Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The time of fresh corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini changes my attitude about September

Recently on my personal Facebook account I posted how I used to hate the beginning of September as a kid, because it meant school, a.k.a. “the 10-month prison sentence,” was beginning again.
   A couple of my Facebook pals replied that they were surprised anyone could hate the beginning of September – they used to love, and still love today, the prospect of a new school year starting.
   The whole point of making the post was to eventually say I don’t hate the beginning of September anymore. Mostly because I’m long past my school years, I don’t think about school starting anymore – I think of it as the start of the beautiful season of fall, which means I can get back to making warm soup again. And, early September is the time for the best fresh corn, tomatoes, certain varieties of cucumbers and zucchini.
   Which brings me to today’s featured recipes for a side dish and a salad that make wonderful use of corn, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Couscous with Corn and Blue Cheese (click for the recipe) struck me as an unusual-looking recipe, combining, just as the title suggests, corn, couscous and blue cheese.
   The combination intrigued me and the recipe looked easy to make, so I gave it a try. It was terrific.
   My husband rightly observed that the blue cheese flavor seemed to spread out in the entire salad, but in a delicate, non-obtrusive and welcome way. This may have been helped by the fact I took the time to sort of mush the pieces of crumbled blue cheese into the salad, which the recipe doesn’t say to do.
   Butter is melted in a four-quart saucepan, and chopped fresh thyme is added and cooked until fragrant. Fresh corn kernels, sliced scallions (also known as green onions or spring onions), and salt are added and cooked briefly. Couscous is added, along with a cup of boiling water and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
   The mixture is removed from the heat, covered, and left to stand for five minutes. The couscous and corn is fluffed with a fork, and the crumbled blue cheese is stirred in.
   Serve hot or at room temperature.

Melon, Tomato & Onion Salad with Goat Cheese (click for the recipe) is a refreshing combination of melon, sweet onion, tomatoes, cucumbers, goat cheese and basil.
   It can be a meal in itself, or a side dish, which is the way I preferred it, alongside the grilled chicken we ate with it.
   The recipe says it makes eight servings. I disagree with that – I’d say it’s more like four to six side-salad servings and two to three main-dish servings.
   I halved the recipe ingredients, and found it yielded two nicely-sized side salads.
   To be more accurate, I halved everything except the melon. I used the entire melon, as is called for in the “eight serving” version, because I didn’t want to use any of the rind, only the very soft part of the melon.
   The rings of thinly-sliced sweet onion are placed in a medium bowl, and cold water and ice cubes are added, a measure intended to reduce the sharp bite of the raw onions. The onions sit in water for 20 minutes before being drained and patted dry.
   A melon (I used honeydew) is cut, the seeds are scooped out, and the rind removed. The melon halves are sliced crosswise into 1/8th-inch slices. I didn’t worry at all how the slices looked, just as long as they were slim.
   On individual plates or a large platter, layers of melon and sliced tomato are overlapped, then cucumber slices tucked between those layers.
   The salad(s) are sprinkled with salt and pepper, topped with crumbled goat cheese and the onion rings, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and topped with thinly-sliced fresh basil.

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