This summer I was pleased to be asked by my friend Melissa Toler a wellness coach to work with her on her Summer Salad Series, creating salad recipes for her subscribers. Each week Melissa is sending out a new salad recipe, all of which are simple, and delicious, and are recipes you’ll get if you sign up for her free series. Melissa and I had a fun time brainstorming salad ideas, and if you’re looking for something cool and quick these recipes should appeal to you, as summer gets hotter!
So what makes a great salad? I used to live on a small block where everyone on the block liked hanging out together, and block parties were frequent. Everyone brought great food, and we’d hang out for hours. Melody always brought the salad, and they were so good, I was in awe. One night when I was gushing over how good they always were she confided her secret to me: one fruit, one cheese, one nut. Wow! Now of course it’s not that simple, you need to not only choose the right type of each ingredient that would be suitable for a salad, and then you need to make sure the combination will work.
Without getting into all the possible types of salads we’ll focus today on salads based on greens. These days there are ever more varieties of greens available. One of my favorites is the Earthbound Farms Herb Blend, with parsley, dill and cilantro. If you’re just staring to explore the world of greens you could start here. There are those in the lettuce family, iceberg, romaine, the butterheads, and the loose leaf types. Many of the bitter or stronger greens come from the chicory family, such as endive, frisée and radicchio, and these are good greens to add to other greens rather than make a salad entirely with them. Arugula is from the brassicaceae family, can be too strong for some people, but the baby arugula is milder, and easier to chew. Mesclun, or spring mix is not a type of green, but rather a mix of baby greens. Watercress is peppery like arugula, and can be stemmy and chewy, I prefer it mixed with other, milder greens. When use kale, I like to blanch it first so it’s tender and bright green.
Salads are a good meal accompaniment to any meal, but as we get further into summer, and the heat increases, what an easy and cooling way to make a meal, with minimal effort and clean up! When I grill, In always make sure I have plenty of vegetables to grill for the week like zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, peppers, portabella mushrooms, or even corn. You can marinate them beforehand, or not. You can also grill fruit like pineapple, peaches and nectarines. Roasted tomatoes are another great addition, and you can do those on the grill by cutting them up and wrapping them in foil with a bit of oil, garlic and seasonings, and leaving them on a cool part of the grill for a half hour or so.
The other thing I do is plan for extra. Once I’ve got the grill going (I only have a charcoal grill, so I don’t grill nearly as much as when I had a gas grill) I make sure I’ll have some leftovers ready to add to whatever I’m making during the coming days. Any meat or fish you grill will be great sliced or cut into you salad, adding that great grilled flavor, and keeping you full and satisfied. I also keep frozen shrimp around to toss into a salad. I prefer to cook them myself, they defrost quickly in some cold water, and cook in minutes.
Cheese* will add both texture and taste. Cheeses can be tangy or earthy, but will always add another level of flavor. The best types of cheese to add to salads are either soft, crumbly ones, like goat cheese, feta (which is sometimes goat), and bleu cheese, or those you can grate like cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Another one to try is Haloumi, a cheese you can grill or sauté, that adds a nice tangy flavor. I don’t recommend cubing cheese for salad, as you want something that will really blend in with the dressing and adhere to the other ingredients.
As far as fruits to add, the simplest to toss into a salad are the dried fruits like raisins, cranberries, cherries etc. but those add a lot of sugar, and when there is plenty of gorgeous fresh fruit around, why use dried? You can use the fruit you grilled, or use halved grapes, strawberries, grape tomatoes, sliced stone fruit, or cubed melon. Of course you can add apples or pears, but why not wait for fall, and use those when there aren’t any fresh peaches around. This is where some planning is needed, as you want to make sure as you build your salad, that your cheese and fruit will complement each other. Soft, fresh goat cheese is pretty neutral, and will be good with almost anything, but you need to experiment with the tangier and stronger flavored cheeses before just tossing them in. I don’t think I’d like watermelon with cheddar…
Nuts and seeds are great additions to any salad, but I generally only add them if I’m not adding any type of meat or fish. I prefer to toast them to enhance both the taste and texture. You can toast nuts in advance, and store them in the freezer, in fact I generally store all my nuts in the freezer, they will last much longer. To add harder nuts like almonds and hazelnuts it’s better to chop them so they’ll be small enough to cling to the other ingredients. You can also buy sliced almonds, which are a great salad topping. If you want to be oh so elegant, you can toss the nuts in a sugar-water mix (with or without added spices) and then bake them in a low oven until they are dry and crunchy.
There are a ton of other things that you can toss into a salad to make it fun different and interesting. If you have an herb garden, grab a handful and snip them with a scissors into your salad. Keep some hard-boiled eggs around. Canned beans are a great additions, as are canned tuna, and artichoke hearts (look for BSP-free cans). Frozen veggies are another great add in, and if you’re packing your lunch, just throw them in frozen, they’ll be thawed by lunchtime.
I hope you’ll check out Melissa’s Summer Salad Series, and start your summer off excited about keeping cool by preparing rather than cooking your meals. We’ve really just scratched the surface here, we haven’t mentioned slaws, pasta, potato, fruit, grain or bean salads! Summer has just started, so stay tuned! And stay cool.
*If you don’t eat cheese, avocado can add that same creaminess, as can marinated tofu.