This summer, stay cool by making dinner without even turning on the stove! A flavorful, interesting salad can make a delicious and filling meal. We’re not talking about limp iceberg lettuce with bottled dressing here. Summer is the perfect time to branch out from your default greens recipe and get creative! Since fresh veggies, herbs, and fruits are at their peak during the summer months, it’s a prime time for some improvisation. Here are five ideas for all-star summer salads to kickstart your imagination. Most of these recipes are just guidelines, which you can customize to fit your taste buds and preferences.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to making the perfect chopped salad. One is to dream up a particular theme or flavor combination, and choose the ingredients that fit that profile. For example, you might decide to go for an Asian-Fusion theme and choose ingredients like bok choy, sugar snap peas, carrots, ginger, and cold soba noodles. The other strategy for making a great chopped salad is to peek into your refrigerator and use up all of those odds and ends of fruits and veggies leftover from other meals. Whichever method suits your fancy, here are a few tips for making a delicious salad:
1. Chop everything evenly. This should be obvious based on the name alone, but the point of a chopped salad is to make everything easy to eat by cutting it into similar-sized bites. A great way to do this is to use a wooden bowl and a curved chopping blade. For those without specialty kitchen equipment, a large (we mean LARGE) cutting board and two very sharp knives will also do the trick. Make sure to cut ingredients in all directions to make sure they’re more or less of uniform size.
2. Balance your flavors. While a chopped salad is a great way to get creative in the kitchen, a few pointers never hurt anyone. A delicious salad will often have some kind of dark greens (kale or spinach), some kind of crunchy greens (Romaine, iceberg, or cabbage), something sweet (fresh or dried fruit), something salty (cheese), something crunchy (carrots, radishes, peas, corn, etc.), something fragrant (fresh herbs like mint, cilantro, chives, or basil), and something toasty (roasted nuts or seeds). Adding some protein like chicken, steak, or even can or fresh grilled fish never hurt, either. Make it a complete meal by adding cubes of cooked potato or homemade croutons.
3. Don’t forget the dressing. The wrong kind of dressing can take a summer-fresh salad from amazing to just okay. A simple homemade vinaigrette with herbs or a buttermilk ranch dressing really lets the veggies shine!
Watermelon + Feta + Tomato
This go-to salad is a summer classic because it’s so simple, yet so, so delicious. The salty-sweet combination is impossible to resist, even for those who don’t normally love salad. Plus, it practically screams summer! All you need are some juicy ripe tomatoes, a watermelon, a block of feta cheese, and some balsamic vinegar and olive oil. If feta cheese isn’t your thing, you can substitute in fresh mozzarella cheese.
- Chop the watermelon and tomatoes into 1-inch chunks.
- Chop the feta as well as you can (feta cheese tends to be a bit crumbly) into ½-inch chunks.
- Mix everything together gently in a large bowl. Be careful not to stir too vigorously or else the delicate ingredients will turn to mush!
- Drizzle the watermelon, tomatoes, and feta with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper.
- Mix the whole thing together gently and enjoy! Pro tip: have a slice (or two) of bread handy to mop of the delicious juices from the bottom of the bowl.
Potato Salad with Vinaigrette
This recipe is for anyone who’s ever shied away from classic picnic potato salad (maybe it’s something about the idea of mayonnaise-drenched potatoes sitting out in the sun for hours on end?). Instead of gobs of mayo, this lighter potato salad gets its flavor from a simple mustardy vinaigrette. It’s just as tasty hot as it is cold, so while this salad is delicious at a summer cookout, it can easily make the transition to a fall or winter side dish when the temperatures start getting cooler.
- Chop 1 ½ pounds of waxy potatoes (Yukon Gold, Red, or Fingerling) into bite-sized pieces. Peel them if you prefer a potato salad without skins.
- Put all of the potato pieces into a very large pot and cover with water. Add a big pinch of salt, and bring the water to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender (but not mushy), which takes about 15 minutes.
- While the potatoes are cooking, make the vinaigrette: Mix together ½ cup olive oil, 3 tablespoons of a light-colored vinegar, 1 big spoonful of mustard, and a squeeze of honey.
- Drain the potatoes, then rinse them in cold water, and drain them again.
- Mix the potatoes with ½ cup chopped fresh parsley, ¼ cup chopped scallions or red onion, and the vinaigrette.
This crunchy, flavorful take on coleslaw will be the star of the barbecue or picnic. Plus, with a whole head of broccoli in the mix, it’s as healthy as it is delicious. Here are the super-easy directions to mix up a batch for your next summer meal.
1. Use a food processor or a knife and some elbow grease to roughly chop one head of broccoli. Peel the broccoli stem and chop that as well.
2. Chop ½ of a small red onion and ¾ cup almonds.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the chopped broccoli, onion, and almonds. Add ⅓ cup dried fruit, such as cranberries, cherries, or chopped dried apricots.
4. In a separate small bowl, mix together ½ cup of mayonnaise, a squeeze or two of lemon juice, two tablespoons of your favorite light-colored vinegar, a pinch of sugar, and a pinch of salt. If the dressing seems too solid, add an additional splash of vinegar. If it seems too soupy, add a little bit more mayonnaise.
5. Pour the dressing into the larger bowl of ingredients and mix gently. Add more salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Bacon is an optional ingredient to add at this stage!
6. Allow the salad to sit in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before serving so all the flavors can combine.
Panzanella is a classic Tuscan summer salad that’s the perfect way to use up an almost-stale loaf of bread. Start with a fairly sturdy loaf that’s a few days past its prime; crusty breads like baguettes, boules, or hearty peasant loaves all work very well. Like a chopped salad, a panzanella is very versatile and you should feel free to substitute in whichever vegetables or herbs you have handy. The only non-negotiable ingredients are the bread, tomatoes, and dressing.
1. Cut a loaf of bread into 1-inch cubes (they should be roughly bite-sized).
2. Chop 5 or 6 tomatoes into bite-sized cubes.
3. Peel, seed, and chop a large cucumber into small chunks.
4. Cut ½ of a red onion into long, thin strips.
5. Slice 20-30 fresh basil leaves into thin strips (for you cooking show fanatics out there, this technique is called “chiffonade”).
6. Combine the bread cubes, vegetables, and herbs in a large bowl.
7. In a separate small bowl, mix together a very simple dressing of olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper.
8. Pour the dressing over the salad bowl and mix everything together gently. Allow the panzanella to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving so the dressing and tomato juices soften up the bread.
9. Serve with a side of freshly-ground Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese.