Summer is unquestionably my favorite season, and not just because I love the smell of Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen. Summer means fresh produce in a myriad of flavors and colors and opens the door to some serious culinary experimentation. From heirloom tomatoes sweet enough to be dessert to mild white corn that is buttery all on its own, summer is a dream come true for those who believe that fruits and vegetables are fast food. Summer is also a great chance to refine eating habits: the abundance of produce makes it easy to incorporate more healthful grains as well as fruits and veggies into your daily diet. Don't think that you have to stick to steamed corn on the cob or watermelon slices, though summer produce kicks lettuce out of the limelight and stars in a rainbow of salads. Who needs lettuce?
We tested a new spin on a watermelon salad that packs surprising heat from two different kinds of peppers and a welcome coolness from rich, briny feta cheese. Chef Trevett Hooper of Legume Bistro contributed a grain salad that his kitchen tailors to the season.
We also found a salad that combines peppery nasturtium leaves and arugula with creamy gouda cheese and lush nectarines (but weren't able to test it due to a lack of nasturtiums). You can get nasturtium plants, with flowers, at higher-end grocery stores. Buy the plant if you can: It will continue to bloom through summer, and the flowers make a fantastic garnish.
Watermelon salad with feta cheese, fresh herb leaves and two chiles
- 4-pound piece seedless watermelon
- 5 ounces (1 cup) feta cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
- 1/3 cup loosely packed mint leaves
- 1 fresh hot chile, like scotch bonnet, seeded and thinly sliced
- Aleppo pepper (can substitute fresh cracked black pepper or chopped red pepper flakes)
- Flaky coarse sea salt
- 1/3 cup roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- 1/4 cup very good extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 1 lime
Cut and discard the rind from the watermelon, then cut the fruit into small pieces about 1/4 inch wide.
In a large shallow serving bowl, layer half of the watermelon, sprinkle over half the feta, and scatter half the cilantro, mint and fresh chile. Season with a generous sprinkle of pepper and crush several generous pinches of salt over the top. Sprinkle with half the pepitas, drizzle with half of the oil, then squeeze half of the lime juice over the top.
Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Drizzle with a little extra oil, if desired.
-- "Salads: Beyond the Bowl" by Mindy Fox (Kyle, 2012, $19.95)
Legume Bistro's seasonal spelt salad with cider vinaigrette
Legume Chef Trevett considers this spelt salad to be the base salad of the Legume repertoire, and it changes seasonally, depending on what produce is available.
"Whatever is in your pantry or kitchen, basically, you can add," he said. "It's a very flexible salad."
In high summer it's hard to get certain greens, and Legume's menu is hyper-seasonal and locally sourced, so the chefs focus more on what is ripe and readily available.
For home cooks staggering under the weight of all that summer produce, Chef Hooper offers a few words of guidance: "Don't be afraid to pair new things. Anything, any vegetable, can be turned into a salad."
Spelt, which is a highly versatile grain and one that is hard to screw up, is a perfect example of a base on which to showcase summer flavors.
-- Jessica Suss
- 1 cup spelt berries
- 3 tablespoons chopped dried apricots
- 3 ounces walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 2 tablespoons walnut oil or any nut oil except dark sesame
- Spears of 1 endive, chopped
- 1 lettuce heart, chopped
- 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
- 1 1/2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
To make the vinaigrette, macerate the shallots and vinegar and let sit for 15 minutes. Add Dijon, then slowly whisk in oils. Reserve 1/2 cup for salad; store the rest in a clean glass jar and refrigerate for later use.
Soak spelt berries in cold water for at least 10 hours or overnight. Drain before use.
Cook spelt berries according to directions on package (boiling in water) until tender. In a medium bowl, mix spelt, chopped apricots, walnuts and nut oil until just combined.
Fold in lettuce heart and endive spears along with 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette (more if desired).
Garnish with blue cheese.
-- Trevett Hooper, Legume Bistro
Nectarine and Nasturtium Salad with simple summer vinaigrette
- 7 ounces arugula
- Fresh nasturtium leaves
- 4 firm but ripe nectarines
- 1 cup gouda cheese, grated
- 1 cup roasted hazelnuts
- 8 small nasturtium blossoms
- 2 teaspoons wildflower honey
- 6 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fine-ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup light golden olive oil
Prepare the vinaigrette. Put honey, rice vinegar, mustard, salt and ground pepper into a small blender. Blend ingredients together to completely combine. Pour into a bowl and slowly whisk in the olive oil until thoroughly combined. Pour into a glass jar, cover and keep cool until ready to assemble salad.
Wash and thoroughly dry the greens. Gently rinse, pat dry and remove the stems from the nasturtium leaves.
Wash and dry fruit, and then with a sharp knife, cut a slab of fresh fruit off each side of pit. Flip fruit and cut the smaller sides of the fruit off the pit, too. Lay the 2 large slabs facedown on cutting board and slice into 4 uniform slices. Cut the smaller slabs to match, creating 8 to 10 uniform pieces.
Mix arugula and nasturtium leaves together and divide among 8 little salad plates. Sprinkle with cheese, nectarines and nuts and decorate with nasturtium blossoms. Just before serving, drizzle each salad with the simple summer vinaigrette.
To roast hazelnuts: preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place nuts in mixing bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon olive oil (omit if you prefer dry-roasted nuts) and 1/8 teaspoon sea salt. Toss together and spread out on shallow baking pan. Roast for 40 to 50 minutes until nuts are fragrant and lightly browned. Crumble and let cool.
-- From "Salad Days" by Pam Powell (Voyageur, 2011, $19.99)
Jessica Suss: firstname.lastname@example.org.