The Main Menu: Enjoy salad days of summer

Gone are the days when a wedge of iceberg topped with some cheesy sludge could be called a salad. Now we have creations. Salads can be a vibrant cornucopia of tastes, textures and colour, designed to please the eye as much as the palate. Mixed greens of all sorts, fruit, berries and nuts not to mention grilled veggies, fish or meat and flowers – yes, flowers – can all be tossed together with some delectable dressing to produce a delicious plate. Like a winter casserole, this summer version is a main course all in one.

Salads are usually served chilled, but with grilled additions they can be warm too. Open your refrigerator and see what opportunities beckon. The following recipes are personal favourites. Feel free to improvise and make them your own.

Everything Salad Plate
When you do not know what else to have for dinner, this is the answer. I love it with a glass of white wine and fresh baguette. My husband Jim makes this salad as soon as the greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers come into season in May. Of course, it’s even better when they are fresh picked from your garden. It is perfectly portable and for that reason makes a wonderful picnic.

4 hard cooked eggs
1 tomato, cut into chunks
1/4 cucumber, sliced
1 cup (250 mL) seedless grapes, sliced
1 cup (250 mL) thinly sliced fennel or celery
1 cup (250 mL) Clementine sections or orange slices
6 cup (1 1/2 L) fresh mixed greens
1 cup (250 mL) crumbled goat’s cheese
1 cup (250 mL) croutons (optional)

Good Basic Vinaigrette
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) good quality vegetable oil like sunflower or canola
1/2 cup (125 mL) cider vinegar
1 clove fresh garlic crushed
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/2 tsp ( 2 mL) fresh black pepper
2 tbsp (25 mL) each, Dijon mustard and liquid honey

Hard cooked eggs: Arrange eggs in a single layer in a small saucepan and cover with at least one inch (2.5 cm) cold water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Gently crack the shells; remove and discard. Cut eggs in half lengthwise. Set aside.

Salad: In a large bowl or platter arrange tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, fennel, Clementine sections and greens.

Dressing: In a food processor combine oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, mustard and honey. Puree until smooth. Makes 2 cups (500 mL), enough dressing for several salads. Keep in a jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Toss salad with about 1/2 cup (125 mL) dressing or enough to lightly coat leaves. Arrange salad in platter or bowl. Arrange sliced eggs around edge and sprinkle with cheese and croutons if using.

Summer in a Bowl
My friend Kriztina made this salad for me. It was the epitome of summertime. Visually lovely, it is bound to make your eyes as happy as your tummy.

6 cups (1 1/2 L) mixed greens or spinach
1 lb (500 g) asparagus, tough stems trimmed
2 peaches or nectarines, thinly sliced
1 cup (250 mL) each, blueberries and raspberries or strawberries
1 cup (250 mL) candied pecans
1 cup (250 mL) edible flowers such as nasturiums or pansies (optional) Note: please make sure flowers are free of insecticides.

Lemon Poppy seed Dressing
1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 cup (250 mL) quality vegetable oil
2 tbsp (25 mL) grated onion
1 tbsp (15 mL) each, poppy seeds and liquid honey
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) fresh black pepper

Asparagus: Bring saucepan of water to boil; drop in asparagus and cook one to two minutes or until crisp tender. Drain. Rinse under cold water. Pat dry with tea  towel. Cut into 2 inch (10 cm ) pieces.

Candied Pecans: Toss pecans with 1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil. Toss in bowl with 1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar. Bake on parchment line baking sheet at 350˚F (180˚C) 15 minutes. Cool. In mixing bowl, toss together greens, asparagus, nectarine slices, blueberries raspberries and candied pecans. Toss salad with enough dressing to coat lightly and sprinkle with edible flowers if using.

Dressing: In mixing bowl whisk together lemon juice, oil, onion, poppy seeds, honey, salt and pepper until smooth.

Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer

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