Beyond the lettuce: Creative summer salad ideas
Summertime calls for light, crisp salads, but it’s easy to fall into a rut. While simple lettuce salads and classics like Caesar salads are great, it’s time to switch things up. Think about all that the season has to offer beyond the lettuce with fresh vegetables and even fruits, nuts, grains, herbs and more.
If you need salad inspiration, look no further than your local farmers market, or even your fridge, to get the creative juices flowing. Menus are another great source of inspiration -- you can try to recreate some of your favorite restaurant salads at home.
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Another healthy and delicious way to create more interesting salads is by incorporating cooked grains. Try a quinoa, wild rice or bulgur salad (pictured above). Prepare the grain according to the package directions, then mix in whatever chopped vegetables, herbs and dressing you would normally use for a completely different salad eating experience.
Fruits aren’t just for dessert! Take inspiration from the Panera Bread menu, which offers a refreshing strawberry, poppy seed and chicken salad. They include fresh strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and mandarin oranges -- along with romaine lettuce, chicken, pecans and a fat-free poppyseed dressing. Talk about creative!
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For more inspiration, turn to international flavors that can be included in your salad. Incorporate the flavors of Thailand with ingredients like cilantro, edamame and peanut sauce. Or for a classic, go Greek by adding feta cheese and olives to the usual salad.
For an unlikely source of inventiveness, look to your fridge and let your leftovers guide your salad. Summer is grill season, so this may lead to a barbecue chicken salad (consider throwing in some corn and black beans) or a grilled vegetable salad. Try to think outside the box!
Another great way to amp up your everyday salads is with an exciting dressing. Instead of the usual oil and vinegar or Italian dressing, try something new like Asian sesame, poppy seed, basil vinaigrette, lemon-tahini or chipotle-honey.
Finally, one of the easiest ways to get out of a salad rut is to lose the lettuce entirely. Focus instead on the fresh, seasonal produce available and make a Mediterranean-style chopped salad. Try a Fattoush salad (recipe below), which is almost as much fun to say as it is to eat! Chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onions are tossed with plenty of fresh herbs, olive oil and lemon juice and topped with toasted pita bread.
Fattoush salad recipe
- 2 pitas, sliced down the middle lengthwise
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 large cucumbers, chopped
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 1/4 cup chopped mint
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/8 cup lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Brush the pita with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and put in the oven until toasted, about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, put the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, mint, parsley and cilantro in a large salad bowl.
- Add the lemon juice and remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
- Break up the toasted pita into pieces and scatter on top of the salad. Serve immediately.
To turn any salad into something exciting, serve it in an edible tortilla bowl instead of a regular bowl!