh character).

Just before serving, toss again and adjust seasonings, adding enough of the remaining dressing as desired. Sprinkle with the almonds and serve.

Dressing recipe: In a tight-lidded jar, combine 1 1⁄3 cups extra-virgin olive oil, ½ cup white or red wine vinegar, 1⁄3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon celery salt, 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard, ½ teaspoon ground white pepper, ¼ teaspoon paprika and 2 cloves of finely minced garlic. Refrigerate until ready to use (may be prepared up to 1 week ahead, but it will need to be brought to room temperature for the olive oil to return to a liquid state). Makes about 2¼ cups dressing.

— Adapted from “Creme de Colorado,” by the Junior League of Denver.