Dinner salads get a lot of play at our house on summer weeknights. I love the freedom of pulling a few ingredients from the fridge, spending as long or as little time as I want preparing them, and ending up with a gorgeous and substantial salad that can feed however many people happen to be at the table that night. And if there’s a crowd (to me, that’s anything more than four people), I put them to work, too. Then I sit back, pour myself a glass of wine, and enjoy that summer breeze.
The salads here go from rustic to dressy. They offer plenty of options to please all manner of tastes, so it’s easy to adjust or substitute ingredients and experiment with different combinations. I’ve made suggestions for which of the dressings to pair with each salad, but feel free to mix and match. Just remember a few keys to making a really good salad:
Make sure the greens are fresh. Packaged or bulk salad mixes are fine, but the greens must be absolutely fresh.
Make your own dressings. This is really easy, and the tiny bit of effort makes a huge difference. Store-bought dressings often have chemical emulsifiers, extra sweeteners, and other additives that will muddy and overpower your delicious salad ingredients.
Keep the ingredients balanced. Include some protein, some dairy, some vegetables, or even some fruit.
Seek out good cheeses and deli-meats. These, as well as other top-quality prepared items, may be shortcuts, but they go a long way toward adding flavor (see the sidebar.)
Give your salad some texture. Croutons add flavor and crunch.
Dress the salads right before serving to maintain all that texture and crunch. Since greens wilt and get soggy so fast—and salads look so beautiful undressed—I always bring my salad to the table and toss it just before serving.
Go ahead, take some shortcuts
"A good salad isn't just a recipe," says Abby Dodge. "It's a combination of smart choices."
For weeknight salads, prepared ingredients can be real timesavers. Just be sure to choose top-quality ingredients that haven’t been overprocessed and that don’t have a lot of extra flavors added to them.
• Roasted red peppers in a jar.
• Bulk or packaged lettuce mixes.
• Sliced turkey breast, ham, or dry sausage.
• Take-out roasted chicken.
• Frozen artichoke hearts or corn.
• Canned hearts of palm.
• Canned chickpeas or white beans.
• Toasted walnuts or pecans instead of croutons.