The bounty of summer rouses an array of flavourful, healthy salads you can serve at your next barbecue or picnic.
Chef Chris Velden loves fresh salad ingredients so much he once started a garden on the roof of his downtown Halifax restaurant. On raised beds he planted an extraordinary number of herbs, such as mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, chives and fennel, not to mention vegetables such as bok choy. He grew plants for their colour as well as flavour—the rich yellows and golds of nasturtiums to appreciate along with their peppery flavour and purplish anise to complement dishes.
Velden, now owner of a catering business called The Flying Apron Cookery, oozes enthusiasm about summer salads and admits he goes crazy in the winter without them. “I love tomatoes, all different kinds, teardrops and cherry,” he says, adding that Cherry Tomato and Bocconcini Salad is a favourite. He also enjoys mixing fresh herbs with feta or goat cheese, pouring in a splash of basil oil, balsamic and cassis, sprinkling a bit of brown sugar and drizzling that over the tomatoes.
His list of salad possibilities is endless: caprese salad, mesclun greens, spinach with arugula, cucumber salad with smoked salmon, or a decadent watermelon salad with asparagus, onions, lobster and prosciutto. But despite the big world of salads, Velden says caesar salad remains the most popular in East Coast restaurants. “It’s a never-dying kind of salad, famous for tableside, but I’m not a big fan. I find it heavy.”
Velden thinks home chefs should experiment more and try something out of the ordinary. “I don’t think people are doing enough with salads,” he says. “Try new things. Go to the farmers’ market and find different greens. There are so many varieties.”
Whether from markets or our own gardens, tossing together the season’s crops is an easy and quick way to enjoy refreshing summer dining. “Summer salads are so fresh and crisp,” says Phyllis Bowles at her summer home on the Amherst Shore. She indulges in her favourite salad: greens with green onions, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and feta. She might wander to a neighbour’s garden in search of basil that she tosses with Italian seasonings, extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar . “I love the aroma,” she says. “With cold salmon on the side, that’s my favourite summer dish.”
Bowles especially enjoys mesclun—a mix of greens featuring arugula, radicchio and sorrel. “I enjoy it in Florida in the winter and then I come back and enjoy it here in the summer,” she says.
Like many East Coast home chefs, her salads are often more than a side dish. “In the summer, they make up half my dinner plate. There’s something special about going to the garden and picking whatever is there. One moment it’s in your garden and the next moment, it’s on your plate.” She considers that accessibility a bonus. “I feel so confident having my own salads here by the ocean. I know exactly where everything comes from.”
“There’s something special about going to the garden and picking whatever is there. One moment it’s in your garden and the next moment, it’s on your plate.”
Janice Harper of Charlottetown may be an urban dweller, but the salad enthusiast grows whatever she can, including cherry tomatoes, leaf lettuce and romaine lettuce, and herbs such as dill, parsley and oregano. “It’s important for kids to have a garden,” says the mother of four. “It’s like a game.” Harper also grows high-bush blueberries and raspberries, which she loves adding to salads for sweetness, along with sweet onions and nuts.
Her tastes in salad are eclectic. “My salads have evolved over the years and I try to make them become more interesting,” she says, noting that two current favourites are Lebanese parsley-based tabouli as well as a Caribbean-inspired Black Bean and Mango Salad. She adds red pepper and sweet onion to the beans and mango. She recommends making it ahead of time for the flavours to blend together and eating it as a side salad or a meal.
She has fond memories of coleslaw with purple cabbage that she served along with fish cakes a friend brought to her home. “It was a lovely meal with lots of textures and colours,” she says. “It’s different from the traditional.” Harper is in charge of salads when her extended family gather. “I’m the only one who brings anything raw and green.” Tomato salads were traditional growing up, but now she jazzes them up with goat cheese. And she often uses quinoa—the popular high-protein grain—as a base for her salads.
For Harper, variety helps ensure her kids eat salad ingredients. “Instead of serving a salad and have them pick out what they don’t like, I keep things separate,” she says. “My little guy likes cucumber, tomatoes and red pepper and the older kids will eat veggies with dips.”
Harper says serving different salads at the same time is a lot of fun. “You just never know what combination will taste good.” Bright colours, fresh aromas and delicious ingredients: the essence of summer in a salad.
Recipes featured in this article:
Minted Pea Salad with Seared Scallops and Pigs in a Cloud
Black Bean and Mango Salad
Cherry Tomato and Bocconcini Salad
Three-Coloured Sweet and Spicy Coleslaw
Grilled Salmon, Fennel and Apple Salad
Summer Broccoli Salad
Family Favourite Spinach Salad