Palettes tend to change with the seasons, and in these warmer months you're probably finding that you crave dishes that are a little and brighter than the ones you were eating just a few weeks ago. This also could mean you're opting for stuff that doesn't require you to turn on your oven or stovetop — and instead embrace food that's cool and refreshing. All of these things can be accomplished with a few summer salad ideas that are surprisingly easy to execute — yet still look and taste restaurant-worthy.
Salads are great because they don't necessarily require you to have top-notch cooking skills. The best salads for the season are actually those that highlight the season's best produce — in this case things like watermelon, summer squash, tomatoes, and stone fruit — and to make them shine you don't really have to do too much. That said, if you could use a few more pointers to toss together something that will impress anyone you're entertaining (in a safe, socially distant capacity, of course), who better to turn to than top chefs?
With only a few ingredients — many of which you may already have laying around — you can make a summer salad that's anything but boring. Make it into a meal or pair with your favorite grilled dish for a luxurious al fresco lunch or dinner on the patio. The five chef-approved options ahead should at least tide you over until you can head back into your favorite local restaurant.
Summer Salad: Tomato & Ricotta
Los Angeles-based chef and food stylist, Amanda Berrill loves to work with summer's most beloved fruit (yes, fruit!), the tomato. Right now they're more ripe and flavorful than ever, which means to whip up a tasty salad you don't have to fuss with them too much. For her favorite combo, tomatoes and ricotta, start by preparing a marinade of sherry or white balsamic vinegar with 1/2 of a diced shallot, and a sprinkle of kosher salt and let sit for at least five minutes.
"Pour the shallot mixture over [sliced, in-season] tomatoes in a medium bowl and very gently toss a few times with good quality EVOO, allowing the tomatoes to marinate a bit," Berrill says. "Once ready to serve, taste tomatoes and adjust for seasoning, adding black pepper if desired. Place tomatoes on top of ricotta, bringing some of the liquid with them, and garnish with freshly torn basil."
Summer Salad: Shaved Summer Squash
There are a ton of different simple salads you can make starring raw, shaved summer squash (such as zucchini), but Chef Adam Nadel of Tramonto has been dreaming up a seafood-infused version for the menu when the restaurant opens in the fall. "We’re looking at doing a shaved summer squash with crab aioli and tarragon," he says. “It’s a light, fresh raw vegetable salad with flavors from the farmers’ market and the California Coast."
Summer Salad: Arugula, Artichokes, & Avocado
"During summer we love a light vinegar-y salad," says Chef Daniel Cutler of Los Angeles eatery, Ronan. "We currently have one on the menu with arugula, artichokes, avocado, pepitas, and parmesan that feels like a trip to the Mediterranean without ever leaving California." Finish it off with a simple lemon vinaigrette and you're set.
Summer Salad: Watermelon & Hearts Of Palm
Jim Dunleavy, Director of Food & Beverage at Eatzi’s Market & Bakery in Dallas, TX, loves their seasonal salad that combines juicy watermelon, hearts of palm, red onion, jalapeño, mint, and basil. But what takes the flavor over the top is the signature hot and sweet dressing, which is made with rice wine vinegar, lime juice, and fish sauce, seasoned with garlic, chili flake, and lemongrass.
Summer Salad: Shrimp & Burrata
Think of an amped up version of the basic tomato and burrata salad, and you'v got this dish served at Elvie's in Jackson, Mississippi. "This salad has been a huge hit and it's super easy to recreate at home," says Chef Hunter Evans. "I cut heirloom tomatoes into large chunks, add a splash of olive oil, sherry vinegar and salt and pepper. Then, I let it sit in a bowl for five minutes. Build your salad by adding your favorite greens, grilled shrimp, and mozzarella or burrata. Add the tomatoes on top of the lettuce, drizzle with pesto, and enjoy!"