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Chef's Hat: August means it's backyard harvest time

Harvest season has kicked into full gear for many backyard gardeners. Even the smallest of gardens seems to go from a cucumber or two to bursting with bushels full of produce.

Some people can, make salsa or freeze vegetables. But the greatest joy of having vegetables in your backyard is going out, picking a few beans or tomatoes off the vine and enjoying them in your next meal.

When you have tons of green beans and dozens of cherry tomatoes, what do you do? Toss them all together, add a light dressing and it turns into a flavorful summer salad.

Most green bean salad type recipes use a vinaigrette dressing. A vinaigrette dressing is simple to make; but to save time, pick up a couple bottles of prepared dressing and keep them on hand for making summer salads. Along with a plain type of vinaigrette dressing, consider keeping a couple flavored (raspberry, lime, etc.) on hand. These are great in a variety of recipes and the flavoring adds a bit of zip to a salad or marinade.

No summer is complete without a cucumber-onion vinegar salad. However, for those who don't care for that heavy vinegar flavor, try a cucumber-onion salad made with sour cream instead of vinegar. This is a very refreshing summer salad and if you can save on calories by using a light sour cream.

Cherry tomatoes are a favorite of many people and for good reason. These sweet, delightful fruits are great just off the vine. Tomatoes also pair up wonderfully well with mozzarella cheese.

Again, this is a very simple salad to make: a few tomatoes, cheese, some fresh herbs and a bit of bottled dressing, and about 5 minutes is all it takes to pull it all together.

Even if you're not a backyard gardener, there's no reason to miss out on the great summer vegetables now in season. The numerous farmers markets throughout the area are also bursting with baskets and bushels full of freshly picked vegetables.

Throw together a salad and add a chunk of garlic bread and you've got a quick summer meal that takes only a few minutes to prepare. Enjoy what's left of the lakes area summer and Happy Eating!

Green Bean & Tomato Salad

  • ½ pound fresh green beans
  • 2 strips cooked bacon
  • ½ to ¾ cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon garlic salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
  • 1 hard-boiled egg

Trim ends from beans. Place in a saucepan with boiling water. Cook just until crisp tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and allow the beans to cool.

Place beans into a bowl. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place in the bowl with the beans. Crumble the bacon and add to the bowl.

Place the mustard, red wine vinegar, garlic salt, sugar, olive oil and pepper in a measuring cup or small bowl. Mix until well combined. Drizzle over the beans and tomatoes. With a spoon, gently mix the beans and tomatoes so everything is coated with the dressing. Sprinkle the basil over the top.

Slice the egg and place the egg slices over the top of the salad. Serve immediately.

Cucumbers with Sour Cream & Dill

  • 1/3 cup sour cream (you can use light sour cream)
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon milk (or water)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
  • 2 medium sized cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup thinly sliced red onion

In a medium bowl, whisk together sour cream, mustard, vinegar, milk, salt, pepper and dill until combined. Add sliced cucumbers and onions and gently stir to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

Cherry Tomato Mozzarella Salad

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half
  • 1 cup mozzarella balls or chunked mozzarella cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ¼ cup red onion, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or basil
  • ½ cup bottled red wine vinaigrette dressing
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper

Place the tomatoes, mozzarella and onions in a bowl. Sprinkle with the fresh herbs. Using a spoon, mix lightly.

Pour the dressing over the mixture. Place in the refrigerator and let the flavors combine for 15 to 30 minutes.

Remove and mix lightly. Taste, and if desired season lightly with salt and pepper.