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Chill out with summery salads

Jeanmarie Brownson
Chicago Tribune

Outdoor entertaining takes on new meaning during a pandemic. The summer of 2020 finds us on decks, patios and porches sitting 6 feet apart with our own personal coolers and individual containers of food. Some neighbors even tote their own chairs. We agree: We’d rather be super cautious then not see each other at all.

I don’t bring my own chair, but I do take time to consider the perfect libation. Frozen drinks take the heat off, but prove difficult to transport. Instead, I’m having all the wines I like to drink pulled from an icy cooler – fruity, high acid numbers such as pinot grigio from Italy, Chilean sauvignon blanc, French roses and sparkling wines from California, Italy and Spain.

Wine needs about 2 hours in the refrigerator to be properly chilled. Since I rarely have room in the refrigerator for more than one bottle, I fill a small cooler with wine bottles and cover them in ice. The wine is cold in less than 1 hour. Wine glasses can even be tucked into the cooler.

Cold wine at the ready makes me hungry. It makes sense to serve cold, or room temperature, food with chilled beverages. Both of the recipes here can be made two or three days in advance and served cold. When sharing food with others, I cook wearing a mask and wash my hands frequently. Then I arrange portions in disposable containers suited for eating, such as the shallow plastic containers and lids from take-out food. I ask guests to bring their own forks and napkins.

Beautiful tomatoes, onion, garlic and bell peppers at the farmers market inspired the Provencal-style fish salad. A panful of sliced onions and peppers sprinkled with herbs get roasted in the oven, then topped with slices of tomato and lean, sweet fish fillets for a final cook under the broiler.

Showered with fresh basil and lemon juice, the fish tastes delicious served at room temperature or chilled over baby lettuces. On cooler days, I serve the dish warm accompanied by sliced, boiled golden potatoes or a scoop of warm, medium-grain rice, Israeli couscous or farro. A very cold French rose proves the perfect accompaniment.

Black rice makes a stunning salad, especially when laced with bright colors from radish, butternut squash, corn kernels and herbs. Roasted, grilled or smoked chicken turns the rice into a main-dish salad. Serve the salad with a cold sauvignon blanc. (My favorites come from Chile.) Or, try a super-chilled sour beer with just a touch of fruit such as white peach or a German-style unfiltered sour wheat beer (gose).

I look forward to setting a table with friends gathered close. Until then, summery food and a breezy patio helps us appreciate good health. Crisp, chilled wine ensures lively conversation.

Roasted vegetables, cooked ahead then chilled, make a base for flaky fish in this chilled salad. A crisp rose will go beautifully. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/Shannon Kinsella/food styling/TNS)

Provencal Roasted Pepper and Fish Salad

Notes: Always thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator; it’ll take 4 hours or more. Thawed fish fillets will keep refrigerated for 1 or 2 days; set them in a plastic bag over a tray of ice.

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

Chill: Several hours

Makes: 4 servings

1 large red bell pepper

1 large yellow bell pepper

2 medium Vidalia or other sweet onions, halved, thinly sliced

2 to 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

Salt

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds mild fish fillets, such as wild Alaskan black bass, wild-caught cod, haddock or farm-raised tilapia

Freshly ground black pepper

2 large ripe tomatoes, cored, thickly sliced

Baby arugula or spinach leaves

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

Fresh lemon juice or sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

Heat oven to 375 degrees on convection setting or 400 degrees on conventional. Cut the bell peppers in half through the stem; remove core and seeds. Cut into 1/4-inch wide slices. Put in a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Add onions, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, tarragon and thyme. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil; toss well to make sure everything is coated with oil. Bake, stirring once or twice, until peppers are tender and onions are turning golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven.

Heat broiler to high and position rack so it is about 6 inches below heat source.

Sprinkle fish on all sides with salt and pepper to taste. Lay tomato slices over the vegetable mixture in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with fish fillets. Drizzle with remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons oil.

Broil 6 inches from heat source until fish almost flakes easily and is just a little golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. (Dish can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days; serve chilled or at room temperature.)

To serve, line 4 shallow bowls with arugula or spinach. Use a spatula to transfer a portion of the fish and some of the vegetables to each bowl. Sprinkle generously with basil. Serve with a drizzle of lemon juice.

Nutrition information per serving: 350 calories, 15 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 81 mg cholesterol, 16 g carbohydrates, 9 g sugar, 41 g protein, 101 mg sodium, 4 g fiber

A chilled salad of black and brown rice contrasts beautifully with yellow corn, red radishes, orange squash and bright green herbs. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/Shannon Kinsella/food styling/TNS)

Black and Brown Rice and Chicken Salad

Notes: You can substitute 1 bag (16 ounces) frozen diced squash for the fresh. Look for roasted squash or carrots in the deli section of large supermarkets and use those instead of roasting your own. Smoked chicken or ham are good here, too.

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 45 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

1 1/3 cups long grain brown rice

2/3 cup black japonica rice

2 large cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped

3 cups diced peeled butternut squash, sweet potato or sliced carrots

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, freshly ground pepper

2 cups corn kernels

3 or 4 cups shredded or diced roasted or grilled boneless skinless chicken

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 to 2 tablespoons Korean chile flakes (gochugaru) or red chile hot sauce to taste, optional

1/2 cup thinly sliced or julienned radishes

1/4 cup each, chopped, fresh: chives, cilantro

Put rices and garlic into a rice cooker along with 2 2/3 cups water. Cover and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. (Alternatively, simmer rices and garlic with 3 cups water in a medium saucepan, tightly covered, until rice is tender, about 40 minutes.)

Fluff rice with a fork and turn out onto a shallow platter or baking sheet to cool.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss squash with 2 tablespoons of the oil on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roast, stirring once or twice, until tender and golden, about 20 minutes.

Add corn to baking sheet. Roast, 5 minutes. Cool.

Put rice mixture into a large bowl. Stir in chicken, remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil and the vinegar. Add squash mixture and chile flakes or hot sauce.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir in radishes and herbs. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Nutrition information per serving: 472 calories, 12 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 59 mg cholesterol, 64 g carbohydrates, 3 g sugar, 29 g protein, 68 mg sodium, 7 g fiber