By Deborah Eisenhut

I have to admit that I am crazy for salad.  When I was growing up “salad” was potato, slaw, egg, tuna or bean for us kids while the grown-ups ate “fancy” Caesar and Cobb and Crab Louis salads.   But when visiting my grandparents in the south on the farm in the summers, I was always amazed at fresh leaf lettuce, fresh spinach, cucumbers and tomatoes in her garden.    As an adult I became so hooked on salads I would always try new and clever ways to make them a “meal”.  Chef salads became a favorite and by adding black beans, carrots and cheese, I could eat nutritiously with little fuss in the kitchen, especially in the south when it was too hot to cook.  Since May and June are very busy months, usually with lots of eating festivities, salads are easy and fast to prepare and always well received.

 Salads have exploded in popularity in America over the past 30 years, mainly due to improved transport of fresh agriculture and extended growing seasons.  With fresh lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and other vegetables available year round, and the increased interest in cuisine that calls for fresh food, fresh salads are easy meals or accompaniments.    Traditional salads such as the Waldorf with apples, Nicoise with potatoes, olives and green beans, Oliver salad with chicken, peas and pickle have remained on the menus of famous restaurants for years but with a little imagination, simple salads can find a fulfilling place in your meal planning and be just as healthy as a traditional cooked meal.  By mixing and matching different greens, lots of fresh vegetables as well as unusual items such as Chinese noodles, mushrooms, fresh cut cooked corn, bacon and chopped egg, you can create delicious salads, focusing in on your personal tastes.   

7 (or 70) Layered Salad

1 pkg. (16 oz.) salad greens, fresh spinach or romaine or combination washed, dried and torn in small pieces

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

1/2 cup chopped red peppers or combination of colors

2 green sliced onions, thinly sliced

4-6 red tomatoes, chopped or 16 oz. of cherry tomatoes halved

1 pkg. (10 oz) frozen sweet baby peas

3/4 cup quality mayo

3/4 cup sour cream

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

12 slices fully cooked bacon, crumbled

Optional items:  cauliflower or broccoli small florets,  cucumbers, seeded and diced, white mushrooms thinly sliced, red onion thinly sliced, can of black beans, rinsed and drained, 4-6 hard-boiled eggs sliced or diced, radishes sliced thin, shredded carrots,  fresh herbs, or different cheeses.

Use a large glass bowl or trifle dish on a stem so the layers show.  Start with greens.  add salt and pepper to taste.  Add remaining ingredients and additional ones, alternating the color as you layer.  Mix sour cream and mayo and add a tablespoon of sugar (optional).  Pour it over the salad, using a spoon to spread it to the edges and seal the salad below.  Cover it with clear wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Black Bean, Corn and Red Pepper Salad

2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained

3 ears fresh cooked corn, kernels cut off (about 2 cups)

2 red bell peppers, diced

2 tsp. minced garlic (fresh is best)

2 tablespoons minced shallots

2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. zest and 6 tablespoons juice from 5-6 limes

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves plus some for garnish

2 Hass avocados, chopped

Combine all ingredients except for avocados in a large bowl and mix well.  Cover and chill at least an hour or up to overnight.  Right before serving, add avocados and fold gently being careful not to mash avocados.  Garnish with more cilantro and serve at room temp.

Orange, Tomato, Broccoli, and Sweet Onion Salad

2 cups (8 oz.) small fresh broccoli florets

3 large oranges

2 large red tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 cup diced sweet onion

1/4 cup sliced fresh basil

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1  1/2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1  1/2 tsp. grated orange peel

Cooking broccoli until crisp tender and rinsing with ice water is optional.  Cut peel and white pith from oranges.  Holding oranges over small bowl to catch juice, cut between membranes to release segments.  Cut each segment into 3 pieces.  Add orange pieces, tomatoes, onion and fresh basil in bowl with broccoli.  Mix oil, red wine vinegar and orange peel in small bowl, then pour over salad and toss.  Wonderful accompaniment to poached salmon.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

2 (6oz) bags baby spinach

1 (16 oz) container strawberries, quartered

1 (4oz) package crumbled blue cheese

1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Quality red wine vinaigrette

Toss together red onion and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl.  Drizzle with vinaigrette; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.  Option:  replace the almonds, blue cheese and red wine vinaigrette with pecans, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.