(BPT) - There's something about summer that just makes everything feel brighter and lighter, more relaxed and less hurried. That's how dinner should be, as well - minimal prep time and maximum quality time to sit and enjoy the company of those gathered around the table.
Main dish salads make a perfect entree for summer evenings. Ingredients can be prepped and mixed ahead of time, so when dinnertime rolls around, it's a simple matter of just putting it all together. This Vietnamese chicken and grape noodle salad is a favorite. All of the ingredients - from the grilled chicken and noodles, to the chopped veggies and spicy-sweet dressing - can be ready to go when you roll in the door or quickly made all at once. Every great recipe boasts a secret or unexpected ingredient that adds that special sparkle to a meal. In this salad, it's grapes from California. They add just the right crisp texture, slight sweetness and brilliant color that lights up this dish.
And to cap off the meal with something that's cool, sweet and oh-so-easy, try these delicious fro-yo pies. These mini-style treats provide just the right amount of sweet satisfaction and will help keep you from breaking the calorie bank. Plus they're perfect for kid-size appetites, too.
Vietnamese Chicken and Grape Noodle Salad
8 ounces dried rice noodles (also called rice sticks)
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon peanut oil
1 1/4 pounds chicken breast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups shredded romaine
2 cups mixed red and green California grapes, halved
1 carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
1/2 cup mint leaves, torn
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, torn
1 tablespoon chopped peanuts
Preheat the grill or broiler.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and remove from the heat. Let stand eight to 10 minutes, or just until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the water, fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, chili sauce and peanut oil. Remove 2 tablespoons of the dressing and reserve the remainder. Brush the chicken with the 2 tablespoons of the dressing, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill or broil until cooked through, about eight minutes. Set aside.
Divide the noodles between four large bowls. Top with the romaine, grapes and carrots. Thinly slice the chicken and divide between the bowls. Drizzle with the remaining dressing, sprinkle with the herbs and peanuts and serve.
Nutrition information per serving: calories 500; protein 31 g; carbohydrate 84 g; total fat 7 g (saturated fat 1 g); 13 percent calories from fat; cholesterol 84 mg; sodium 1,015 mg; fiber 3 g.
Grape-a-licious Fro-Yo Mini Pies
1/2 cup grape juice concentrate (divided use)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups California grapes
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 9 squares)
3 1/2 ounces vanilla frozen yogurt (softened)
Frozen grape clusters for garnish
Lemon slices (optional garnish)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 12 muffin tins with foil cup liners and set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs with the butter. Place 1 tablespoon of the graham cracker mixture into each muffin cup and gently press to form a crust in the baking cups. Bake for seven minutes; set aside.
Combine 1/4 cup of the grape juice concentrate, lemon juice, and grapes in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Meanwhile combine the remaining grape juice with corn starch and mix well, then add to the sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a boil for one to two minutes until thick. Allow to cool. Once this mixture cools, pour into a blender and blend until smooth. Add the softened yogurt and blend for a few pulses until just combined.
Place about 4 tablespoons of the grape-yogurt mixture into each muffin tin. Place in the freezer for four hours or more. Serve with small clusters of frozen grapes and enjoy.
Makes 12 mini-pies
Nutrition information per serving: calories 211; protein 6 g; carbohydrate 36 g; total fat 6 g (saturated fat 3 g); 22 percent calories from fat; cholesterol 43 mg; sodium 67 mg; fiber 0.5 g.