Simple garden salads are always welcome on my table, but in the summer, I crave salads with bright, colorful vegetables like corn, squash, peppers, green beans, and tomatoes. The key to these salads is to use vegetables that need little or no cooking, and to cut vegetables on a sharp diagonal or into thin matchsticks—there’s something about a nice, long cut that makes almost any vegetable look elegant. Add lots of herbs and a tangy, garlicky vinaigrette, and you’ll get a fresh, substantial side dish with a lively, seasonal feel that feels much lighter than a pasta or potato salad.
Fresh vegetables and herbs, garlic, and vinaigrette are key
Vegetables that need little or no cooking are the best choice for summer salads. They should be firm and crisp, with nice taut skin. Use avocados and tomatoes while they’re ripe but still firm.
Generous amounts of fresh herbs are major flavor elements of these salads, not just a sprinkle for color. Use herbs while they’re fresh and perky. Treat them gently and use a sharp knife when chopping them or the leaves will bruise and turn black.
Garlic cloves mashed to a paste add a tasty kick. I use a large granite mortar and pestle to pound the cloves to a paste, but you can also use the flat part of a chef’s knife to mash the garlic. A pinch of kosher salt helps the process along.
Vinaigrettes with a bright edge tie the salad together. To stand up to vegetables—especially raw vegetables—your vinaigrette should be relatively assertive, and that means using a bright acid. Try combining fresh citrus juices and different vinegars.