The dog days of summer are officially here with temperatures in the 90s and humidity to match. It’s the time of year when a fresh salad as an entree is welcome.
I’ve always been a fan of salads as the main meal. They’re packed with a variety of vegetables and a simple grilled or roasted protein – and speak of summer.
They’re a great way to use up leftover cooked chicken or fish, grilled vegetables and to pick from your garden, if you’re lucky. Farmers markets are at their peak during the summer months, lending themselves to healthy ingredients to add to your salad.
In our house, we always have the components of a large salad and find that you can add any number of ingredients to create a complete meal.
Here are some tips to get you started.
To create an entree salad at the last minute, I have the following staples on hand: canned beans and tuna, a variety of lettuce, tomatoes (in season), cucumbers, celery, carrots, fresh herbs and hard-boiled eggs. From there you can add leftover cooked vegetables, protein and items such as roasted potatoes, seeds and nuts, pasta or complex carbs, such as brown rice, quinoa and bulgur.
Remember, to create the best salads, use what’s in season and shop locally whenever possible. There is nothing quite as delicious as a homegrown tomato in the peak season or a cucumber from the farmers market.
I recommend making your own dressing, and I always keep a container of homemade vinaigrette in my refrigerator. I remind my students that vinaigrettes are as creative as you want them to be and can double as a sauce for a piece of grilled fish, in a pasta salad or as a marinade for steak.
If you like to add dairy, cheese is a delicious addition to many entree salads. I prefer shaved or grated Parmesan, chèvre, feta and occasionally a blue or Roquefort to crumble on top before serving.
My favorite vinegars are apple cider, rice wine and Spanish sherry wine but feel free to add whatever vinegar you enjoy, keeping in mind that citrus can be used in place of vinegar as a refreshing dressing component. I especially love fresh lemon mixed with a very good virgin olive oil for a quick dressing.
As far as oils go, there are many choices and I often have at least three or four in the cupboard at any given time. I recommend a good quality extra virgin olive oil along with walnut, avocado and grape seed oil for variety. To that, you can add fresh snipped basil, parsley or mint along with a minced shallot or sliced scallions.
For a beautiful presentation, I love a composed salad, meaning you arrange the ingredients on a large serving platter with the various components grouped together. Think of tomatoes, cooked new potatoes, green beans and grilled rare tuna in a salad nicoise. The presentation is stunning.
For a more casual entree salad, I toss most of the components together and top with a protein, crumbled cheese or halved cherry tomatoes. Dressing is often tossed with some of the dish, and extra can be passed on the side.
Salad as an entree can be as simple as mixed greens, a chopped tomato and a good canned tuna with vinaigrette or as elegant as a Lobster Cobb Salad. The key to enjoying summer’s bounty is to be creative, use quality ingredients and remember that anything can be tossed in or arranged to make salad a meal.
Amanda Cushman is a culinary instructor, food writer and cookbook author. She can be reached at chapelhillcookingclasses.com.
Asian Soba Noodles with Sautéed Tofu
I particularly love this combination of cooked soba noodles and sautéed tofu but have added grilled salmon or chicken in place of the tofu. I recommend making extra noodles as they can be enjoyed warm or at room temperature. Recipe by Amanda Cushman.
1 pound firm organic tofu, halved, drained and pressed down for at least 30 minutes
5 tablespoons soy sauce or Tamari, divided
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 pound soba noodles
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 English cucumber, cut lengthwise, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons, toasted black and white sesame seeds, garnish
Drain off the excess water from the tofu and dice into 1/2-inch cubes. Transfer to a medium bowl and add 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Marinate for an hour or longer.
Cook the soba noodles in a large saucepan of salted boiling water until al dente, about 12 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water, transfer to a large bowl. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce, ginger, garlic, 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil, rice vinegar, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, cucumbers and scallions and toss well. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet over med-high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil and sauté the tofu until browned, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Divide the noodles between four large salad plates and top with the sautéed tofu. Garnish with the cilantro and sesame seeds and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.
Watercress, Arugula Fennel Salad with Grilled Chicken
The combination of fennel and watercress makes for a refreshing entree. Any protein can be used in place of the chicken, including pork tenderloin, shrimp, scallops or ahi tuna. Herbs such as thyme, basil and chives can be added to the dressing if desired. Recipe by Amanda Cushman.
2 cups baby arugula
1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed
2 bulbs fennel, ends trimmed and tough outer piece removed
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 whole boneless, skinless, chicken breast, halved, trimmed, pounded to 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 small shallot, minced
2 teaspoons tarragon, chopped
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/3 to 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted and sliced
Transfer the arugula to a medium bowl, add the watercress and toss. Set aside in the refrigerator.
Thinly slice the fennel and transfer to a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, one tablespoon of the olive oil, salt and pepper and set aside
In a small bowl combine the chicken with the remaining three tablespoons olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper, set aside for about 30 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator
Meanwhile combine the balsamic, shallot, tarragon and parsley in a small bowl. Add the oil slowly, whisking constantly and season to taste with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Turn the grill on high for 5 minutes. Grill the chicken for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer to a cutting board and slice thinly on the diagonal.
Toss the mixed greens with a quarter of the dressing. Divide the greens between four plates. Top with the marinated fennel, grilled chicken and avocado. Spoon about a tablespoon of dressing over each plate and pass the remaining dressing if desired.
Yield: 4 servings.
Lobster Cobb Salad
This is a salad that I often serve my guests, and it’s just as delicious with classic grilled chicken in place of the lobster. For summer, though, I love to treat people to something special with fresh cooked lobster. Recipe by Amanda Cushman
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 lobster, about 2 pounds
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
3 sprigs thyme
2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted
1/2 pound bacon
1 head romaine, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch strips
3 medium, ripe tomatoes, seeded, roughly chopped
3 ounces Roquefort cheese, crumbled
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled, chopped
2 tablespoons snipped chives
Whisk the vinegar, lemon juice and Dijon together in a small bowl. Add the oil slowly, whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add onion, thyme and peppercorns and boil for about 12 minutes. Add the lobster, cover and cook over medium heat until red and cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the lobster from the water and transfer to a bowl filled with ice water. Set aside to drain.
Meanwhile, cut the avocado into cubes and transfer to a small bowl. Add a little of the dressing and gently toss. Set aside.
Cook the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. Roughly chop and set aside
Remove the lobster meat from the tail and claws and cut into 1/2-inch chunks.
Transfer the lettuce to a large mixing bowl and add about a third of the dressing. Toss well. Divide the greens between four large serving plates. Top each plate with avocado, bacon, egg, lobster, tomato, cheese and eggs, arranging it decoratively. Sprinkle the cheese and chives between the four plates and pass the remaining dressing on the side.
Yield: 4 servings.