Cool Salads for a Hot Summer
Add grilled chicken, steak or seafood to an assortment of fresh greens, and you have a perfect summertime meal!
Gone are the days when an anemic-looking iceberg lettuce salad was the choice in most restaurants and on most dinner tables. Today’s salads are chic, with interesting ingredients, loads of texture and vibrant color. Salads have definitely undergone a dressing up!
Leafy greens for salads can include tatsoi, an Asian variety of greens popular now, and mizuna, a beautiful lettuce with serrated leaves with a peppery mustard taste. Pretty to look at, Castelfranco radicchio with its pale yellow leaves and red speckles lends an artistic look to a salad. Endive, Little Gem romaine, microgreens, cut and come garden lettuce, kale, dandelion greens, arugula, spinach and many others can give a salad more than a one- dimensional look and taste. Lettuce greens have taken up company with gourmet cheeses, grains, herbs, sprouts, fruits, seeds and nuts. Salads have become the meal, instead of an accompaniment to it. Add protein (such as grilled chicken, eggs, seafood or steak) and cheese, and a balanced meal is ready.
Salads are the perfect go-to meal for hot summer days. You can keep them interesting by mixing them up with different ingredients and with different preparation techniques. For instance, how about a grilled romaine or radicchio salad topped with cool and juicy heirloom tomatoes, crumbled gorgonzola or feta cheese, and a honey dressing?
I have to admit I am spoiled by having a large variety of lettuces in my garden, and I have learned to coax the plants into longevity into the last weeks of November! From late spring to Thanksgiving, I am like a scientist, searching for the many ways to create a salad. In winter, I look to my local farmers’ markets to fill the emptiness in my salad bowl. Each spring, lettuce seedlings thrive under grow lights in my basement until the moment is right to transplant them in the garden. There the cycle will continue, and I will harvest lettuce from late spring through the summer months, with heat-resistant varieties and second plantings until November rolls around again.
Your local supermarket carries the most common varieties of lettuces, and it is best to pick those that have not been water sprayed. My advice is to ring for the produce manager and ask for heads from the storage area. Always pick heads that look healthy, are heavy in your hand, and have no limp leaves or rust marks. At home, when ready to use, wash and spin-dry the leaves in a salad spinner. This allows the dressing to adhere to the lettuce and not remain as a puddle in the base of the salad bowl.
Cool-salad days are here again, making a statement on the plate in taste and look, as well as a healthy addition to our lifestyle.