Salads are good all year round, but in the summertime, they rise to the top of the list of lunch and dinner favorites. Nothing refreshes the body and soul on a hot day like a big bowl of fresh vegetables or fruits, and serving salads for these meals keeps the kitchen cool and clean. To ensure salads give you the energy you need, fill them with protein-packed ingredients.
Protein comes in many forms, textures and tastes. Mix and match protein-rich additives to give each salad a distinct personality.
Both vegetable and fruit salads benefit from a bed of protein-rich lettuce to support and enhance the flavors of the toppings. Use sturdy lettuce such as hearts of Romaine if the dressing is creamy or the fruit and vegetables are particularly juicy. More delicate greens such as arugula, chicory and mesclun have flavors that hold up well to lighter dressings. For added color and texture, mix in shredded Napa cabbage, red cabbage or radicchio.
Meat, poultry and seafood
Leftover roasted chicken, filet mignon, ham and pulled pork add substantial protein to salads, as well as rich flavor and consistency. Well-drained canned tuna or salmon, cooked baby shrimp or lump crab from the seafood counter, leftover grilled salmon or crisp bacon are great protein-boosters for vegetable salads.
Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are packed with protein and readily available in cans to use as salad ingredients. Kidney and garbanzo beans have excellent flavor and texture. Rinse them well under cold water before adding to salads to accent their natural colors and tastes. For a quick and colorful burst of protein, thaw frozen green beans and toss them with the salad greens.
Both vegetable and fruit salads are better with added cheese, an excellent protein source. Diced cheddar, Jack, mozzarella, blue, feta or Swiss cheese complements raw vegetables and fruits. Creamy cottage cheese, Greek yogurt or sour cream adds lavish taste and protein to summer salads. Get extra protein with dairy-based salad dressings such as ranch, blue cheese, creamy Caesar or poppy seed.
Toppings and garnishes
Roast your favorite nuts or seeds and add them to your salad for a tasty protein boost. Almonds, peanuts, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts and filberts are protein-rich, and roasting them adds a layer of flavor that’s well worth the roasting time. If nuts aren’t appealing, choose sunflower seeds, fresh soybeans, edamame or corn nuts for salad toppings.
Regardless of the protein-rich ingredients you choose for your salads, you can tilt the flavors towards different ethnic cuisines with fresh herbs. Go Italian with basil or oregano, Greek with mint, French with thyme or tarragon or have an internationally-spiced, protein-packed salad by adding a pinch of each to the bowl.
To cut your salad-making time in half, buy a variety of greens at their peak, wash them and pack them in individual zippered bags with the air pressed out in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. All you need to add is your protein ingredients for a quick and satisfying lunch or dinner salad.