Fireworks, banners, parades, streamers, John Phillip Sousa marches – this sounds a lot like Purim, but instead we are talking about our country’s independence. And, I am also declaring independence from the kitchen and moving our party into the park. What can make this even better is a family reunion, and I mean the entire clan!
Call up Aunt Sherry and Uncle Natie and Cousin Barrie. Tell them to make a few calls, too. Have them spread the word: it’s the July 4 family gathering. Ask Aunt Rose to bring those marvelous kamish bread (that’s Russian for the same German mandelbrot). Maybe Uncle Solomon will mix up a bowl of his remarkable chicken salad. How about asking Buba Jean to bring a platter of her no-one-makes-a-better fruit kugel? And, Mom, hands up for your Strawberry Tall Cake. You get the idea!
Assign projects too. Non-cooks can be in charge of paper supplies, folding chairs/tables and iced pop and water. A couple of gallons of refreshing cold lemonade isn’t too hard to make; all they need to do is follow the container directions. Someone can coordinate the afternoon’s sports events, like relay races, a softball throw, Maccabee/Olympic-style games.
Pick a local O.C. park. You can heads towards the beach or stay inland at a lake. There’s plenty all over, some even with a view of the evening’s fireworks. Put up a big banner with your family’s name inscribed. Then, tie on patriotic red, white and blue balloons to the ends. One friend of mine, orders a giant, blown-up bounce children’s play house as her family’s landmark.
The following recipes, designed for a gang, are for make-ahead salads. That’s right; you can assemble them several hours, even a day, ahead to bring to your pot luck. Hold on to these recipes to use throughout the summer months ahead, whether for a daytime picnic or an evening outdoor concert. Many of our neighborhood associations and synagogues organize these music gatherings, or why not splurge and purchase tickets to one of O.C.’s outstanding amphitheaters?
MARINATED VEGETABLE SALAD
My friends often ask how I create my recipes. Answer: Some come from my family treasury. Others, from years of collections and culinary files. This recipe for a marinated vegetable salad was created many years ago when I would spend summer at the beach towns of Oregon, while studying with the great American cooking expert, James Beard.
The texture, colors and taste are excellent – they will remind you of a fresh, pickled deli-style salad.
1 head cauliflower, separated into large florets, approximately 1½ pounds
1½ green peppers, cut into thin slices (or, do a combination of green, red, yellow orange)
2 to 3 zucchini (approximately 1 pound), cut into thin slices
1 bunch broccoli, approximately ½ pound, divided into florets and thinly sliced stems
4 medium carrots, cut into julienne strips
4 ribs celery, cut into julienne strips
2 cucumbers, peeled, halved, seeds removed and cut into julienne strips
12 cherry tomatoes, halved vertically
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
½ pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
½ cup vegetable oil
1½ cups herb-flavored vinegar (preferably, tarragon vinegar)
½ cup sugar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1½ teaspoons Kosher salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
In a large pot of salted water, boil the cauliflower, green pepper, zucchini and broccoli florets for 2 minutes. Then plunge them into icy cold water to set the color. Drain. In the same water boil the carrots, celery and broccoli stems for 4 minutes. Again, plunge them in icy cold water to set the color. Drain.
Combine all the cooked vegetables with the cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, avocado slices and mushrooms in a large bowl. Combine the marinade ingredients and pour over the vegetables. Toss well and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Yield: Approximately 12-plus servings.
In the summer, I especially love a good bulgur salad, tossed with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs.
1 cup bulgur (cracked wheat)
2 cups boiling water
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
½ cup chopped green onions
2 medium-to-large tomatoes, finely diced
¼ cup chopped olives (I prefer a flavorsome Middle Eastern green variety.)
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
Accompany with pita bread triangles
Pour boiling water over bulgur in a bowl and let stand 1 hour to soften. Drain well. (Note: I place drained bulgur in a cloth kitchen towel and squeeze out all the excess liquid – similar to draining grated potatoes for latkes.) Place in a large bowl, and add remaining ingredients.
Variation: Many other ingredients can be added, such as raisins, chopped dried apricots or dates, chopped walnuts, toasted pine nuts, chopped celery, green peppers, chunks of feta cheese. You may also want to use this salad as a base and top with grilled tofu, chicken, salmon or your favorite ingredient.
Yield: Approximately 6 to 12 servings.
PARTY TIME CORN AND PEPPER SALAD
Perfect for an outdoor picnic, this salad is stunning with its vibrant colors. The addition of Monterey Jack cheese (or, you might try tofu) makes this a more hearty selection.
Party Time Spicy Dressing:
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 10-ounce packages frozen corn kernels, defrosted
4 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion or 1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 medium green bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, cut into ½” cubes (or, you might try firm tofu)
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro (or, flat leaf parsley)
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the salad dressing ingredients, then set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the vegetables, then toss with the dressing, until well-coated. Stir in cheese (or tofu) and cilantro (or Italian flat leaf parsley).
Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Yield: Approximately 10 to 12 servings.