Food & Drink

Even the meat-and-potatoes crowd needs salad

Grilled potatoes and onions tangle with grilled sirloin steaks in a salad dressed with a spicy ranch dressing.
Grilled potatoes and onions tangle with grilled sirloin steaks in a salad dressed with a spicy ranch dressing. E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune

Even as I attempt to eat less red meat, I still crave steak. During the summer, its virtues suit our lifestyles. Steak cooks quickly, is easy to transport to a picnic and tastes great hot, warm and chilled. Leftovers make indulgent sandwiches. Grilled steak, piled on garden-crisp greens topped with a freshly made dressing, ranks as a favorite dinner on a warm evening.

Combining grilled steak with potatoes reminds us of cozy Midwestern steakhouse dinners. This season we’re enjoying a delicious version of steak salad. It pairs thinly sliced steak with crispy grilled russet potatoes and a spicy ranch-style dressing.

Boneless New York strip makes great salad steak because of its tenderness and uniform thickness. After cooking, it slices thin with little effort. Meatier-tasting sirloin tip, petite-cut top sirloin and flank steak are good choices when serving the steak cold. Take care when cooking, as these steaks tend to be leaner; don’t cook them past medium-rare, or they'll be dry and tough. Whenever possible, select Choice-grade steaks with about 1/4-inch of fat around the edges to keep things moist during cooking; it can be trimmed before adding to the salad.

The same tricks for grilling steakhouse steaks apply to those destined for a salad: Take the chill off the steak before cooking, season it highly and use a properly heated (and hot) grill. Let it rest after cooking for 5 minutes, so the juices settle. Use a super-sharp thin bladed knife to slice the meat against the grain.

As for the potatoes, I like the golden-brown flavor of russet slices cooked directly over the coals; I start the cooking in the microwave while the grill heats. These slices make a delicious side to a burger, but tucked warm into crisp greens they surprise the diner.

When tossing the salad with a creamy dressing, I prefer sturdy greens, especially with hearty slices of steak and potatoes. Romaine sets the standard, but there’s also good flavor in those heads of Little Gem lettuces sold in bags and the large-leafed arugula sold in bunches. For a stunning presentation with romaine, I cut the head crosswise into thick slabs and put each slab in the center of the plate. Then I top it with all the salad goodies and a drizzle of dressing.

The good news about tossing sliced steak in a salad with potatoes: You'll eat less steak. One 8-ounce steak will make two servings.

Grilled Steak and Potato Salad With Spicy Ranch Dressing

3 small russet potatoes

About 2 tablespoons olive oil

About 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Coarsely ground pepper

1 pound boneless beef top sirloin steaks or New York strips, about 1 inch thick

1 medium red onion, peeled, thickly sliced

1 large head romaine lettuce, tough outer leaves removed

Spicy Ranch Dressing (see recipe)

3 small tomatoes, halved, seeded and diced

1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and diced

1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (or feta or goat cheese)

Prepare a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to hot. Pierce potatoes in several spots with a fork. Microwave on high power until nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Cool, then cut into 1/3-inch thick rounds. Brush both sides with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Generously season the steaks with salt and pepper, then drizzle lightly with oil. Lightly brush the onion slices with the oil; season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the potato slices over the hotter part of the grill; put the onion slices around the cooler edges. Cook, turning once, until all are golden and tender, about 5 minutes for the potatoes and 15 minutes for the onions. Transfer potatoes to a plate. Separate onions into rings; slice rings in half.

Grill the steaks over the hotter area of the grill, turning only once, until medium-rare (or as preferred), about 8 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board; let rest a few minutes.

Cut 4 (1-inch-thick) center slices from the romaine or cut the head lengthwise in quarters. Transfer one romaine slice to each serving plate. Divide the potatoes and onions over the romaine. Very thinly slice the steak; lay the slices on top of the salad. Drizzle lightly with dressing. Sprinkle with tomatoes, avocado and blue cheese. Serve while the steak is warm.

Per serving: 526 calories, 33 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 73 mg cholesterol, 35 g carbohydrates, 27 g protein, 720 mg sodium, 10 g fiber.

Yield: 4 servings.

Spicy Ranch Dressing

2 tablespoons each sour cream, mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives, cilantro

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red pepper hot sauce

1/4 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put all ingredients into a blender. Process to mix. Dressing will keep several days in the refrigerator.

Per tablespoon: 47 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 0 g carbohydrates, 0 g protein, 143 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.