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Spike your salads with fruit. August 13, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. When I think of summer salads, I think of fruit. But I’m not talking about fruit salad; rather, it’s how I can add the luscious fresh fruits of summer to a green salad to make it even more delicious and summery. Often, adding dried fruits and nuts or seeds can enhance the effect of the fresh fruit even more. I’ll give you some suggested combinations in a moment, but first, a few caveats:

* Scallions (green onions), sweet onions, chives, and red or purple (Spanish) onions all pair well with fruit. Garlic doesn’t.

* Sweet red, orange, and yellow bell peppers pair well with fruit. Astringent green and purple bell peppers don’t.

* Skip all olives if you’re adding fruit to your salad. (Olive oil is another matter, as we’ll see.)

* Fruit and heat aren’t necessarily opposed; you can mix some hot pepper jelly into your dressing to up the ante, and fresh-cracked black pepper enhances the fruit flavors (as does salt). But if you like to add sliced jalapenos, crushed red pepper, hot sauce, or another form of chiles to your salads, don’t do it if you’re adding fruit. Ditto for hot radishes; milder ones like daikons are fine. And I wouldn’t add horseradish to a salad containing fruit (though I love adding it to heat up an all-veggie salad), but a honey-mustard dressing pairs well with most fruit salads, unless you’re using melons, as long as you use it sparingly.

* Skip the serious veggies if you’re adding fruit. The mainstays of a veggie-based salad—broccoli, cauliflower, sliced summer squash or zucchini, mushrooms, and the like—will clash with the flavors and textures of the fruit. Even tomatoes have to be carefully paired with complementary fruits like peaches. Cucumbers will go with most fruits, but if you’re using honeydew, which already has a tendency to taste like cucumber, I’d skip the cukes. Needless to say—well, I hope it’s needless to say—hearty additions like corn, black beans or other beans, and grains are not fruit-friendly. (Grains are dried-fruit friendly, but that’s another matter.)

* Forego the croutons. Eeeeewww!!! Croutons and fruit? Gross!!! Ditto the fried onion strings, wonton strips, and etc. you can find in bags in the produce section. Add crunch with nuts and/or seeds instead.

Here’s the good news: Pretty much anything goes when it comes to the greens and fresh herbs you can use as the base of your salad. I would never use sliced carrots in a fruit-topped salad, but shredded carrots are usually okay if not used in excess (except, again, in a salad with melon). But arugula, Romaine, leafy and mixed lettuces, radicchio, endive, watercress, baby spinach: Greens seem made to go with fruit, especially when balanced with the tang of onions and the spiciness of fresh herbs or mustard. Mix and match and find your favorite combinations! 

Here are a few combinations to try:

* Butter or Boston lettuce with scallions, kiwi, strawberries, and grapes. Add honey-mustard dressing (preferably homemade) and slivered almonds.

* Mixed greens (try to include arugula and watercress) with sliced peaches, scallions, and blueberries. Top with a dressing of olive oil whisked with hot pepper jelly and add pecans for a delicious crunch.

* Mixed spring greens with sliced peaches or nectarines and cubed watermelon or watermelon balls. Add fresh mint- or fresh basil-infused olive oil as a dressing, with additional fresh mint or basil leaves topping each serving.

* Baby spinach and slivered red (Spanish) onions with mandarin oranges and slivered almonds. Add dried cranberries (“craisins”) for extra depth of flavor and texture, or substitute fresh blueberries or raspberries for the craisins. Dress simply with an olive oil-balsamic vinegar dressing. If you have access to specialty vinegars, like lemon or mandarin orange balsamic, experiment with these and see what you think. Basil- or rosemary-infused olive oil might also be interesting choices for this salad.

* Baby spinach or arugula and curly endive with sliced pluots (an apricot-plum cross), red (Spanish) onions, golden raisins, pistachios, fresh basil, and red bell peppers. A simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing is perfect for this. 

The possibilities are endless. Seeded sour (“pie”) cherries are fabulous in salads, especially when paired with a sweet fruit like peaches. Pears and apples are delicious in salads and pair well with walnuts and raisins or dried cranberries. Just make sure you add some savory elements (such as an onion-family member and an herb like rosemary or basil) to offset the fruit’s sweetness.

As anyone who’s ever enjoyed an apple and a slice of Cheddar or grapes or strawberries and a hunk of Brie knows, fruit pairs very well with cheese, too. When you’re thinking about what cheese to add to your salad, just think about what cheese you’d eat with that particular fruit if you were eating them alone, and then add that. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a mild cheese like shredded mozzarella. But, please, never add cheese to a melon, berry, or cherry salad! That would be a horrible mistake.

            ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

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