What makes a great salad? Crisp greens and fresh vegetables, a handful of aromatic herbs, a perfectly balanced dressing -- and a dash of the unexpected. For many of us, salads are the focal point of a healthy diet, and there is no better time to experiment with new ingredients than in the summer, when so much wonderful produce is at its peak. Our recipe collection moves salad to the center of the table, with a dozen main courses that make the most of the season.
But don't stop here. There are many ways to compose a salad, an infinite variety of flavors to audition. Take another look in your garden, your local farmers' market, or your refrigerator and get creative -- a bowl of mesclun turns into a protein-packed entree with the addition of last night's grilled chicken, and a few radishes contribute color and crunch as well as vitamin C, folate, and potassium. (Our advanced recipe search tool can help you figure out just what to do with those mystery veggies, too.)
Keep in mind that it is easy to diminish the benefits of a healthy salad with a mayonnaise-heavy dressing, calorie-packing croutons, or that extra cup of grated cheese. Build a smarter salad by starting with the basics and adding each ingredient with care. The darker the greens, the better: Arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and watercress, for example, are excellent sources of vitamin C, calcium, and fiber, among other nutrients. And dress those leafy greens well: High-quality olive oil, rich in flavor as well as antioxidants, is one of the best bases for a light vinaigrette. Also experiment with heart-helping nut oils, such as walnut, almond, and hazelnut, and other healthy oils, like sesame and grapeseed. Blending avocado into a dressing adds richness and good fat, while buttermilk and low-fat yogurt provide creaminess and tang without a lot of extra calories.
Say Cheese, but Be Choosy
Though it can be high in fat and calories, cheese is not a dirty word. A good source of protein and calcium, cheese can make (or break) a salad. Just go easy or consider trying a reduced-fat version. Hard cheeses tend to be higher in fat and calories than soft cheeses -- then again, a little sprinkle of Parmesan can go a long way in the flavor department. Mozzarella (look for part-skim), Feta, and goat cheeses tend to be lower in fat, cholesterol, and calories than many other varieties. Read labels and use your judgment.
Gain from Whole Grains
Brown rice and whole-wheat pasta are excellent, nutrient-dense alternatives to their more-processed white counterparts and can add a toothsome element to a salad. Although they'll likely change the taste and texture of the dish somewhat, it's worth experimenting with them -- we often like whole-grain variations more than the original.
Good for Your Heart
Beans and greens can be fabulous companions. An important source of protein and fiber, beans also provide folic acid, iron, and potassium. They are low in fat and contain no cholesterol. Black beans, fava beans, lima beans, lentils, black-eyed peas: Your favorite legume can do a lot for your health and your next salad.
Hearty and Healthy
Vegetarian with Verve
By the Seashore
MORE FROM EPICURIOUS.COM:
Recipes & Menus
Epicurious.com's portfolio of dishes for all seasons, cuisines and occasions
The Epicurious Editors' Blog
Food News and Views From All Over
Delicious menu guides for the busy work week
Epicurious Technique Videos
See better approaches to preparing your meals
Assorted galleries featuring pictures and recipes from Epicurious.com