Get bowled over with summer salad combos

During the colder months, say November through March, I never drink iced tea, and salads do nothing for me. But turn on the swelter and I can’t get enough of either.

I think I’ve bored you enough with my dislike of the ubiquitous iceberg/carrot/onion salad, and don’t even get me started on the abomination of mixing pasta and mayonnaise. That one teeny-tiny quirk aside, I like to throw pretty much anything in the bowl. Fruit, herbs, corn, olives, canned stuff, sugar snap peas, nuts, seeds, bread, broken up crackers, anchovies, tuna, bacon, avocados, watercress, fresh sweet peppers, asparagas, roasted potatoes, caramalized onions, canned beans – they’ve all made their way into salad bowls around here. Not all at once, of course, but the potential for memorable meals is endless.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by actually giving you a recipe for salad, but I’d like to share some winning combinations we’ve concocted over the years. And here’s another guilty confession. I don’t like most bottled dressings. Instead of pulling a salad together, they tend to mask the taste of everything. What’s the point of haggling with the vendors at the farmers market for the freshest looking produce and then dousing your score with gooey, additive-enhanced sauce?

I’m also usually too lazy to make my own vinaigrettes and dressings, because, let’s face it, with a squirt of lime, lemon or orange juice, some salt and pepper and a splash of olive oil, most salads can shine.

The one exception is bottled Italian dressing. Its garlicky essence works great with two salads:

  • boiled new potatoes, onion, garlic, fresh basil, and pitted olives
  • cooked pasta, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and oregano, onion, anchovies and cubed mozzarella

Other combos (without bottled Italian dressing) that will smack your taste buds include:

  • sliced avocado and canned grapefruit segments, with thyme and chives on romaine lettuce
  • feta, cubed watermelon and fresh mint on arugala
  • grilled asparagus, shaved parmesan, roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts on a spring mix
  • cooked and cubed chicken breast (a grocery store rotisserie chicken is perfect), water chestnuts, toasted pecans, chopped green onions and cooked and cooled wild rice on curly lettuce (yep, you can use that store-bought ginger dressing on this)
  • peach slices, proscuitto, fresh thyme, chunks of Gouda cheese (not smoked) and a scattering of thinly sliced red onion on arugala
  • canned white beans (rinsed) with sliced bell peppers, cooked and chopped pork belly (or thick bacon), and onion on spinach

Just go for it. Aim for a balance of salty and sweet, herby and earthy, crunchy and soft. Today’s experiment could become tomorrow’s family favorite.

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