Summer is finally here in full swing and with the warm temperatures and bright skies comes the perfect opportunity to indulge in salad season. Early and mid-summer gardens produce some of the most delicious salad worthy vegetables. Tender greens, crisp radishes and brilliant beets are just a few of nature’s gems whose presence should be gracing your summertime plates. Salads make for the perfect summer meal. They are light, refreshing, nourishing and highlight the very best that the season has to offer.
If you tend to think of salads as a first course or a small accompaniment to a meal, it is time to modernize your thinking. A nice, meal-sized salad is not only going to fill your plate with valuable nutrients but it can also be just as satisfying as a burger hot off the grill. There are plenty of reasons to make salads a meal planning mainstay this summer. Here are just a few of them.
- Salads will help you keep the beach body that you worked so hard for this past spring. How many times have you fallen into the trap of working so hard to lose weight and tone your body, only to start overindulging in unhealthy foods once you reach your goal. Fight back against this by making salads your summer meal mainstay. The quantity alone might be enough to make you feel a little guilty, but once you start savoring all the summertime flavors, you won’t miss the junk food one bit.
- Salads are packed with fiber, which many of us are seriously lacking in our diets. Fiber is extremely important for your digestive and cardiovascular health.
- When you add healthy protein options into the mix, a salad becomes a complete meal. Chicken, fish, chickpeas and eggs are simple and delicious protein add-ins.
- You are more likely to consume a variety of nutrient dense foods when you regularly eat salads. Summertime fruits and vegetable contain high amounts of powerful antioxidants such as vitamin C, lycopene and beta-carotene. Antioxidants help to protect your body from the cellular damage caused by harmful molecules, such as those found in the crispy char of a patio-grilled steak and those ultraviolet rays that add a touch of pink to your shoulders no matter how much sunscreen you apply.
- My favorite reason for eating more salad is simply for overall health and wellness. Leafy greens and colorful vegetables are some of the best sources of antioxidants on earth, and a diet rich in these healthful ingredients can pay real dividends both in how you look and feel.
There are a lot of good reasons here to pack a salad for your next lunch or dinner, however I would like to challenge the way you think about salads. Have you ever considered a breakfast salad or even a dessert salad? Salads can be the perfect option for any summertime meal. They fill you up, keep you healthy, and keep you out of a hot kitchen when the temperature outside is soaring. Don’t let preconceived notions about when it is appropriate to eat salad stop you from exploring the possibilities. Here is one of my favorite breakfast salads for a hot summer day. It highlights some of the best garden picks of the season.
Strawberry Quinoa Breakfast Salad
- 2 cups pre-cooked quinoa
- 1 cup raw walnuts, chopped
- 2 cups spinach, chopped
- 3 cups fresh picked summer strawberries, halved
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 1 tablespoon local honey
- 1 tablespoon walnut oil
- In a bowl, combine the quinoa, spinach, walnuts and parsley, basil and mint. Mix well.
- Carefully fold in the strawberries.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the orange juice, pomegranate juice, chia seeds, honey and walnut oil until well blended.
- Drizzle the dressing over the salad, tossing as you go.
- Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate.
- For an extra protein boost, try adding a little chicken or peppered bacon to the salad.
Salads like this one are just one example of how you can step away from the traditional iceberg garden salad and try something new. Summer flavors are enticing, so why not get creative and build a salad that with its own personality. Want to come up with a few ideas but aren’t sure what is fresh in season right now? Check out this list of fruits and vegetables that are at their peak and just waiting to make their way into your salad bowl.
- Summer Harvest Vegetables: arugula, beets, bell peppers, cartos, cucumber, corn, radishes and zucchini, variety of dark leafy greens
- Summer Harvest Fruits: apricots, blackberries, cherries, lemon, limes, melons, nectarines, peaches, passion fruits, tomatoes and strawberries.
While salads are a summertime favorite of mine, there are ways that you can go wrong with your salad creations and turn a healthy, delicious meal into a dietary disaster.
Don’t pile your salad high with fried or high fat garnishes. Rather than pile your salad high with buttery croutons, fried onions, and bacon pieces, opt to go easy on them or skip them altogether. Just like soup should outshine the crackers you crumble into it; your salad should not need compete with mere garnishes.
Go easy on the cheese. Is you are piling a handful of shredded cheese on the salad, you are kind of missing the point of all this summertime goodness. Opt for more flavorful cheeses such as a sprinkling of gorgonzola or some grated asiago, that you only need a little bit of to add a big flavorful punch.
Venture away from iceberg. Iceberg lettuce adds a cooling property to summer salads, but unfortunately, besides water content it really doesn’t add much to your nutritional bottom line. There are so many delicious salad greens that are at the peak of their season right now that there just isn’t any reason to stick with the pale, bland head of iceberg in your refrigerator. Instead, try spinach, arugula, butter lettuce, romaine, kale, or collard greens.
Your salad belongs in a bowl or a plate, not a shell. Crispy, fried shells meant to hold taco and fajita salads are tasty and add crunch but they also add an astounding number of calories and fat. Skip the shell and fill up on other ingredients instead. If you want a creative vehicle for your salad, scoop out the insides of a zucchini or cucumber and use the shell as bowl. Bell peppers, tomatoes and hollowed out melons are also good choices for a garden-fresh salad bowl.
Don’t drench your salad with dressing. Salad dressing is meant to be an enhancement to the salad, not a main component. Typical store bought dressings can be high in saturated fat, sodium and even sugar. Stay away from them and instead whisk up a little vinegar, heart healthy oil and spices to create your own fast, healthy and delicious dressing. Walnut, avocado and olive oil are good choices for salad dressings. If you prefer a creamier variety over a vinaigrette, add a little buttermilk, yogurt or low-fat mayonnaise to the mix.
If you take a walk through your local farmers market this weekend, or stop by that roadside produce stand on your way home from work, you will realize that there is no shortage of possibilities when it comes to summer salad creation. You can let your imagination run wild, or if you are running low on creative energy, you can use one of these delicious salad recipes instead.
Summer Greek Salad
- 1 small red onion, sliced paper thin
- 2-3 cucumbers, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced in half-inch rounds
- 4 ripe tomatoes
- 2-3 sweet peppers, preferably yellow, orange and red, cut into large dice
- 1 head of romaine lettuce, leaves separated
- 6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 12-ounce jar of pitted Kalamata olives
- 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, minced
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Whisk the vinaigrette together and marinate the red onions in a few tablespoons of it while you prepare the other vegetables.
- In a large bowl, combine the onion, cucumbers, tomatoes, pepper, feta and olives and toss with dressing.
- Line a serving bowl or plate (or individual plates) with the romaine leaves and top with salad.
- Top with grilled steak, chicken or fish if desired.
Arugula and Hearts of Palm Salad
- ½ cup sweet yellow onion, sliced thin
- 1 cup canned hearts of palm, sliced thin
- 6 cups garden fresh arugula
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
- ¼ cup shaved asiago cheese
- In a large bowl, toss together the sweet yellow onion, hearts of palm and arugula.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and coarse ground black pepper.
- Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss.
- Transfer the salad to serving plates and garnish with the shave asiago cheese. Enjoy!