Cool, crisp and refreshing, sweetened with fresh fruit and seasoned with global flair — these are summer’s hottest salads.
Truly satisfying salads that speak to the season call for much more than a bowl of greens tossed with sliced tomato and cucumber. Even the stereotypical salad bowl impedes diners’ enjoyment, says Applegate chef Emily Moore.
“The absolute main thing in my mind,” says Moore, “is to separate the green, leafy part from the heavier vegetables. That’s a composed salad.”
Composing a salad on a platter, says Moore, not only plays up presentation but properly distributes components. No matter the ingredients in a salad, heavy items always will fall to the bottom of a salad bowl, causing diners to hunt and peck for all the tasty bits hidden under the mound of greens, she explains. Layering dressed salad on a platter also facilitates topping it with grilled meats and other proteins, adds Moore.
Meats can be incorporated into salads in some unexpected ways. Moore saves juices from roasted meats and whisks them into homemade dressings. The juices can replace some of a standard vinaigrette’s acid and oil, usually mixed in a ratio of 1 part to 3 parts. A dollop of Dijon or stone-ground mustard binds the acid and oil together.
“It’s just sensational,” says Moore, who owns and operates Emily’s Kitchen.
Sensational salads can be achieved without a single leaf in sight. Green beans peak in summer and, once blanched, can be tossed with ripe peaches or heirloom tomatoes, blue or feta cheese and sprinkled with toasted nuts or seeds.
“I lean on the seeds; I lean on the nuts,” says Ashland chef Jeff Hauptman.
In addition to choosing wholesome fats to make filling main-dish salads, Hauptman adds legumes, rather than grain-based ingredients. His green beans and chickpeas salad gets a flavor boost from a homemade dressing of sesame paste, also known as tahini, enhanced with fresh ginger and tamari sauce.
Asian cuisine inspires Hauptman’s grated vegetable salad tossed in a creamy dressing seasoned with umeboshi plum vinegar. Shredded cabbage and kale form the backdrop for carrot, celery root, jicama and daikon radish, plus softened strips of arame seaweed. Cooks looking to introduce a wider variety of hearty vegetables into their diets, he says, can bypass greens and get busy slicing and dicing whatever’s freshest in the produce section and at farmers markets.
“It goes back to eating the rainbow,” he says.
Paling in comparison, as most chefs and diners acknowledge, is iceberg lettuce. Common decades ago in American homes, it’s often seen in lower-quality salad mixes and casual eateries, exempting the retro trend of conveying bacon and blue cheese on a wedge of iceberg. Hoping that iceberg is on its way out, Moore likens it to “eating solid water.” Anyone craving the crunch of iceberg, she says, can glean more nutritional value from cabbage and sliced red onion, sprinkled with salt and left to mellow for an hour.
Salting also helps to break down coarse kale leaves that can be “massaged” into a velvety texture with a little olive oil, says Moore. Keep in mind that rubbing oiled, salted kale between your fingertips will reduce its volume and total quantity slightly. Or skip the massage, says Moore, and slide a pan of lightly oiled and salted kale leaves into the oven and bake for crunchy kale chips that can replace less wholesome croutons on salad.
Kale’s mild bitterness is just one example in a genre of greens worth exploring for reasons of health and heightening interest in salads season in and season out. Chicories, also known as bitter greens, often are favored in winter, when digestion is sluggish from richer foods served around the holidays.
“The bitter components create bile, and bile aids in digestion,” says Hauptman.
Even in summer, cooks can shake up their salad greens routine with endive, frisee, escarole and radicchio. Take the chicories’ edge off with a liberal dose of fresh herbs, says Hauptman. Beyond basil, parsley and cilantro, reach for dill and tarragon, he says, then drizzle with nut oil.
“Of course, there are no rules.”