Cottage Cheese Salads

Growing up in Wisconsin, I learned to appreciate good cheese before I started school. Grandpa Hopp introduced me to Beer Käse and Limburger and my mother served us Cheddar, Swiss, Brick, Butterkäse and cottage cheese varieties. My father did not like cheese, but he ate a little under protest and finally came to enjoy pizza even if it was made with cheese.

Cottage cheese was a regular element of meals at our home. Depending on how she planned to use it, Mom bought either small or large curd cottage cheese. Much of it was dry cottage cheese that she used to make lasagna, macaroni and cheese, frostings and various kinds of desserts.

She bought creamed cottage cheese or added milk to the dry version when she wanted to make cottage cheese salads. Jerri makes a number of the salads I remember from my childhood, and I still like them, When I told Jerri I planned to post the recipes for some of her cottage cheese salads, she told me that everyone already knew how to make them.

She is probably right, so I will not argue the matter, but just in case there are a few people who don’t, here are some salad ideas that we like. The recipes are short and simple, but the salads are tasty, nutritious and inexpensive, three good reasons to start serving some of them.

Cottage cheese and chive salad consists of only two ingredients: For two servings, put a generous cup of small curd cottage cheese in a small mixing bowl. Wash and chop two tablespoons of chives medium fine, about a quarter inch dice. Stir the chives into the cottage cheese and serve.?
Cottage cheese and tomato salad also consists of only two ingredients: Wash and slice tomatoes or simply use grape tomatoes. Arrange the slices on salad plates and top them with cottage cheese or put cherry tomatoes on top of the cheese. Make as many plates as you need.

A third version combines these first two salads: Top the tomato slices with cottage cheese and chive salad or put grape tomatoes on top of the cheese and chives. This is an especially good combination for an unlimited number of diners.

Cottage cheese also goes well with fruit. The simplest and one of our favorites consists of crushed pineapple stirred into cottage cheese on a bed of lettuce. Jerri eyeballs the quantities but says that you should aim for about a three or four to one ratio. For two generous servings of this salad, start with a cup of cottage cheese and a quarter cup of pineapple stirred in a small mixing bowl. Taste the mixture and add more pineapple if you think it needs it.

When the peach man showed up at the house, Mom always bought two or three pecks of peaches. We ate some fresh and she always made at least one fresh peach pie, but she canned most of them. Canned peaches for dessert were a regular menu item, but she also made peach and cottage cheese salads.

Put lettuce leaves on salad plates. Place canned peach halves on the lettuce and top each half with two or three tablespoons of cottage cheese. When she didn’t have any lettuce, Mom omitted that ingredient. This does not significantly affect the taste, but peach halves do tend to slide around on bare plates.

Fresh wild raspberries crushed and sugared and spooned over cottage cheese make a low calorie dessert that you could put on a bed of lettuce and call a salad.

I hate to admit it, but my mother also made various jello salads that included layers of cottage cheese. You can find recipes for salads like this elsewhere. I have a very short list of foods common in the United States that I do not like. Topping the list is any kind of jello salad. Sorry about that.

I have eaten jello salads in the distant past, and cottage cheese does, as I recall, improve them, but if you are looking for a salad that is cool, refreshing, low in calories and attractive, try a simple cottage cheese salad.

NOTES: If you have a friend with a chive plant, you can start your own very simply by transplanting a piece of that plant to your garden. Water the transplant every couple of days, but don’t drown it. Soon you will have your own source of a versatile herb that requires almost no care. Chives even survive the long winters of northern Wisconsin. By late spring you will have new shoots that are tender and especially delicious.

A little more complicated than these simple salads is Dorothy’s Cottage Cheese Salad. It’s made with cottage cheese, mayonnaise, hard-boiled eggs and sweet pickles. If you shut your eyes, you might think that you’re eating potato salad.

Linda’s Cranberry Salsa

Fruit salsas are examples of fusion cuisine, which combine recipes or ingredients from two different cultures. Rick Bayless, the Oklahoma kid who abandoned barbecue and took up with tacos, says that fruit salsas apparently originated in the United States but have been infiltrating Mexican cuisine. He should know, since he and his wife Deann spent over six years researching Mexican cooking before publishing Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico in 1987.

Linda’s Cranberry Salsa is a good example. It combines traditional ingredients of Mexican salsas—jalapeño peppers, cilantro, and onions—with fresh Wisconsin cranberries. I got the recipe from my sister Patsy in an email which began with a question: “Did I ever give you a recipe for cranberry salsa?”

She had not, but I am always interested in new family recipes. Patsy explained that she got the recipe from Linda, a friend who worked with her at the hospital in Hayward. Linda turned out to be a classmate of mine who shared some of my interests and was on the staff of the school newspaper and competed in forensics.

When I asked Linda how she learned to make this salsa, she told me that she wasn’t sure, but that she thought a friend of hers who lives in Green Bay gave it to her many years ago. Linda liked the salsa and told Patsy about how good it was, prompting my sister to ask for the recipe. Linda obliged, proving once again that we all benefit from an ancient tradition that is still a friendly custom.

To be painfully honest, I had my doubts about this recipe when Patsy sent it to me. Cranberries and jalapeños with cilantro and cumin? No way! But when she told me that she makes a batch every fall when fresh cranberries become available, I decided to try it. She’s a good cook. I now have to agree with her conclusion: “The salsa is sweet, but oddly enough the bite from the jalapenos and the salt from the chips (I use mulitgrain Scoops) made it taste good.”

When I offered a sample to our neighbor Jill, she hesitated before saying she would try some. Later she confessed to the same doubts I harbored, but she now wants to make more herself and has asked for the recipe.

Cranberries are plentiful now, and you can find jalapeño peppers and cilantro at your local supermarket. Now’s the time to treat your football fans to a batch of Linda’s cranberry salsa.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
4 cups cranberries
2-3 jalapeño peppers
1 T cilantro
2-3 green onions
1/2 tsp. cumin
Dash of salt
1 T fresh lime juice (half an average lime)

PROCEDURE:

Wash the cranberries and jalapeño peppers. Coarsely chop the cranberries.

Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil Reduce the heat and boil slowly for ten minutes without stirring to make a thin syrup.

Prepare the vegetables while the syrup is cooking. Cut the stems from the peppers, slice them into quarters and remove the seeds and white membranes. Then slice each quarter in half and chop the peppers into a quarter-inch dice. Clean and cut the onions into eighth-inch slices, discarding the root ends. Wash and chop the cilantro medium fine.

After the syrup has cooked for ten minutes, pour it into a mixing bowl and allow it to cool slightly, four or five minutes. Wash a lime and juice half of it.

Add the cranberries, peppers, cilantro, onions, cumin, salt and lime juice to the syrup and mix lightly. Taste and adjust the flavors as you wish. You may want to add a little more cilantro, cumin or lime juice.

Refrigerate the salsa for at least an hour. Serve at room temperature with tortilla chips or dippers.

NOTES: The flavor improves if you allow the salsa to rest for several hours or overnight so the flavors can blend. When you adjust the seasoning, be careful not to add too much salt. Keep in mind that tortilla chips usually are quite salty.

My brother-in-law Patrick grew up around a lot of Scandinavians and acquired their preference for less spicy foods. He likes a mild version of this salsa with only one jalapeño. As Pat says, “You can make it exactly the way you like it.”

If you don’t have a food processor (like us) or a food chopper, you can just cut the cranberries into fourths.