Sunday, July 28, 2013

Savory Summer Salads...Hold the Lettuce, Please.

I am a salad girl. My husband is a meat lover. Yes, he likes to eat his veggies because he feels better when he does, but if he had his druthers it would be grilled steak tips and pork loin every night for dinner. So, as I stand in the front of the refrigerator in the afternoon and contemplate the dinner menu, I'm always aiming for a veggie victory. I'm looking for more than just dutiful chewing at my dinner table--I want those exclamations of delight. If you have cooked for a finicky loved one (newly picky toddler, anyone?) you know the feeling. Words like yummy, amazing, and delicious have never sounded so sweet.

When it comes to summer salads, I'm faced with an additional challenge: my husband won't eat lettuce. Well, that's not entirely true. He'll eat the wilted, bland, possibly bleach blasted, bagged lettuce from the grocery store. He just won't eat any of the tasty, leafy, crisp, colorful lettuce that's available in abundance at the market each week. What is his problem, you ask? To make a long story short, husband has an issue with creepy crawlies. And, a couple of years ago when I was prepping a gorgeous head of Bibb lettuce, husband spotted a big green grub whose girth was particularly remarkable. For my part, I'm perfectly happy to see that the occasional creature makes it through to my kitchen with my veggies. I buy organic whenever I can, and I see it as confirmation that no one has been blasting my food with harmful pesticides. It is also easily remedied: grub in the lettuce becomes grub in the trash in a few quick seconds, and then you're back in business. But, for my husband, who already has a phobia of things that squiggle (I'll spare you the very dramatic story of the inchworms in the woods), that incident has led to a full blown case of lettuce PTSD. 

So, this year, after the requisite attempt to sneak some fresh lettuce into the mix (failed), I've decided that some creativity is in order. And, as tends to happen when you're forced to deviate from your normal routine, there have been a lot of delicious surprises! We've done grilled veggie salads, leftover veggie salads...throw some vinaigrette on it and add a sprinkle of cheese, and you really can't go wrong! Below are a few of the salads I've put together, but it's more about a method than a recipe. See what looks good to you at the market this week and try out something new!

Grilled Summer Squash Salad

7-8 medium sized summer squash (you can use any variety you want here: zucchini, sunburst, limelight, whatever looks good.)
1-2 spring onions, red or white
feta cheese
vinaigrette (I prefer to make my own--recipes coming soon--but you can use store bought in a pinch)
olive oil

Slice squash lengthwise, brush with olive oil on both sides, and season with salt and pepper. Trim the onions and do the same. Grill until squash and onions are just fork tender. Be sure to take them off before they get floppy--mushy veggies do not make for a good salad. Chop squash and onions into bite sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Toss gently with vinaigrette, to taste. 

Roll several leaves of basil together and slice thinly to make little basil ribbons. If you want to get fancy, tell your friends you're doing a chiffonade of basil, because you are. Separate the ribbons and stir them gently into the squash along with a good helping of crumbled feta cheese. If you have some sweet little tomatoes on hand, as I did, you can also chop those and add them in for a pop of color. 

We have enjoyed this salad as a side dish with a protein and spooned over whole grain pasta or couscous. Just add some extra vinaigrette while your pasta or grain is still hot and it will soak up all that flavor. Yum!

Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad (i.e. leftover veggies salad)

5 ears cooked sweet corn, kernels removed
1 heirloom yellow tomato
1 handful of grape tomatoes
2 grilled summer squash
vinaigrette, to taste

Chop all veggies, toss with vinaigrette, season with s&p if necessary. Enjoy! Seriously, this was just me using up leftover cooked veggies in the fridge and tomatoes that needed to get eaten. Happy days for husband and toddler alike. Oh, and also me!

Beet & Carrot Salad (pictured at top)

3 fresh carrots, shredded (I don't recommend using supermarket carrots for this--they can be ok for a stew, but in a simple salad like this you want them sweet, juicy, and delicious.)
3 medium sized fresh beets, peeled and shredded
vinaigrette (again, a simple mix of olive oil, your favorite vinegar, and s&p is really the best dressing here, but store bought can also work)

Toss all ingredients and enjoy. Yes, it's that easy. As you can see from the picture above (I'm cheating and using an old one that predates our lettuce problem), this salad is a fabulous lettuce topper. But, it's also delicious as a side or a snack straight out of the fridge. Earthy, sweet, crunchy, and super quick to make. When it comes to summer salads, this is an EcoFoodie favorite.

All of these salads are incredibly versatile, and there are endless variations you can try. Two things they all have in common? They're great as a pot luck side dish, and they always pair fabulously with a crisp glass of prosecco on a hot summer night. Enjoy!