Before the turn of the century, salads were nowhere if they didn’t contain radicchio, arugula or frisée. Iceberg was out. Then came mesclun or fancy mixed greens. So available for so long, they border on boring. Now kale is in. That is, when it’s not a wedge or, in other words, iceberg.
Yes, fads swing and repeat themselves, even when it comes to the simple salad. But one thing is for sure – summer is the time for salads, no matter what you put in them.
Personally, I’ve decided I really like iceberg because of its crunch. After rinsing and spinning it, I put it back in the fridge with a wet paper towel over it. It gets as crispy as a hard shell taco. I use it as wraps for a variety of fillings, and as a wedge salad because my favorite dressing, blue cheese, is the standard.
Of all the “gourmet” greens, I most love arugula for its kicky taste and also for the ease of growing it. You can fill a container with a few seeds and in no time have beautiful leaves sprouting up. I like to snip off the leaves with scissors as they mature.
Mixing fruit with salad is a pure delight. Sliced grapes, orange wedges and watermelon cubes give a salad extra oomph. Roasted nuts do as well; try almonds, walnuts or pecans.
Roast them in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until their aroma rises up and they become slightly browned. There is nothing like a good crunch in a green salad.
Speaking of fads, remember the layered salads that marinate a few hours before tossing them with dressing. I love the Sarah Salad, filled with different lettuces, peas and Swiss cheese and topped with bacon. Some long-running favorites still popular are the whole-meal Cobb and the caprese combo of in-season tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella.
Look for the best mozzarella you can find, and do yourself a favor and plant a basil plant. Last year mine grew three feet high in a container. I was distraught when the winter chill killed it.
June is the peak season for Creole tomatoes and the kickoff for many fresh summer veggies. Farmers’ markets are at their best right now, and I like to try different ones in several parishes. One thing for sure, my salads are in for some big improvements.
Minty Watermelon and Avocado Salad
6 cups watermelon,
cut into 1-inch cubes
2 avocados, cut into chunks
2 stalks celery, cut in
2/3 cup chopped sweet onion
½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 ½ cups feta cheese, cut into ¼-inch squares or crumbled
¼ cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin
¼ cup Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Keep all ingredients cold until ready to serve. You can mix dressing ingredients ahead, if desired.
In a large bowl, mix watermelon, avocados, celery, onion, mint and feta.
In a small bowl, mix all dressing ingredients. When ready to serve, pour as much dressing as desired over salad and serve.
Serves 6 to 8 as side salads
Spinach Strawberry Salad
½ cup whole pecan halves
1 8-ounce bag cleaned fresh spinach
1 cup strawberries, rinsed, stemmed and sliced
4 thin slices red onion, separated into rings
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
8 to 10 sweet basil leaves, torn
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and garlic powder to taste
Spread pecan halves on a baking pan and roast in a 350-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes or until slightly browned, turning once. Set aside to cool.
Place spinach in a large salad bowl. Add strawberries, red onion, blue cheese and basil leaves.
Place dressing ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk until thoroughly mixed. When ready to serve, pour over salad ingredients and mix well.
Serves 4 to 6 as side salads
Chicken Salad With Creole Tomatoes
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 stalks celery, chopped
½ medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
Coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, Creole seasoning and garlic powder to taste
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 to 3 large red-ripe Creole tomatoes
Lettuce, if desired
Place chicken breasts in a medium skillet or pot and cover with water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and poach, turning once, until chicken is done; about 30 minutes, depending on size. Drain and cool.
Spread almonds in a thin layer on a pan and place in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 4 to 5 minutes or until almonds are fragrant and barely browning. Cool.
Place celery and onions in a large bowl. When chicken is cool, pull it apart with your fingers so that the meat is shredded, not chopped. After shredding, you can chop a few times to make pieces smaller. Add chicken and remaining ingredients except tomatoes to a bowl and mix well, tasting and seasoning as you like.
When ready to serve, slice tomatoes about ½-inch thick, placing two on each plate. Sprinkle lettuce if using. Lightly salt and pepper, and top each with 1/2 cup chicken salad. Garnish with chopped parsley leaves.
Serves 6 as entrée salads
Note: If you like curry chicken salad, add 2 teaspoons curry powder when mixing.