Holly Ebel: These should be the salad days
Did you have a salad for lunch? Or will you have one for dinner?
Good, because with the abundance of fresh produce and fruits, we should turn as many as we can into salads — especially hearty, entree salads. There’s not much you can do to mess one up, like you might a steak on the grill. Plus, on these peak summer days who wants something hot, anyway? Save that for the soups and stews of fall.
Our tastes have come a long way from the simple side salad of decades ago, made with greens, a slice of cucumber and a cherry tomato or two. These days, salads go in all sorts of different directions with a wide variety of ingredients that are healthy and nutritious, not to mention delicious.
The good news? They are all simple to put together, whether mixed or composed. It’s a perfect summertime meal, seldom using anything that requires the stove to be turned on. Ingredients finding their way onto plates and bowls right now are almost every vegetable you can think of: grains, cheeses, eggs, beans, pasta, herbs, rice and protein in the form of chicken, meats and fish.
Greens are still very much a part of the salad genre but often not the main focus. Still, this is the season when they are best, so do use arugula, spinach, kale, escarole and romaine (I’m still off that one — sorry, romaine).
Iceberg, that salad staple years ago, is back big-time as both a filler with other greens as well as its famous wedge. If your dinner focus tonight is a big green salad, bulk it up with hearty ingredients. It should be filling. Think chef salad with slices of meat, cheese and eggs. A baguette on the side would be nice.
There’s almost nothing that can’t be turned into an entree salad. A local chef who knows plenty about salads in all their iterations is Chef Chris Rohe, owner of Prescotts, who maintains an enormous garden where the majority of his salad ingredients come from. When putting a salad together, he advises thinking about balance in flavors and using a dressing that complements those flavors, not one that masks them.
“A dressing with an acid will do that,” he said.
Crunch should also be a factor. Rohe suggests seeds, radishes and croutons. Celery, jicama and sweet peppers also can do that. Whenever he can, he makes a caesar salad, with or without a protein.
“Depends on what I’m having for dinner,” he said.
Other things to consider:
• Ingredients should complement each other. Think about color and texture of what you are putting together and when cutting or slicing make them roughly the same size.
• The best of salads are visually appealing. A good example is a cobb salad with eggs, tomatoes, chicken and avocado all placed neatly over greens. Salad niçoise is another with ingredients lined up and a taco salad comes together in neat layers.
• Don’t ignore fruits. A big fruit salad is refreshing but does best as a side. However, little slices of peaches, blueberries and sliced strawberries can add a nice surprise to an entree salad of chicken or shrimp.
• There are also many entree salads with an Asian influence that can bring variety to the table.
• And, of course, salads are a great way to re-work leftovers. Let your creative side take over.
One last thought: The dressings. Whether you use a bottled or homemade dressing, vinaigrette or creamy, keep a light touch or serve it on the side. Nothing ruins a salad more than too much dressing.