The sweltering heat of summer is upon us in full force. Gray May is a distant memory as we peel off sweatshirts and jeans in exchange for tees and shorts. While the sun bakes us outside I’m not going to offer recipes for you to bake inside. No, no ovens in this heat. But that doesn’t mean you can’t cook up a fabulous meal at home so you don’t have to rely on takeout all summer. My favorite summer meals consist of a vegan protein cooked on the grill with side salads. But not always the lettuce kind. A variety of salads that are heartier and pique the imagination. So for the next four weeks I’ll be sharing some of my favorite summer salads that contain nary a leafy green. They’re delicious paired with your favorite entrees or simply eaten as a light lunch when the blistering sun creates the need for a quick meal right out of the fridge.
First up is Fresh Pea, Mint, and Vegan Feta Salad.
Peas get a bad rap. Probably because they’re often mushy and overcooked. This fresh pea salad uses blanched peas, which simply means that the peas are quickly boiled and then immediately immersed in an ice water bath to preserve the color, flavor and crunchy texture. Of note, this quick boil of the peas on the stove is the only cooking for the salad. I didn’t even pre-make the dressing. I simply added the ingredients to the peas and tossed. It’s truly an effortless salad to make once the peas are cooked. I then tossed in crunchy sliced radishes and crumbled, creamy plant-based feta. Hubby’s response after tasting was, “refreshing!” Everything you want in a summer salad.
- Please note that I haven’t made this salad with frozen peas. You could try by simply defrosting the peas, but I don’t think the texture will be quite the same. Definitely no canned peas!
- Trader Joe’s has bags of fresh peas in the refrigerator section with the other salad vegetables. Sometimes you can find fresh peas at the Larchmont Farmer’s Market. I cook them in sugar water verses salt water, a trick my mom taught me to bring out their sweetness.
- As with so many recipes I share, this is a basic footprint. Feel free to substitute other herbs if mint isn’t appealing to you. Tarragon, basil and dill would all work.
- I suggest a mild buttery olive oil so as not to overpower the peas with a peppery, bitter oil.
- Vegan feta cheese is available at Trader Joe’s under the store’s own label. Follow Your Heart brand also makes vegan feta available at most major food markets.
- This salad was delicious for several days. Make sure to refrigerate leftovers.
Stay cool and look for a new take on a classic picnic salad when I present Part 2 of the Summer Salad Series next week.
Fresh Peas, Mint and Feta Salad
Serves 8 as a side dish
4 cups fresh, shelled peas (2 bags of Trader Joes fresh shelled peas)
1 T organic sugar
1/2 shallot bulb, very thinly sliced on the horizontal
2 T fresh chopped mint
3/4 tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
Zest of one large lemon
3 T mild, buttery extra virgin olive oil
2-3 T fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 cup crumbled vegan feta cheese
3-4 red and purple radishes, thinly sliced on the horizontal
Extra feta, chopped mint and lemon zest for serving.
Fill a medium large saucepot with 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil.
Meanwhile have a very large bowl filled with ice water next to the stove.
When the water boils add the sugar and the peas. Stir it all up. Gently boil about 90 seconds. You want them al dente. Immediately transfer the peas using a slotted spoon to the ice bath.
Add ice if the water gets too warm.
Allow the peas to cool completely in the ice water and then drain in a colander removing any ice chunks.
Let the peas dry out then transfer to a kitchen towel lined sheet pan and pat dry some more. This extra step will help the dressing adhere to the peas and prevent a watery salad.
Transfer the peas to a large mixing bowl. Add the shallot, mint, salt and zest and toss to coat and combine.
Add the oil and lemon juice and stir up again to evenly coat the peas. Taste for seasoning, oil and acid. Adjust to your liking.
Add the feta and radishes and combine gently.
Transfer to a serving bowl and top with additional feta, chopped mint and lemon zest.
If not serving immediately transfer to a covered container and refrigerate. Toss up again, put in your serving bowl then top with the additional feta, mint and zest and serve.