On Your Table: Easy light summer dinners

By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

Couscous is so easy to make and all kinds of vegetables can be included or even store-bought meats

It’s been so hot lately that I can’t think about cooking. Who wants to get involved with hot or baked dishes at such a time. Now’s the time for light and healthier dishes. And did I mention fast to prepare? These comprise all the right ingredients for a great summer meal.

Let’s start with salad in jars, which are great for a picnic or dinner on the patio. Food in jars is a big new trend for the reason that these dishes can be made ahead and are easily transported. Almost anything can be made this way. The mason jar salad keeps your greens from getting dressed until you’re ready to mix it up. All you have to do is put the salad dressing in first and layer in ingredients one by one, leaving the salad greens on top. You should start with the heaviest, most non-absorbent ingredients first.   I should mention this is a great way to prepare lunch for taking to work too.

My approach to such a layered salad is a cinch to make. You don’t even need a recipe, as it is a creative undertaking. Start with pouring bottled balsamic dressing at the bottom of the jar. I like Marzetti’s “Simply Dressed” which is low calorie and easily available at the grocery store. Then layer with drained, canned beans ( I like cannelloni), bite-sized chopped vegetables, bits of goat cheese, prepared farfalle pasta and romaine. For those who want a more filling dish, buy rotisserie chicken and shred it to add to the layers. Top with something crunchy like fried tortilla strips, roasted nuts or sunflower seeds and finally, a dollop of sour cream. Guests can simply shake the concoction and dive in. Easy.

Now for the main course, here’s another easy-to-make suggestion. Couscous salad is so simple. Follow the directions on the box to make the couscous. I like to use canned chicken broth rather than water for more flavor. Then it’s another free-form dish to make. Drain the couscous and put aside. Fry one half cup of chopped onions with a clove or two of garlic. Then sauté whatever is fresh from the garden. Toss everything with the couscous, adding spices to taste. The couscous needs some spicing up. Then add cherry tomatoes at the end, which can either be sliced or whole. These make a pleasing color splash. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

So, between the two of these easy to make summer dishes, one can make the dishes ahead and whip them out to serve in no time. Or one can bring them to work for lunch dishes. So easy. Have fun. Be creative and enjoy!

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