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Healthy Cooking: Busy? Just roll through summer suppers

Busy summer days call for cool, protein-kissed dinner salads. Minimal cooking required. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES
Busy summer days call for cool, protein-kissed dinner salads. Minimal cooking required. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES

This month, I’m wondering if “lazy summer days” are a myth, like “low humidity” and “bikini body.” Yes, the days are longer, but that just means there’s more sunlight to illuminate the to-do list. If your list is like mine, packed with unrelenting kid schlepping and interminable yard projects, cooking dinner feels like one more annoying chore. Fellow weary workers, cross this last one off with my new favorite (nearly) no-cook meal, a Summer Roll Salad.

Summer rolls are spring rolls’ fresh, not-fried, cousin. Think chilled prawns and crisp veggies, snuggled up in rice paper. For my salad, we deconstruct the summer roll by serving the ingredients on a bed of fresh lettuce with a side of yummy homemade sesame ginger dressing.

Shrimp remains my protein of choice on this salad, because most markets sell shrimp that is already cooked. Fresh shrimp has the firmest texture, but if frozen is your best option, it’s totally fine. Prices will vary; if it’s cheaper to purchase raw, simply boil a pot of water, add the shrimp and simmer for a minute until they turn pink, and then plunge the shrimp into an ice bath. See? Barely cooking. Other lean proteins you may have on hand, such as tofu, pork tenderloin, or rotisserie chicken, also work perfectly.

Summer rolls are packed with crunchy, satisfying vegetables like radishes and carrots. I use them here as well, and, to lighten the workload, I ask my kiddos to help with the prep. If you’re teaching your responsible rugrats knife skills for the first time, let “cut side down” be your mantra. Placing the cut side of a vegetable flat on the cutting board minimizes the amount your vegetables slip, making chopping safer for all concerned. I think the salad looks best if the vegetables are cut into thin, tiny pieces. But if your children are of an age or temperament that it’s ill-advised to weaponize them, do only as much chopping as you can stand and move on.

Cellophane noodles, also called bean thread or glass noodles, elevate the salad from basic greens to something special. Made from bean starch, cellophane noodles are gluten-free and, as the name suggests, transparent. You’ll find them on the shelf in the Asian foods aisle of most grocery stores. To prepare, simply soak the dried noodles in hot water for a few minutes. The noodles are my kids’ favorite part of the salad because they really are see-through, so only skip this step if you truly don’t have the energy to boil water. You can substitute fresh bean sprouts, but they aren’t nearly as fun to slurp.

Lastly, we make a sesame ginger salad dressing. Why not just buy a bottle? Prepared salad dressings have more sodium and sugar than is ideal. I love the sesame oil in this recipe. A mere tablespoon is enough to add smoky, savory notes to the entire salad. It’s inexpensive, so grab a bottle when purchasing your cellophane noodles. If you’re worried you won’t use it for other recipes (you will!), you can substitute an additional tablespoon of neutral-tasting canola oil. Then sit back and enjoy the beautiful, delicious meal you nearly didn’t cook.

Keep it cool on busy summer days with Summer Roll Salad with Sesame Ginger Dressing. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES
Keep it cool on busy summer days with Summer Roll Salad with Sesame Ginger Dressing. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES

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