Most of us eagerly welcome the long-awaited salad season, when a fresh, crisp salad is the most satisfying summer day meal. Now you don't have to be a salad lover to appreciate the variety of colors, textures, and flavors of a summer salad. It can be something as simple as homegrown, sliced tomatoes on tender Bibb lettuce with a few chopped chives. A light vinaigrette drizzled sparingly over the top is a nice touch but not a necessity considering how many flavorful lettuces are available. A summer salad can even become the main course, unless you have a family like mine, which asks, "Where's the beef?" So I throw some chicken or fish on the grill and serve that too.
If you've been trying to lose a few pounds, this is the season. Fruits and vegetables have a high nutrient-density, which means that for the number of calories they supply, most contain a disproportionately large amount of essential vitamins. An average head of romaine or leaf lettuce contains only 15 calories while high in vitamin A, calcium, and potassium. Because fruits and vegetables are filled with water and fiber, they leave you feeling nice and full.
Lighten Your Salad Dressing
So why aren't all the salad eaters as skinny as bean poles? Fully prepared, we cast our lines into the water and sat calmly, like Jonah, and waited for our whale. Too often, the most nutritious and low-calorie salad is ruined by a fatty dressing. Just two tablespoons of bottled dressing or mayonnaise can increase a salad's calorie value by 150 calories or more. Sure there are low-fat bottled dressings now, but they are often high in sodium and contain additives. These salad dressings were created for the tasteless and nutrition-less iceberg lettuce that sits around in the grocery store for weeks. Homemade salad dressings, on the other hand, are a simple and economical alternative to expensive bottled dressings. The "Basic Salad Dressing" (see recipe below) does contain some oil, but I've chosen olive oil and canola oil because they're monounsaturated oils which are great for cholesterol watchers. (Canola oil is also the lowest in saturated fat.) If you are watching your fat intake, add more lemon juice and less oil; use dressing sparingly.
Included here are some healthy versions of old favorites. Instead of using mayonnaise for coleslaw and potato salad, there's an alternative dressing. If you prefer to use mayonnaise, buy the "light" variety at a health food store, and use half mayonnaise and half low-fat yogurt in your recipe. All the recipes are kept simple because I'm sure you'd rather be swimming, golfing, boating than cooking.
Choose a variety of light and dark greens (the darker contain the most nutrients). Some possibilities include: romaine, leaf, Bibb, Boston, and buttercrunch lettuce; radicchio; endive; spinach; and kale. Our favorite is arugula, which is sturdy and grows until well into October.
Wash the lettuce in a colander and shake out the excess water. Wrap in a dish towel (not terry-cloth) and refrigerate for a few hours. If refrigerating overnight, put the whole dish towel bundle in a plastic bag.
Dressing Your Salad
Summer salad dressing needs to be light and tasty without overpowering the delicate and flavorful garden lettuces. Use a quality red wine vinegar such as "Great Impressions" or "Spice Island" which can be found at most supermarkets. I use a light-tasting olive oil, preferably an Italian oil. For a sliced, tomato salad, you may want to use only olive oil with two tablespoons or so of extra-virgin olive oil for a stronger olive taste.
Basic Salad Dressing Recipe
In a blender or food processor, combine:
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola (or other light-tasting) oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
freshly ground pepper
Herb Salad Dressing
Add two tablespoons of the fresh herbs of your choice, such as thyme, dill, marjoram, or chervil to the basic dressing (omitting the dried basil).
Basil Salad Dressing
Add 1/2 cup of fresh basil leaves to dressing. Omit the dried basil.
Greek Salad Dressing
Add 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon of dried oregano to dressing. Omit the dried basil.