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Cool Yet Satisfying

wolfgangSometimes summer can leave you feeling too hot to want to do any kind of cooking -- not even grilling, or a quick, easy stir-fry like the recipe I shared with you in my last column. That's the moment to start cooking without doing any kind of real cooking at all.

Those words might at first seem puzzling. But when you stop to think about it, there are so many ways to prepare delicious, satisfying foods in your kitchen, even main courses, without heat.

The dog days of summer are the time when main-course salads really come into their own. And even though many such salad recipes call for grilling seafood or poultry or meat to turn an appetizer or side-dish into a fully fledged meal, there are all kinds of delicious, high-quality proteins you can pick up at your market or deli that are ready to eat without cooking.

Of course, cold cuts come to mind. Thin slices of high-quality ham or cured sausage make perfect additions to tossed or chopped salads, often combined with slices or crumbles of cheese. Those beautiful chickens that so many markets now have spinning on in-store rotisseries, so fragrant and golden and juicy, make yet another excellent choice. So do the sweet little precooked bay shrimp that you see in the refrigerated seafood case, or larger cooked shrimp or even poached cold lobster tails or crabmeat.

But I want to talk today about yet another choice I love in summer salads: smoked fish. Although light in calories and fat and light on the stomach, perfect qualities for a summer meal, it has a richness of flavor and a meaty texture that are incredibly satisfying.

You'll find smoked trout, salmon, whitefish, or sturgeon on display loose or prepackaged in the deli departments of many well-stocked supermarkets and specialty delicatessens everywhere. Make sure you only purchase rainbow or golden trout that is farmed in the U.S., and never imported varieties. All you have to do is take the fish home, remove any skin and bones, and render it into bite-sized flakes or slices, ready to toss with whatever salad greens you like.

The sweet, smoky flavor of the fish goes well with sweet, tangy, spicy, and slightly bitter ingredients, like those in my recipe for Smoked Trout and Apple Salad. The Granny Smith apple and the lemony dressing provide both fruity sweetness and tart, zesty tang. Ever-so-slightly bitter leaves of frisee (curly endive) are my salad leaves of choice, but you could substitute or vary the mixture with other leaves such as radicchio or Belgian endive. Chopped fresh dill adds a final spark of aromatic flavor and bright color.

The result is a dish that meets all the requirements of a great meal, delighting all the senses. And not once does heat get involved to make it happen.

SMOKED TROUT AND APPLE SALAD

Serves 4

1/2 cup Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

1 pound smoked, farmed rainbow trout fillets

4 small heads organic frisee (curly endive)

2 large organic Granny Smith apples

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus 4 small fresh dill sprigs

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

At least an hour before preparing the salads, make the Lemon Vinaigrette. Set aside in the refrigerator.

With your fingers, pull off and discard the skin from the smoked trout fillets. Over a mixing bowl, break the fillets into small bite-sized flakes, feeling for and discarding any bones that remain in the fillets.

Remove and discard the coarse darker outer leaves from the frisee. Separate the pale inner leaves. Put them in a strainer and rinse thoroughly with cold running water. Drain well. Spread the leaves on a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, roll them up, and squeeze gently to remove excess water. Unroll the leaves and put them into the bowl with the fish, tearing any larger leaves into bite-sized pieces.

With a sharp knife, quarter and core the apples. Cut the apples into very thin slices; or, using the julienne disc on a food processor, cut them into thin julienne strips. Add the apples to the mixing bowl.

Add 1/2 cup of the Lemon Vinaigrette to the mixing bowl along with the chopped fresh dill and a little salt and pepper to taste. Toss the salad thoroughly, until all the ingredients are evenly coated with dressing. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.

Mound the salad mixture on individual chilled serving plates, garnish with dill sprigs, and serve immediately.

LEMON VINAIGRETTE

Makes about 1 cup

1/4 cup organic lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon sugar

Grated zest of 1 organic lemon

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

In a small nonreactive mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, sugar, and lemon zest. Stir with a whisk until thoroughly blended. Whisking continuously, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to form a smooth, thick emulsion. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, reserving extra vinaigrette for another use.

(c) 2009 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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