“In the summertime when the weather is high, you can reach right up and touch the sky,
when the weather’s fine you got….salads on your mind.”
Ok, well maybe Mungo Jerry had women on their collective mind when they wrote the summertime song, but they did mention that: “if her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal,” and what better than to have a cool, crisp vegetable salad during the hot days of August.
Vegetable salads are quick and easy to prepare, (who wants to labor over a hot stove in the middle of the summer?) There is also enough variety that you can satisfy everybody’s taste night after night. Even those die-hard steak and potato types can welcome a fresh salad to their otherwise cloying menu. You can also make it a meal by starting off with a mixture of color and flavor and adding a few slices of grilled chicken on top.
One of the tricks to making a good salad is to cut the vegetables into small pieces with enough surface area to soak up the dressing. It’s the same principle as with pasta; the better grades of pasta have a larger and rougher surface so the sauce clings better. Most of the vegetables that are added to a salad can be cut into half-inch to 1-inch pieces, while florets such as cauliflower and broccoli should be no bigger than 1 or 2 inches. Some vegetables like carrots and cabbages are better off being grated, as this releases more flavor from vegetables that are bland and spreads it out with ones that are overpowering and strong. Some vegetables, such as green beans, can benefit from blanching. Just drop them in some boiling water for a minute until they are barely cooked and then plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking process.
Avoid doing a salad of just lettuce and a vegetable or two. I must confess that I’m not a huge fan of some of the field greens, even though I know that they are trendy and healthful. It’s just that some of them taste like something that has been growing along side of the road instead of in a field. I like lettuce, but the bland iceberg can be spruced up a bit with some romaine, green and red leaf, and radicchio. Add a little spice with some red onion, chopped radish, or even a little grated ginger. As far as dressings go, try to avoid the bottled types. If you are counting calories, making your own with vinegar, olive oil, and herbs is the best. Try increasing the amount of acid and reducing the amount of oil. You can add some extra flavor by sweetening it up a bit.
While you are out for your summer drive ala Mungo Jerry, try stopping by your local farmer’s market. We have a number of good ones here in St. Louis, but my two favorites are Soulard and Sappington. Check out a few of the lesser-known vegetables that might be good on a salad like sweet potatoes, poke, eggplant, kale and cabbage sprouts. Try some Chayote from Central America. This member of the squash family can be used like yellow squash or zucchini.