This is the Season for good green salads.
During most of the year I prefer salads made of whatever vegetable is in season, but we are just coming to the end of the season for tender greens. I filled one of my garden beds with a scattering of arugula, spinach, tender butter lettuces, and lettuces speckled with red. There is chard and two types of kale. It is an exciting, cluttered mass of heirloom variety.
Delicate greens such as spinach, arugula and butter lettuce need to be eaten as close to the garden as possible, and so this is the season above all to enjoy them. Other than the occasional salad green purchased in the cool months from a local green house, I rarely eat green salads outside of the gardening months. Come February, I would much rather eat a salad of lightly steamed broccoli with a miso dressing, or a cauliflower and kale salad.
I like substantial salads that can form the foundation of a meal, even when using tender leaves. I like to bulk the salad out with toasted crusty bread, roasted chickpeas, or hard-boiled eggs. Sometimes I will steam heartier vegetables, such as green beans, dressing these sturdier vegetables before adding the leaves. In fact, it is often better to dress the components separately, and only combine them gently at the last-minute, so as not to bruise the delicate garden lettuce. What follows is a brief sample of our salad eating this season.
We make a variety of bread salads inspired by the fatoush of the Middle East, which often includes toasted pita. Sometimes I use flatbreads and other times I toast whatever bread is around. Our bread salad repertoire is based on the following jumping off point.
- Good fresh greens (a mix of whatever is in the garden or butter lettuce)
- A cupful of mixed soft herbs (parsley, mint, dill, cilantro, golden oregano etc.)
- A vinaigrette of lemon or red wine vinegar, garlic, za’atar, sumac, good olive oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper (sometimes the za’atar and sumac are replaced with Dijon mustard and sweet paprika, and the herbs are left out or just parsley or dill are added)
- Toasted pita, or cubed rustic bread mixed with a good glug of olive oil and sprinkling of salt. Not over toasted.
A Classic Spinach Salad
Sometimes the classics are called for. My spinach salad is tossed with a strong vinaigrette, bread crumbs or gently sautéed bacon, sometimes dill, and always boiled farm fresh eggs (preferably those sourced from my niece’s happy hens).
Spinach Coppa and White Bean Salad
This one is adapted from Nigel Slater. It is made of tender spinach, torn basil leaves, and a strong vinaigrette with thyme. A tin of Italian beans are added to the dressing and everything is tossed with some good, cured Italian Coppa.
Thai Spiced Chicken Wrapped in Lettuce
Salad greens can be integrated into the meal in ways other than a tossed salad. This is adapted from Nigela Lawson’s Forever Summer. Instead of her version’s ground beef, I finely dice two chicken breasts, and after searing them in a hot pan, I tip over a dressing of sweet chili sauce, grated ginger, fish sauce, lime, and soy sauce. After removing from the heat, I add a mountain of chopped cilantro, mint, and green onion. Serve with a big plate of lettuce leaves and everyone helps themselves by scooping the spicy chicken into the lettuce.
Just as the greens are bolting in the heat of July, we can turn our attention to the green and yellow beans, favas and zucchini and new potatoes. Eating from the garden is never boring.