Cool, Crisp Summer Salads

By Peggy Rynk

Cool, crisp salads are among the many joys of summer, whether they’re served as a main dish, a side dish, or a dessert. Because they’re so versatile, the role they fill depends only on the one you have in mind.

Fresh greens are the base of many salads, and they are available in a delicious variety. Browse the farmer’s market or the produce department of a well-stocked grocery or health foods store for romaine, spinach, red or green leaf lettuce, escarole, watercress, parsley, and red or green cabbage. Choose the freshest and most brightly colored produce you can find. Mescalin mix, whether prepackaged or purchased in bulk, is another choice and contains a wide variety of greens.

Many other vegetables contribute to salads, too — bell peppers of various colors, carrots, celery, onions (sweet, yellow, or green), tomatoes, jicama, and cucumbers, for example. Just remember that greens and other vegetables usually work best and are more enjoyable when they’re chilled. Fruits — crisp apples, ripe pears, juicy berries, or bite-size bits of melon — make excellent bases for or additions to salads. They, too, benefit from being chilled.

As for toppers, vegan croutons, whether homemade or purchased, add interest, flavor, and texture to a salad, as do toasted nuts and sunflower seeds.

One of the beauties of salads is that they lend themselves easily to a wide variety of ingredients. Experiment with familiar choices as well as ones you haven’t tried before, and be prepared to be delighted. If your reason for including a particular ingredient is simply because you want to — even if you haven’t encountered it in a salad before — that reason is plenty good enough.

In addition to being flavorful and healthful, salads can be economical because they’re a delicious way to use the last carrot or two, the remaining few green onions, or those leftover cooked chickpeas or black beans. These add interest, flavor, and color to a salad, so even if you have only a Tablespoon or two, stir them in.

Salad Dressings

When to add the salad dressing — if any — depends on the salad. For tossed salads, add dressing just before serving so the greens don’t wilt. For others, such as bean or potato salads, add the dressing when putting the salad together so the flavors can blend and enhance each other. And some, such as some fresh fruit salads, may need only a squeeze of fresh juice or no dressing at all.

Of course, you can purchase salad dressings at your local market, or you can easily make your own. A good approach is to flavor homemade salad dressings with fresh or good-quality dried herbs and fresh-squeezed orange, lime, or lemon juice.

Chilled Lentil Salad with Spicy Citrus Dressing

(Serves 4)

Well-paired, complementary flavors. Serve this side salad with thinly sliced whole grain bread — toasted or not — on the side.

  • One 12-ounce package lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 5 cups boiling water
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 6 Tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • Dash cayenne
  • Approximately 4 cups lightly packed salad greens of choice, such as baby spinach leaves or romaine lettuce
  • Toppings, as desired, such as croutons, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped red or yellow bell peppers, and/or shredded carrots

Cook lentils in the water according to package directions, adding salt, until just tender. Do not overcook. Drain and shake dry over low heat.

Remove from heat and stir in the lemon and orange juices, sugar, and garlic. Add the green bell peppers, and cayenne. Chill well.

To serve, place one cup of salad greens into each of four individual bowls. Spoon on the chilled lentil mixture, not drained. Top with one or more of the toppings listed or others of your choice, as desired.

Total calories per serving: 346 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 63 grams Protein: 25 grams
Sodium: 26 milligrams Fiber: 28 grams

Creamy Potato Salad with Scallions and Chives

(Serves 4)

This is a pretty salad with rich flavor and texture that is sure to please all to which it is served.

  • 4 cups diced red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled if skins are good
  • Salted, boiling water to cover potatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives or 2 Tablespoons dried chives
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet red peppers
  • 1/2 cup vegan ‘sour cream’
  • 3 Tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar or seasoned rice vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Cook the diced potatoes in the water just until tender, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. (The potatoes should still hold their shape.) Test if the potatoes are done by piercing with a fork.

It should go in easily but still meet a bit of resistance. When potatoes are done, drain.

Let potatoes cool slightly, then stir in the scallions, chives, and red peppers.

In a small bowl, blend together the ‘sour cream,’ vinegar, and salt. Add to the potato mixture and stir gently to coat potatoes evenly. Serve warm or chilled.

Total calories per serving: 178 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 30 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 568 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Tamari-Dressed Jicama Salad

(Serves 4)

The textures and flavors of this salad are especially appealing.
  • 1-1/2 cups peeled jicama, cut into 2 x 1/4-inch strips
  • 1-1/2 cups sweet red bell peppers, cut into 2 x 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 cup sweet onion, cut into 2 x 1/4-inch pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons tamari
  • 2 Tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar or seasoned rice vinegar
  • Few drops hot sauce, such as Tabasco
  • Approximately 4 cups lightly packed fresh spinach leaves, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels

Put the jicama, peppers, and onions in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the tamari, vinegar, and hot sauce, and toss well. Cover and chill.

When ready to serve, place one cup of spinach leaves into each of four individual bowls. Spoon the jicama mixture on the leaves and top with the dressing.

Total calories per serving: 64 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 454 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Cherry Tomato, Cucumber, and Sweet Onion Salad

(Serves 6)

This recipe yields a colorful salad with a light, sweet-tart flavor. It’s pretty enough for company but easy enough to make often for family.

  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 2 cups peeled, diced cucumber, not seeded if seeds are tender
  • 1 cup diced sweet onions
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Dash pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried sweet basil leaves, lightly crushed
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons canola oil

Put the tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Set aside.

In a small jar with a screw top, combine the sugar, salt, pepper, and basil. Add the vinegar and oil. Cover the mouth of the jar with a double layer of waxed paper, screw on the top, and shake vigorously until dressing ingredients are well combined. Pour over the vegetable mixture and toss lightly and thoroughly to blend. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Stir again just before serving.

Total calories per serving: 77 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 9 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 200 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Pineapple-Carrot Salad with Citrus Dressing

(Serves 6)

This salad has a creamy tart-sweet flavor that comes from its unique blend of ingredients.

  • One 20-ounce can crushed pineapple in its own juice, drained
  • 1/2 cup juice, drained from the pineapple
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, strained
  • 4 Tablespoons fresh orange juice, strained
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 1/4 cup vegan ‘sour cream’
  • 1-1/2 cups peeled, freshly shredded carrots
  • Chopped crystallized ginger to garnish (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl and stir together. This salad will be juicy, so serve in bowls and eat with a spoon. If using crystallized ginger, this can be stirred in or sprinkled on top, if preferred.

Total calories per serving: 121 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 22 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 99 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Melon Medley with Lemon Dressing

(Serves 8)

An especially refreshing salad, this can be served as a side dish.

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • Dash ground cinnamon
  • Dash ground cardamom
  • 3-1/2 cups seeded, peeled, and cubed honeydew melon
  • 3-1/2 cups seeded, peeled, and cubed cantaloupe

In a 2-quart or slightly larger mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, and spices.

Gently fold in the honeydew and cantaloupe cubes. Cover and chill thoroughly. Serve in small individual bowls, spooning some of the liquid over the melon cubes in each bowl.

Total calories per serving: 76 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 20 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 17 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Tips for Putting Together a Great Salad

Gently but thoroughly rinse all salad greens and other vegetables in cold water. Dry thoroughly so dressing will adhere to them. A salad spinner is ideal for leafy greens, but paper towels or clean dish towels also work well. If preparing greens ahead of time, seal in plastic bags and store in the refrigerator as soon as they’re rinsed and dried.

Some salads, such as potato or bean, are best prepared ahead of time to allow flavors to meld. Others, such as tossed salads, should be put together just before serving to keep greens crisp.

Salads with varied textures are especially good because the textures add interest. Crisp onions, celery, and bell peppers are excellent counterpoints to ingredients such as tomatoes, lentils, beans, and potatoes.

Fruits make excellent salads — such as the Melon Medley included on page 29. For an even simpler one, slice fresh strawberries and top with a sprinkling of fresh blueberries or blackberries. Diced peaches or nectarines are terrific topped with a few fresh berries of choice or with halved, pitted sweet cherries. Or toss apple chunks with a little lemon juice and vegan sugar and sprinkle with toasted pecans.

Unless there’s a particular reason to do otherwise, salads should be served cold.

Peggy Rynk is a frequent contributor to Vegetarian Journal. Her most recent article was “Comforting Casseroles,” which appeared in the Issue 1, 2007.