Super Summer Salads

3 Aug

Dear Zoe,

My week with you in D.C. was heavenly for so many reasons.  But one of them was the meal we shopped for and prepared so lovingly for your sister’s birthday.  I should’ve known that when Lucy said her meal of choice for her special birthday dinner was “a nice salad”, that you had some tricks up your sleeve to make it something wonderful.  Your approach to salad-making is now my official summer meal fallback plan!


July is my favorite summer month: the Iowa roadsides are a-bloom with mullein and chicory–and the farmers’ market is overflowing with peak variety: cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, melons, new potatoes, green beans, sweet corn…the list goes on and on.  I love this explosion of nature’s colorful abundance!

Assembling the team

I often eat dinners of giant salads made of whatever is left in my fridge after a trip to the market.  But there is a certain elegance to the following approach to salad-making that can elevate a simple salad to a smorgasbord of deliciousness. There is something about this combination of cooked and raw vegetables served simply that creates the perfect opportunity to savour them each for their seasonal seductiveness:

Super Summer Salad (adapted from Zoe’s brain creation, and certainly influenced by her time living in France)

3 or more cups of chopped lettuce or other mixed salad greens (early in the season try pea shoots, arugula, musclun, etc.)

1 cup each of a selection of vegetables (such as green beans, beets, zucchini, new potatoes, etc.) lightly steamed or otherwise cooked to tender perfection

Other random fruits and vegetables (such as apples, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, etc.)

Your choice of flavorful proteins, e.g., poached or hard boiled eggs, goat cheese, fried tempeh, grilled chicken, beans, etc.

Selection of pickles and/or olives

Vinaigrette (See recipe)

Toss the salad greens in a light coating of the vinaigrette, and pile into the center of a large platter.  Warm and absorbent vegetables such as potatoes benefit from a light coating as well.  Arrange remaining vegetables, proteins, and garnishes around the edge of the platter, framing the greens.  Make up a serving by taking a little of this, a little of that onto a plate (utensils optional) and dig in!  Serve with a nice crusty bread if you like, and a refreshing bottle of Rose or Lambrusco.

I hate bottled salad dressings, but I am also totally lazy when it comes to making my own.  I usually mix up a little cider vinegar and mustard with olive oil and call it a day.  But if you have shallots and fresh herbs around, it is well worth making up a batch of vinaigrette a la francophone fancy pants:

French Vinaigrette (From David Lebovitz)

The key to this dressing is to quick-pickle the shallots in vinegar… I always suspected pickling was the secret to something!

1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar (I use white wine vinegar)
1/2 small shallot, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3T to 4T olive oil

Fresh herbs, if desired (such as parsley, basil, cilantro, etc.)

1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, vinegar, and shallot. Let stand for about ten minutes.

2. Mix in the Dijon mustard, then add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir well, then taste. If too sharp, add the additional olive oil and more salt, if necessary.

If you wish to add fresh herbs, it’s best to chop and mix them in shortly before serving so they retain their flavor.

Salad heaven!

Some Notes on Adaptation

This meal was made for adaptation.  In the dish pictured above, I gave my salad a southwestern flare by substituting garlic for shallots and using cilantro as my fresh herb in the dressing.  A can of black beans got a healthy dose of the dressing, and a pile of fried polenta tied it all together.  Here’s to summer eating! *clink*


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