July 09, 2012

Low-fat Pasta Salad

When it's hot outside, all want to do is spend my weekends like this:

And not go anywhere near this:

Am I right? By the way, thank you Joe Fresh for making a neon floppy beach hat. I saw it at Loblaws and proceeded to wear it around the store as I was shopping.

During the summer all I want is cool, fresh food like fruit, iced treats, iced coffee, iced lemonade--basically anything iced--and light meals. Enter the summer salad: an excuse to get your daily vegetables, protein and carbs without sweating up a storm. Everyone loves those cartons of readymade salads from the grocery store, such as potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad, and man they are good, but they are definitely not good for you. Oil-based salads are somewhat better than mayo drenched ones I suppose, but not always.

Speaking of olive oil, if there's a new foodie trend, store, restaurant or "fad" food, I am usually in the know. But I had not heard about olive-oil tasting bars until one opened up the other week in London, Ontario. Olive-Me & Co offers speciality, high quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars. The best part is you can taste test them in the store and combine your favourite flavours into a customizable bottle.

Drinking and tasting the olive oil out of little cups is quite odd, but they have some neat flavours. I got a Bacon Olive Oil and Peruvian Lime Olive Oil as gifts for a friend and some Basil Flavoured Oil for myself. I thought it would be perfect to try in a summer pasta salad.

Granted you'll have to turn your oven on a little bit, but nothing excessive.

Low-fat Zucchini Provencal Pasta Salad (adapted from this recipe)

1 cup elbow macaroni pasta
1/2 zucchini, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 tomato, diced
2 tbsp sliced olives
2 garlic cloves
A few sprigs of fresh parsley and basil
Sauce:1/3 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup low-fat plain yoghurt (or greek yoghurt)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil

The vegetables in the salad are a basic Zucchini Provencal that I learned in my culinary class at George Brown College. The Zucchini Provencal--the base of any ratatouille--is basically sauteed onions, tomatoes, zucchinis and herbs. The trick to the garlic (besides having a beautiful chef's knife) is to chop it up, then add a dash of salt and use the edge of the knife to basically "mush" it up and puree it. This tutorial explains it well.

In the end you have the Italian version of a stir fry that you can then add eggplant or peppers to make a ratatouille or eat by itself as a side.

I really liked how the sauce turned out. Although it's not quite a mayo substitute, it tastes almost like ranch dressing and would make a good alternative dip for a vegetable platter. All you do is blend the sauce ingredients together in a food processor and combine it with the cooked pasta, vegetables and olives if you choose.

The other salad I made for a long weekend BBQ was almost the same concept, but I roasted the vegetables in the oven and then added a basic vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard and diced garlic to Israeli Couscous. I used some chopped fresh basil, but the flavoured olive oil I bought added a little more pizazz. Go here for the full recipe.

Both of these salads were refreshing and much better than buying a bucket of potato or macaroni salad from the store. I had some macaroni salad with shrimp and edamame for dinner one night and I barely had to cook anything.

They don't taste exactly the same as mayo-based salads, but they're a nice alternative that will give you plenty of time to go back to relaxing outside with a good book and a floppy sunhat.

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