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Some celebratory salads. June 1, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, in my post “Our salads, our selves,” I promised some great salad recipes today, and here they are.

One of the things I love best about salads is that they’re really performance art, a painless way to create gorgeous compositions of color, texture, and flavor. It’s easy and fun to create various combinations of ingredients and dressing and just see what happens. Try to remember what you did long enough to write it down if it turns out that you, family and friends really love it. And if you don’t, tomorrow is another day! It’s not like spending hours toiling over some complicated dish, only to have something go wrong or to discover that, well, it really wasn’t that good.

Salads are also very forgiving. There are so many ways to put one together that you can take a kitchen-sink approach, tossing in pretty much anything that’s lying around in the veggie drawer (as long as it’s not wilted, eeewwww). No pear or cherry tomatoes, and out of the usual crunchy veggies like peppers, carrots, radishes, scallions, and broccoli? Steam or boil some asparagus, cool it, cut it in bite-size pieces, toss it in a splash of lemon juice, and top your salad with that. Or see if you have any fresh fruit that would taste good with salad greens (there are lots to choose from, including grapes, citrus segments, apples, pears, and berries). None of the above? How about olives? Canned beans and/or corn? Anything coming up in your herb garden? Fresh herb leaves are delicious in salads. Get creative. Trust me, even with an apparently empty larder, you can find something that will work!  

Here are some of our all-time favorite salads. Won’t you give them a try? I just know you’re going to love them! Because salad-making is so simple, I’m going to simply tell you how to put these salads together rather than writing out a separate ingredients list. So easy, so delicious!

           Silence’s Red, White and Blue Salad

Start with a base of mixed greens. We demand crunch in our salads, so if you’re using spring mix or mesclun mix or baby spinach for the salad base, please add some frisee and/or Romaine for that all-essential crunch factor. Next, mix plenty of chopped scallions and some fresh mint leaves into the greens so they’re distributed throughout the salad. On to the toppings! Add (very) liberal amounts of diced yellow and/or orange bell peppers, whole fresh blueberries, and sliced fresh strawberries. Top with toasted almond bits (you can use sliced almonds for a more sophisticated look, but they won’t be as crunchy) and shredded Swiss, Parmesan, or white Cheddar cheese. Because the mix of flavors here is so complex, use a simple dressing like oil and vinegar to top this salad. We like green olive oil (it has the fruitiest taste) and balsamic vinegar on ours, with, of course, a sprinkling of Real Salt.

              Silence’s Simple Greek Salad

Bless those olive bars that are springing up at local grocery stores everywhere! Even here in the Pennsylvania countryside, we now have two olive bars within ten minutes of Hawk’s Haven. And among their selections they both feature a mix of pitted Kalamata and green olives and cubes of feta cheese in olive oil. We enjoy the olive-feta mixture as a cocktail-hour accompaniment (as Jimmy Buffett pointed out, it’s five o’clock somewhere, right?!), but I’ve found that their best use is as a salad topping. 

As you can imagine, a topping of brine-cured olives and feta can stand up to some very strong greens. This salad is begging for a base of Romaine liberally laced with radicchio, endive, frisee, kale, arugula, and spinach, in any combination.  This salad will stand up beautifully to peppery and/or lemony greens like watercress, pepper cress, and sorrel, too. You can add an entire bunch of scallions, as well as fresh basil leaves, sprigs of thyme, and/or cilantro and parsley. Mix the scallions and herbs well into the greens. Add whole yellow pear tomatoes and/or orange or red cherry tomatoes, diced red, orange, and/or yellow peppers, and, if they’re in season, paper-thin slices of yellow summer squash.

Top it all with the feta/olive mix and its olive oil base, squeeze a (seeded, please) lemon half on top, and you are very, very good to go. (Want to up the Middle Eastern quotient? If you love Middle Eastern food as much as our friend Ben and I do, and you have access to falafel patties—we’re blessed with a Middle Eastern stand at one of the farmers’ markets we patronize—you can crumble a couple of falafel patties on top of the salad for the ultimate touch.)

           ‘Mater Madness

We’re still a ways from ripe local tomatoes here in scenic PA, but we’re starting to see some actually flavorful tomatoes showing up at the farmers’ markets. Plus, it’s June, and I don’t personally give a damn what the weather gurus say, to me, the first of June is the start of summer, end of story! And summer is all about ripe tomatoes, right?!

If you grew up as I did with the classic tomato-and-cottage-cheese combo being the official salad of summer, you won’t even try to resist it. (Resistance is futile. Yum!!!) But there are some tricks you can use to take it from good to great. Of course, choosing the most flavorful tomatoes is the only way to go. Mixing yellow, green (it’s true, heirlooms like ‘Green Zebra’ are green-ripe), purple, and red tomato slices adds to your salad’s eye appeal.

Now, for the topping: Instead of putting a huge glob of mayo on top of the cottage cheese, try a more creative approach. Mix your cottage cheese with a reasonable amount of mayo (Hellman’s or grapeseed, please) and a little horseradish, jalapeno relish, chowchow, cocktail sauce, or seasoning like Trocamare or Herbamare to up the “wow” factor. Not that we’re addicted to cheese or anything, but you can also add a little oomph to your tomato and cottage cheese salad by mixing shredded Swiss, Parmesan, or white cheddar into the cottage cheese. And you can add some yummy zing by mixing chopped scallions, chives, or garlic chives into the cottage cheese. Or mix in chopped parsley or cilantro or basil leaves.

Once you’ve made your selections—and I encourage you to play with the variations!—it’s time to put the salad together. Start with a bed of kale or Romaine lettuce leaves (choose nice ones; I expect you to eat your greens, no excuses!!!) on each plate. Top with tomato slices (preferably in several colors, but if you don’t have multicolors, never mind, just go for the flavor). Now, mound the flavor-enhanced cottage cheese over the tomatoes and serve.

This is the summer salad of the South (or at least, of my part of the South), and it is good. It is specially good with corn on the cob and/or piping hot corncakes and butter and, say, green beans Southern style. And a long, cold glass of iced tea! But don’t deny yourself this luscious treat because it’s a regional specialty. Wherever you live, once vine-ripened tomatoes are available from your own garden or the store, try this simple salad. You will like it!!!! 

                     ‘Til next time,






1. ariadne1693 - June 1, 2008

We eat a lot of salads, made with whatever I have on hand, but the other day I made one that was a hit with a friend who’s also a food writer. I steamed some fiddleheads, added some good-sized shrimp, bits of radish and apple, and dressed it all with a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and dillweed. It went over very, VERY well…and now I gotta get more fiddleheads because I want some for breakfast! 🙂

Oh, yeah—that sounds fabulous!!!

2. Anna - June 1, 2008

My mixed salad garden is coming up perfectly now. I was thinking of making a nice salad tonight for my husband and me. Those little tender leaves look to yummy to pass up. They sure grew quickly. Loved your combo salad suggestions. I love feta cheese in my salad too.

Our greens are looking great now, too, Anna—I can hear them calling “Pick me, pick me!” Such a wonderful time of year for fresh salads. Enjoy!!!

3. artistsgarden - June 1, 2008

What nice salad combinations – thanks for sharing them
ummm – now which shall I try first.

Thanks, Karen! And wait ’til you taste them! This is such a thrilling time of year for beautiful garden-fresh salads.

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