When the days are long and the sun is high, eating is sometimes the last thing on your mind. We all get so busy playing outside, and the heat just seems to vanquish appetite. Then it dawns on everyone that they are famished! This is the time for cool salad meals. Light, easy, and in tune with the season, salad for lunch or dinner is just the thing. With an endless array of ingredients, you can pile a whole meal into the salad and never get bored.
We all think of green salads first, but we can explore many other chilled, marinated and dressed salads that satisfy. And if you're looking for nutritional balance in a single dish, salads are a great way to incorporate many or all of the food groups: veggies, fruits, whole grains and proteins (including dairy).
Whole Meal Green Salads
There are so many ways to combine veggies, fruits, proteins and grains to create whole meal salads. Here are just a few:
Basic salad and variations
Start with a big bed of romaine and oranges, topped with a serving of beans, nuts or meat or seafood and a side of whole grain toast or crackers is pretty easy, dressed with a simple vinaigrette. I like to add variety to my greens by tossing in whole leaves of basil and mint, as well as tender young kale or mustard. Don't be shy about piling on non-leafy veggies like broccoli and cauliflower, shredded carrots or beets, or just chopped tomatoes and zucchini. All sorts of fruit is fun to include; the berries, peaches and plums of summer are a perfect foil for tangy dressings, or blended into the dressing itself.
Spinach and strawberry salad
Spinach, strawberries, a sprinkling feta and walnuts (candied or plain) make an easy salad that's almost a dessert. Pureeing strawberries into a creamy dressing makes a beautiful and delicious topping. Serve with your choice of chicken, baked tofu, shrimp and grains on the side.
If big piles of leaves are too tiring to chew, try shredding veggies into a slaw. Cabbage is the original, but you can shred broccoli stems, radishes, jicama, beets, and hefty kale and collard greens to toss with a creamy slaw dressing or a leaner vinaigrette-and shred some chicken or baked tofu over the top. Give it an Asian twist with tahini dressing or curry spiced yogurt dressing, and pile on some cooked shrimp or lentils.
All of these salads would be well-complemented by whole grain croutons, crackers or toasted baguette-smeared with a little extra dressing or creamy cheese.
Grain salads, from wheat berry to rice, form their own salad category. When you boil up a batch of wild rice, wheat berries, or quinoa for your dinner sides, make some extra to use in a grain salad later in the week. Adding copious amounts of veggies is easy; just pick a theme. For a curry-inspired salad, blanch cauliflower and snow peas, add handfuls of cilantro and make a spicy yogurt dressing. For a classic Southwestern one, mix in corn and black beans, and stir salsa and plain yogurt together for a zesty sauce. Wheat berries have a lovely crunch and sweetness, easily complemented by adding fresh fruit, like berries or nectarines, and herbs like watercress or mint. Nuts and beans of all sorts really work with whole grains, which have a nutty taste of their own.
Pasta and Noodles
Pasta and noodle salads can keep you entertained for many evenings, from a garlicky orzo in pesto with zucchini, broccoli and peppers, to a Vietnamese styled sweet and sour noodle with piles of basil, mint, and veggies. I like to use whole grain pastas, and find that whole wheat angel hair can stand in for rice noodles in Asian dishes, for a little more fiber and nutrition. Incorporate the proteins you have on hand, from shrimp to chopped ham, or of course, cheeses for a Mediterranean flair. Think about extra nutrition, and chop twice as many veggies as the recipe calls for-it’s a salad, isn’t it?
Bean salads are a wonderful way to get all that healthy fiber and protein and save a few bucks. Creamy beans melt on the tongue, especially after marinating in a yummy vinaigrette. I make a white bean and spinach salad in spinach pesto and marinate fresh white mushrooms, zucchini and peppers separately in a sherry dressing, then pile the mushrooms on the beans and cover it with chopped basil. It’s two salads in one. Garbanzos lend themselves to all kinds of Mediterranean treatments, from lemon, mint and garlic, to red wine vinegar, olive oil and parmesan. Don’t forget the soybean; edamame is the perfect salad bean, with a bright color and crunch. Just thaw frozen shelled edamame and make a three bean salad with black or kidney beans and green beans, and serve it on lots of veggies. Edamame or marinated and baked tofu are perfect in Asian salads, and can be dressed simply with a sesame oil and soy sauce spiked dressing.
All you need to complete your salad is a good homemade dressing. Most vinaigrettes are 2 or 3 parts oil to one part vinegar or citrus, but I often like to go 1 to 1, for a tangier, lower-fat drizzle. A way to amp up the nutrition in your dressing is to make a nut or seed butter based one using tahini or peanut butter, for example. Just stir in rice vinegar or lime juice, a dash of sugar, and soy sauce to taste, and if you want to add crushed garlic and ginger, go ahead. Cheesy dressings are a great way to stretch a few crumbles of feta, chevre or bleu across a whole bowl of salad. Just mash the cheese, stir in fat free plain yogurt, crushed garlic and a dash of olive oil to taste.
So keep some salad ingredients handy, and stir up a jar of dressing to keep in the fridge. Then you will be ready to make a big, satisfying salad when hunger hits!