Simple Summer Salads

Called the Salad Lady by some in my churches, I love to bring fresh raw foods to our luncheons and potlucks. I learned to love these gourmet salad greens, sometimes called mesclun mix. My sister had married an Italian from Sicily. He loved a big green salad with exotic lettuce, and thus we all learned to love them.

Since I love to garden, I was soon growing my own fresh greens: romaine, arugula, and red lettuce. Later I added radicchio, escarole, and endive to my repertoire. At first I painstakingly gathered the young leaves one by one. That being too time-consuming, I soon learned that I could easily use a sharp knife, trim a whole section off, and they would soon grow new leaves.

Now in my small backyard I have my lettuce garden, along with my other vegetables, interspersed with my flowers. They are so easy to grow, and I love to give them away to friends who appreciate their subtle and not-so-subtle flavors.

These past few years I have taken this sharing a step further. Since some of my lettuces reseed themselves, I pot up my extra plants to share. This gives my greens-loving friends the opportunity to grow their own mesclun mix themselves. Maybe someday they too will share their greens and their plants with friends so the circle can continue to widen.

A spiritual application has begun to emerge as I have eaten my fresh garden greens, washed, dried, and bagged them up for friends, and most recently potted up the extra plants to give away. When it comes to spirituality, we can enjoy a rich experience and keep it all to ourselves. But if we learn to share it, we are blessed. Better still, we can bless others by teaching them how to share as well.

There are about five different salads that have become our favorites: basic green, spinach, domatasalada (Greek), cabbage crunch, and taco salad.

Basic Green

This salad is a tossed green salad and may include romaine, escarole, endive, and arugula. Arugula easily reseeds itself in my garden and grows through the winter. It is a very strong-tasting green but when mixed with all the others adds a wonderful flavor. To my green salad I may add cucumbers, red cabbage (though I prefer the less available but more tenderly delicious radicchio), red pepper (especially when tomatoes are neither flavorful nor within my price range), white onions, and carrots.

It is probably my dressing recipe that people ask for more than any-thing else. I grew up with a simple lemon juice dressing, and it is still my favorite. I use a fresh lemon, keeping it at room temperature to encourage it to ripen and produce more juice. Then I press it in my hands to make it soft. I start to slice it in half, just slitting the skin, and then warm it on a saucer in my microwave for 30 seconds. This allows individual cells to break apart to release the most juice. An equal or lesser amount of extra-virgin olive oil (best because no heat is used in the extraction process) is then added, about 1/2 teaspoon of both salt and sugar (my mother-in-law taught me that the sweet brings out the flavor of the salt), and then a good sprinkling of paprika.

Spinach Salad:

When I don’t have fresh spinach in my garden, I watch for nice-looking bunches at the store. Washing carefully is the key to getting all the grit out. Then I break the large pieces apart and remove the “stick” part of the stem. One small can of mandarin oranges is drained well and the oranges added to the spinach just before serving. Save the liquid for the dressing. Blanched almonds can be used if desired. I usually take my raw almonds, cut them along their seam, and roast them lightly in the micro-wave. Once when I discovered, at the last moment, that I was out of almonds I used hazelnuts, also cut in half and lightly roasted. We now almost prefer them in the spinach salad, as they are so abundant here in Oregon. Once the nuts are roasted, and it`s time to serve the salad, add the nuts to the spinach and mandarin oranges. Combining equal amounts of the mandarin orange juice, 1/4 or 1/3 cup, to extra-virgin olive oil plus salt to taste easily makes the dressing. I use about 1/2 teaspoon. Spinach wilts quickly, so make only a sufficient amount to be eaten at one meal.

Domatasalada (Greek Salad)

I’ve always loved a Greek salad! This is our standard and favorite recipe. Slice thinly 1 green pepper, 1 cucumber, and 1 large white onion. Sprinkle generously with oregano, about 1 tablespoon Marinate for as little as an hour or even less with 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and one block of feta cheese (6 ounce or so). When ready to serve, I have my standard greens ready, mix in the marinated vegetables, and then add black olives and diced tomatoes. This salad makes an elegant meal when served with spanakopita (spinach pie made with phyllo dough) but can make a simple meal with a simple crusty bread.

Cabbage Crunch Salad

This is a great picnic potluck dish. I finely shred a head of cabbage and slice thinly two bunches of green onions from my garden. Roasted almonds (like for the spinach salad) and sesame seeds can be prepared ahead and, when cooled, put into a small plastic bag. One or two packages of ramen noodles are crumbled, put into a small bag, and ready to be added at the last moment. For the dressing I use 1/3 cup of lemon juice, or 1/4 cup or less extra-virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup or less sugar, and the two seasoning packets from the ramen noodles. I put this dressing in a well-sealing jar for easy shaking before serving time. This is a salad that I like to take in bags (like my basic green one, too), the cabbage and onions in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and the other items in their own smaller bags. I also put the jar with the dressing in the big Ziploc bag. If you are going on a picnic, don’t forget a large bowl for tossing and serving and a utensil. For potluck at church I use a bowl that’s in the church kitchen. This way I don’t have to worry about collecting my bowl!

Taco Salad

This is another picnic favorite, since I tire of the basic picnic foods! All of the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and put into individual containers or plastic bags: iceberg (one large or two small heads) and/or romaine, shredded finely; 4 large or 8 small tomatoes, diced; 1 can kidney beans (the dark red are pretty); 1 avocado, diced; 1 pound grated cheese; 1 pound corn chips, crushed; 1 can vegetarian burger, cooked with 1/4 cup oil (or less); 1 tablespoon onion salt; 2 tablespoon cumin; and 2 garlic cloves, crushed. Drain juices from vegetables before mixing just before serving. This makes a lot of salad! It`s great served with roasted corn on the cob and watermelon. If picnicing outdoors, don’t forget your own large bowl and utensil for mixing and serving!

Summer salads… oh, so fresh, so crispy, so full of fiber and nutrients. Summer salads… mmm!