Independence Day Weekend: Making Food

What did everybody else do this Independence Day weekend? I went to a ton of cookouts and made a bunch of food.

Food that I have made thus far this weekend:

  1. A rice salad on Thursday evening
  2. A chicken salad for lunch on Friday
  3. A potato salad on Saturday
  4. Also a pear mint chutney on Saturday

To make still:

  1. Salsa

Here is the basic rundown of the various salads (and the chutney)

1. Rice Salad

This is one of the easiest little recipes you can encounter, which still makes a delightful addition to a meal.

What you’ll need:

  • Two cups instant white rice (you can use non-instant rice if you’re more patient than I am)
  • 1 can of black beans (substitute other beans if desired)
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 small tomatoes, chopped
  • one small or half a medium-large onion, chopped (no specification, I used vidalia but red would work just as well)
  • 1 or 2 chopped cloves of garlic
  • 1 or 2 jalapeños chopped (de-seed if you want to control the heat a little more)
  • About 1/4th cup chopped cilantro (if you do not care for the flavor of cilantro very much I recommend using less)


  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper
  • a bit of cumin
  • a bit of chili powder

Basically all you need to do is boil the rice and chop up the vegetables.  Once the rice is done, and cooled a bit, stir it up with all the chopped ingredients, and then drizzle the whisked dressing over the entire thing.  You can eat it right then, but I think that it is best served chilled.

2. Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is one of my favorite sandwich making things.  There are tons and tons of different ways that you can make the chicken salad but my basic rule (which goes along with most salads I make) is that it includes a lot of chunks of vegetable to add flavor and color.

What you’ll need:

  • about a pound, a little more or less, of cooked chicken chopped up (I boiled mine but if you have some left over or want to grill it up I see no reason why that wouldn’t work as well).
  • half to 1 bell pepper, chopped (I used a yellow one)
  • half a medium-large onion, chopped (as above the kind really doesn’t matter, I used the other half of the vidalia)
  • 1 or 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • several (1-3) small tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped

Binding Agent/Dressing: I don’t mind mayo for things like chicken salad or potato salad as a binding/flavoring ingredient, but I feel like 1) it is overused and 2) it is kind of boring.  Thus in this, and in my potato salad I amp it up a little bit.  Note that the measurements are pretty guesswork.

  • 2 ripe fresh avocados, flesh removed and pretty well mashed (it is nice to leave a few chunks in there though)
  • About 3 to 4 tbsps mayo
  • about a half tbsp of mustard (I used yellow because I had it handy, other kinds could work just as well)
  • Salt & pepper
  • Fresh or dried dill

Basically, like the rice salad, all you need to do is cook the chicken, chop up the ingredients and mix everything together.  For the mayo-avocado I recommend that you combine these ingredients together in there own little bowl prior to adding it to the whole chicken salad.  This stuff comes out good enough to just eat with a fork, but it is also pretty tasty spread on a good roll with a glass of cola and some chips.

3. Potato Salad

I love potato salad. I’m not entirely sure why, but I quite literally will have cravings for it.  As such I try and cook some up every couple of weeks or so.  As with the above two recipes, I like lots of chunks for flavor and color.

What you’ll need:

  • Depending on how much you want, use between 1 and 2 pounds of red potatoes, boiled and chopped up
  • 2 sticks of celery chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (for color I used a bright red one)
  • 1 medium red onion chopped (for this salad I strongly recommend the red onion.  Other onions could work but I think that red onions have the best flavor for a potato salad.  Also the purple color is really great).
  • 1 yellow tomato, chopped (you could use some type of red tomato but the yellow, again, adds a great color.  Also the flavor of yellow tomatoes is spectacular)
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Binding Agent/Dressing

  • 1 good sized poblano pepper, roasted and finely chopped (like chop it nearly to oblivion after roasting.  To roast throw it on a grill, on a Foreman grill, or just in broil it in the oven for a bit)
  • 4 to 6 tbsps mayo (adjust as needed.  Mix about 3 tbsps with the super-chopped poblano first, add more if the salad feels too dry)
  • About 1 tbsp of horseradish mustard (you could use other mustard, but that horseradish element is just wonderful)
  • Salt & pepper
  • fresh or dried dill (feel free to use a good amount here, I think dill is excellent for a good potato salad)

Like the previous two salads you pretty much cook the named ingredient and then mix all the chopped elements in.  I definitely suggest that you stir the chopped poblano into some of the mayo as it will help spread that wonderful rich poblano flavor.  Personally I can dig right into potato salad as soon as it is well mixed.  Some people prefer to let it all cool down a bit.  You can pick or choose your preference.

4. Mint-Pear Chutney

I have become a huge fan of chutneys. I think that there is so much potential for creativity and experimenting in their creation, as well as an opportunity to have a wonderful fresh condiment for a meal.  Evan had bought a leg of lamb as part of the 4th of July meal yesterday and we had gotten into talking about what  to do with lamb.  The leg was going to be smoked on Bear’s smoker and it was already decided that it would be stuffed with full garlic cloves and somewhat basted with rosemary and olive oil.  But what about when the meat was done?  Traditionally people eat lamb with mint jelly, which is fine and good, but we agreed that we could do better.  Thus it was deemed a chutney would be perfect.  Here it is.

What you’ll need:

  • 4 pears, peeled and finely chopped (I used Bartlett)
  • 1 apple, peeled and finely chopped (I used Fuji)
  • 1/4th cup golden raisins, finely chopped
  • 2 serrano pepper, finely chopped
  • half of a medium red onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped ginger root
  • about a half a cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped (I am not sure if it matters what kind of mint you use. This might be worth experimenting with)
  • 3 to 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, peeled away and chopped
  • about 1/4th cup, or a little less, vodka
  • Olive oil
  • white pepper
  • ground red pepper

All right, here’s what to do.  In a good size fry pan heat up some olive oil (about 2 tbsps) and then add the garlic, ginger, serrano pepper, and onion.  Let this sautee on medium-high heat for several minutes until you begin to get some good carmalization from the onion (be careful not to take a big whiff of this as the hot pepper might cause some irritation).  Splash in a bit of vodka (not all of it) to de-glaze the pan, then add the chopped pears and apple, turn the heat down slightly, and sprinkle on some white pepper and ground red pepper.  Cover and let this cook for a bit until the pears are really softening up, occasionally adding a little more of the vodka.  After the pears seem to have lost a good amount of their solidity throw in the chopped mint and rosemary, and the golden raisins stirring everything up, adding a little more white pepper, and finishing off the vodka.  Move heat to about medium, recover and just let simmer for about another ten minutes, stirring occasionally (there should be a good bit of liquid in the form of a pear sauce on the bottom of the pan, though there will still be some chunk looking bits of pear and apple).  After everything has cooked down, this is just about ready.  Chutney can be served warm or cold and if kept in the fridge in a covered container last for about three days.

This came out as a wonderful condiment to top on the leg of lamb.  It has a complex flavoring which pairs sweet (from the fruit) with spicy (from the serranos), as well as a very distinct herb characteristic (from the mint and rosemary) which definitely works to remind of the mint jelly that normally goes with lamb.  The smoked lamb was good enough to eat just by itself, but adding a little bit of this chutney to the top was absolutely fabulous.

I mentioned that I want to make salsa today, which I fully intend to do, but I haven’t decided yet the best way to make it, so I will maybe write another post on it later.

So, from the above recipes, you should probably be able to determine that some of the main ingredients I love are peppers (bell and chili varieties), tomatoes, and onions.  Fact: just about everything should have garlic in it. Another fact: salads are more fun if they have good chunks and lots of color.  Final fact: making good food should be 1 part knowledge, 1 part experimentation, and all parts enjoyable . . . don’t stress it, take your time, and have fun making delightful food.

~ by Nathaniel on July 5, 2009.

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