Summer Salads: Spinach Strawberry with Jasmine Rice

One of my favorite things about summertime meal planning is coming up with salads.  There are endless options and combinations, but it seems that a lot of folks (myself included) get stuck in salad ruts:  potato salad, caprese salad, pasta salad, etc.  I try to come up with variations on old classics.  In my post Tale of Two Salads, I offer up an alternative potato salad recipe as well as a variation on cucumber salad by adding tomatoes to it.  I also love to experiment with new flavor combinations and unexpected pairings, blending sweet and savory or adding starches other than the typical  potato or pasta.

The great thing about salads in the summer is (depending on where you live) the abundance of fresh, local produce and in-season veggies and fruits creates an entire palette of colors and flavors to work with.

Last night we decided to be basic and throw some burgers on the grill.  We’ve been eating a lot of fish and seafood lately, so beef sounded good.  Originally, I was just going to put some sweet potatoes in the oven, and make a simple salad of some sort to go with the burgers, but once I was in my kitchen and opened the fridge, I realized that just wasn’t going to do – I had too many other delicious looking fruits and veggies staring at me.  I grabbed an English cucumber, a green onion, some fresh baby spinach, and strawberries and started chopping.  I was hungry and thought it would be nice if the salad was heartier, while still being light; something that could stand on it’s own.  That’s when I decided to add cooled jasmine rice.  Jasmine rice has such a nice, fragrant flavor and seems to be less starchy than regular long grain or medium grain rice.  This Spinach Strawberry Rice Salad is similar to my Mandarin Orange Chicken Rice Salad, in that it has rice, and both sweet and savory ingredients.

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To prevent the salad from having clumps of unseasoned white rice throughout, I took half of the vinaigrette dressing I made, and mixed it into the cooled rice, then let it rest to absorb the flavors.  The dressing helped to keep the rice from sticking together and allowed it to distribute throughout the rest of the salad.

Because the chopped strawberries and spinach don’t have a long shelf life, this salad is best served immediately.  I did have some leftovers and enjoyed it the next day, but any longer than that, and the spinach will wilt and the strawberries will get mushy.  Enjoy!

Spinach Strawberry Rice Salad

2 cups cooked white rice (jasmine or basmati work best), cooled
2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1/2 of an English cucumber, diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup diced fresh strawberries
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 crushed pistachios

Make enough rice to yield 2 cups of cooked rice (generally, 1 cup of uncooked white rice yields approximately 3 cups of cooked rice) and allow it to cool completely.  In a large bowl, toss the spinach, green onion, cucumber, and strawberries.  Set aside.  In a small bowl (or shaker) whisk together the olive oil, vinegars, poppy seeds, basil, salt and pepper until thoroughly mixed.  Pour half of the dressing over the cooled rice and using a large flat spoon or spatula, gently fold it into the rice, turning the rice over until each grain is coated in the dressing, but careful not to mush the rice together.  Pour the rest of the dressing over the spinach mixture, gently toss, then fold the seasoned rice into the spinach.  Sprinkle with crushed pistachios and serve immediately.

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