I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who, when the temps creep well up into the 80s and 90s, wonders how and what to eat without cranking up the oven. Like clockwork, this dilemma rears its ugly head each and every summer.

Before the recent heat spell broke, I was asked to check in with a few area restaurants to see how they could help us solve this, well, sweltering issue.

So chill as we describe some of the popular, cool salad offerings currently being served at some local restaurants, as well as some recipes from them in case you want to turn their magic into a little of your own magic at home without the oven.

Salads and cold soups at Guthries

I called Heather Letourneau, owner along with husband Randy, of She Doesn’t Like Guthries, the restaurant and pub located on Middle Street in Lewiston.

She didn’t need to sell me on Heather’s Super Food Salad, currently a favorite of mine. Somehow, the baby spinach takes an even more wonderful and healthy turn when sprinkled with walnuts, dried cranberries, slices of fresh avocado and served with a side of warm sweet potato! Whether on its own or served with half a sandwich, it’s a fabulous blend of flavors. The balsamic vinaigrette is served on the side, not too much of which is needed to bring all the flavors together. Letourneau said she had been making this salad for herself for quite some time before adding it to their menu.

Another popular salad meal at Guthries is the Mediterranean Chick Pea salad, also on top of baby spinach, covered with chick peas, of course, sliced tomato, onions, spicy black olives and feta cheese, served with olive oil on the side.

Traditional gazpacho, a tomato-based soup loaded with a medley of chopped veggies, is one of several chilled soups that round out the Guthries summer menu. Like the endless supply of salsa and guacamole the Letourneaus make, all their soups are made from scratch and use fresh ingredients.

Graziano’s famous house dressing and more

Wondering how they make their super-popular Italian house dressing at Graziano’s Casa Mia Restaurant in Lisbon, I gave Joe Graziano a call. When I asked if he would share the recipe, he laughed and said that it could be difficult, calling it “partially” homemade. The restaurant uses a commercial dry mix as a starter base, purchased from a New England-based company, and then adds some magic touches. The vendor “was surprised and happy to see what we’ve accomplished with their product,” he said. “It’s completely different from anything you can find anywhere else,” he said, acknowledging much research on their part. “It’s garlicy and has a nice tang of vinegar.” The key ingredient to its popularity is that garlic, he believes.

Graziano, however, did offer to share the recipe for his restaurant’s equally famous and completely made-from-scratch bleu cheese dressing. (See recipes.)

Other popular summertime eating at Graziano’s includes the Antipasto Salad, served on a mix of romaine and iceberg, topped with the likes of Genoa salami, provolone cheese, cherry peppers, roasted red peppers and, of course, the salty and flavorful calamata olives. Their classic Antipasta Roma is similar, but with less lettuce and is more of a meal. Along with the above-mentioned items, it also includes fresh mozzarella cheese, marinated mushrooms and artichokes and fresh tomatoes.

Their most popular salad right now, he said, is the julienne salad, topped with fresh breaded turkey breast and the house Italian. Admitting that a good Caesar salad is hard to come by, Graziano said it is not currently on their menu but he may soon consider adding it to the Graziano’s repertoire. Rumor has it that someone in the Graziano family makes a “kick-ass” Caesar dressing. Be forewarned, Joe, we’ll be on the lookout!

Pickled grapes and goat cheese at Marche

In spite of a sold-out “Marche Monday” event, Eric Agren, owner of both Marche and Fuel on Lisbon Street, Lewiston, took a moment to call Monday night to give us an overview of two of their most popular salades this summer. I had called specifically to learn about his ‘Goat Cheese, Grapes & Greens’ salad. “What makes it really unique and different,” he said, “are the ‘pickled’ grapes.” He explained how one pound of grapes and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar are combined in a bag and placed in a chamber sealer. When the oxygen is removed, the grapes are instantly pickled! Turns out the folks at both Fuel and Marche love this little device. Remaining firm and crunchy, the now-pickled grapes are sprinkled on top of fresh salad greens (grown in nearby Greene by gardener Bob Ouellette, otherwise known as Agren’s “produce guy”) along with fresh goat cheese from Appleton Creamery.

Agren went on to describe the Carrie Salad, another big lunchtime seller, featuring carrots, haricots verts, dried cherries, candied walnuts, croutons and fresh shaved parmesan on top of romaine lettuce. Both salads are served with the restaurant’s very French ‘Simple Bistro Vinaigrette’ dressing, which he was glad to share with readers.

Cool options are plentiful around town, so not to worry. But perhaps the worst part is you just know that oven will be waiting for you next week!

RECIPES

Graziano’s Bleu Cheese Dressing

The allure of their bleu cheese dressing is its simplicity and its full body. The more cheese crumbles you add the better it is. This recipe calls for a six-ounce tub, but if you want to use eight ounces it can only be better.

6-ounce tub of bleu cheese crumbles

1 cup of mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup cottage cheese

lemon juice

milk

Mix well together the mayonnaise, sour cream and cottage cheese. Add bleu cheese crumbles and stir lightly as to not break up too many of the crumbles. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and thin the dressing with a bit of whole milk to desired consistency. Chill and serve with your favorite salad or spicy chicken wings. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Fuel’s Simple Bistro Vinaigrette

1 cup champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons high quality Dijon mustard

Olive oil

Mix together the vinegar and mustard. With a blender, food processor or wire whisk, slowly drizzle in 1 to 1-1/2 cups of high quality olive oil. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.


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