You don’t have to visit Mexico to experience the delicious combination of flavors in elote, the beloved Mexican street food staple that is roasted fresh corn on the cob, seasoned with spices, lime and grated cheese. Here’s a pasta side salad that captures the essence of this simple street food. It’s sweet, spicy, savory, smoky and perfectly delicious next to the saucy ribs Les pulled off the grill.
Easy to put together, and mixing up south-of-the-border flavor with a timeless classic American comfort food, the macaroni salad.
I’m loving this!
12 oz. pkg. casarecce pasta* (see notes)
2 ears freshly grilled corn*
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1 average-size jalapeno, seeded and diced
3 scallions, trimmed and grilled
Handful fresh cilantro, rough chopped for serving
Crumbled feta or parmesan cheese for serving
Additional slices fresh jalapeno (optional, for garnish)
1 small ripe avocado, cut into cubes
1/4 cup canola mayo
1/2 cup light sour cream
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (or avocado oil)
3/4 tsp. ground chipotle
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. sweet smoked paprika
Freshly cracked black pepper
Casarecce pasta is a long, shaped noodle that looks like a rolled-up rectangle. I like it here because it has a firm, toothy texture that anchors all the other ingredients, which are cut into smaller pieces. Any substantial-sized pasta with texture will work in its place though, including penne, rotini or farfalle (bow ties).
Grilling fresh corn is one of the simplest pleasures. We strip the husk and silk, then smear with softened butter, salt and pepper. Wrap them up in foil and grill on direct 300-350 F heat for about 35 minutes. If you prefer, you could also pick up some frozen roasted corn and thaw before using. You will need about 1 1/2 cups.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Cut kernels from corn and prep all other vegetables while pasta is cooking.
Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk or stir until smooth. If dressing seems very thick, add another tablespoon of olive oil and another squeeze of lime.
Drain pasta and toss to evaporate excess moisture. Add a small amount of the dressing and toss to coat. This helps to prevent the pasta sticking together. Let the pasta cool a few minutes, then add corn, jalapeno and red onion to the pasta bowl. Pour in remaining dressing and toss to combine. Chill until cold, at least one hour.
To serve, top salad with chopped grilled scallions, parmesan or finely crumbled feta, avocado, jalapeno slices and cilantro.
The word “salad” can mean a lot of things, depending on the generation during which the recipe was introduced. For example, in the 1960s or ’70s, a “salad” could have been anything from an iceberg lettuce-based dish served ahead of dinner to a molded concoction of sweetened gelatin, cottage cheese, marshmallow or who knows what.
Blame our parents, if you need to, for those atrocities. But this salad is a real salad—vegetables, fruit, dressing—everything you want to complement what you’re serving for dinner in these modern times, especially if what you’re serving is coming off the grill.
Broccoli comes to us from the brassica family of vegetables, kin to brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, to name a few. Some of these veggies carry a slightly bitter flavor, but here’s a tip to knock it down: give it a quick swim in boiling water (only for a few seconds), then shock it cold again in an ice water bath. Not only will you strip away some of that bitter flavor, you’ll also see the broccoli transform to a much brighter green color. Be sure to drain it well before proceeding with the salad, so the dressing doesn’t get watery.
We love salads at our house, but my husband, Les, isn’t wild about broccoli by itself. A salad that features broccoli along with other flavors and textures is a great compromise, and he liked it. His son, Alex, has been with us for meals at least once a week since his return home from Europe at the start of the pandemic, and he announced at dinner that this dish has “all my favorite things in it.” I’m counting that a double success!
This dish is crunchy, cold, fresh and—despite the slight sweetness—still packed with nutrition. Approximately 6 servings.
2 broccoli crowns, washed (about 4 cups worth)
2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisin-dried cranberry blend, soaked briefly in hot water to plump
1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 slices thin bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled (this is optional)
If the dressing seems familiar, you might be remembering my creamy cole slaw a few months ago. It’s pretty much the same, repurposed for a different type of salad.
1/4 cup light mayo
2 Tbsp. whole milk
2 Tbsp. buttermilk
2 Tbsp. lemon white balsamic* (or white wine vinegar or lemon juice, but double the sugar)
1 Tbsp. cane sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Dip the broccoli crowns very briefly into gently boiling water, then shock them in ice water and drain. This helps remove any bitter taste, and also brightens the color. You can skip this step if you don’t mind the slight bitterness of broccoli.
Trim leaves from broccoli crowns and cut up into small bites. You can chop the broccoli if you’re in a hurry, but I like to have cut off whole pieces rather than “crumbs” of broccoli. My general rule of thumb for bite size is this: If a piece is large enough to completely cover a quarter, it’s too big, so I’ll cut it in half.
Combine broccoli pieces with onions, plumped raisins, carrot shreds. Toss the apple pieces in the lemon juice to prevent browning. Add them to the salad.
Combine all dressing ingredients and whisk until smooth. Pour over salad and toss to evenly coat. Refrigerate a few hours to allow flavors to mingle.
Scatter crispy bacon (if using) over salad just before serving.
This dish practically sings “Meatless Monday!” It has lots of color and interesting texture, it works either warm or cold, it’s easy to make from simple ingredients, and it’s vegan, low-calorie, high-fiber, gluten-free and flexible on spice. Somehow, it still manages to taste delicious.
Skip straight down to the picture if you’re ready for the recipe, but if you’re new to the idea of quinoa, allow me to make a proper introduction:
What the heck is quinoa?
Quinoa has been around for thousands of years, but it only surfaced into the mainstream American diet a decade or so ago. It is native to South America—Peru and Bolivia specifically, but is now being grown in the southern part of Colorado (in an area where I once lived) and a few other regions in Washington state and Idaho. It’s pronounced “KEEN-wah,” and its nutritional value is exceptional, offering high levels of protein, B vitamins, manganese and phosphorous. It’s often lumped into the “grain” category, but quinoa is technically related to spinach and amaranth. Although the leaves are also edible, the part we usually eat is the seed, which can range in color from pale straw to red to nearly black, depending on the cultivar. On the pale end, it’s mild and almost nutty. On the dark side, expect a deeper earthy flavor.
Why does quinoa taste bitter?
It shouldn’t. If the quinoa dishes you’ve tried had a bitter or soapy taste, it may not have been rinsed well enough before cooking. Nature takes care of itself, and this tiny seed grows with its own special coating designed to keep birds and insects away. Much of that coating is removed during processing before the quinoa gets to market, but you may want to give it another thorough rinse under running water for about 1 minute before cooking it. Use a mesh strainer, because the seeds are very small and will slip right through a typical colander.
How do you cook quinoa?
You can cook quinoa either from its raw, dried state or you can lightly toast it (after rinsing) in the pan first. A basic recipe is a little less than 2 cups water (or broth) to 1 cup quinoa. Combine in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover and cook about 15 minutes. When it’s done, the quinoa will have absorbed all the water and the edges of the seed will separate a bit. It kind of looks like the seeds have little tails. Properly cooked quinoa is fluffy, not soggy or mushy. This recipe will make almost 3 cups of cooked quinoa.
How do you use quinoa?
Quinoa is a very versatile ingredient, and its mild flavor makes it suitable for all kinds of application. Serve it warm as a breakfast cereal with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and fresh blueberries (talk about a power breakfast!), or season it with herbs and spices as a bed for fish, meat or vegetables. You can also toss it into a salad in place of other grains such as rice or barley, or add it to soup for texture and protein.
Now, about this recipe for Colorful Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad…
2 cups cooked quinoa (I used tri-color)
1 large sweet potato (mine was a little bigger than the can of beans)
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, black pepper and cumin
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1 cup frozen sweet corn*
2 Tbsp. chopped pickled jalapeno (optional)
Fresh chopped parsley or cilantro for serving
*My preferred corn for this would have been the fire roasted sweet corn from Trader Joe’s, but all we had in the freezer was this southwestern corn, and it worked great! Next time, I’ll probably add chopped red pepper to this recipe.
Ingredients – the Dressing
Juice of one lime
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Pinch of sugar (I used coconut sugar)
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Kosher salt, black pepper, cumin and (optional) ground chipotle
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400° F. Peel sweet potato and cut into large, bite-size chunks. Toss on parchment lined baking sheet with a generous drizzle of olive oil, season with salt, pepper and cumin to taste, and roast about 20 minutes. Sweet potato chunks should be tender enough to pierce with a fork but not soft enough to smash. Set aside to cool.
Heat a small skillet over medium heat and add a swirl of olive oil. Sauté red onions about 5 minutes, or just until lightly softened. Add frozen corn, salt and pepper to taste, and cook just until corn is heated through.
In a large bowl, combine drained beans, cooked quinoa, roasted and cooled sweet potato, corn with onions, and chopped jalapeno.
In a glass measuring cup, combine lime juice with Dijon, garlic and spices (use cumin and optional chipotle to your own taste), then whisk olive oil into the mixture until emulsified and slightly thickened. Taste the dressing and adjust as desired. Pour the dressing over the bowl ingredients, toss and serve.
We enjoyed this warm as a Meatless Monday entrée, but it would also be good as a side salad to chicken, burgers or fish, and the leftovers were just as delicious cold from the fridge.