Eating Fresh: Simple Summer Salads

The lazy days of summer are upon us, with the warm, southern breezes coming off the bay and lake, and lots of sunshine. Along with the summer heat, we in Door County are also “blessed” with Midwestern humidity. Let’s be honest: It gets hot here! 

During these long-awaited “dog days” of summer, you can typically find me (when I’m not in my office) floating in the water or camped out on one of the beaches dotting the peninsula. I hope to see you all there.

When the heat is thick enough to cut with a knife, minimize your time in the kitchen. Keep the oven off, and transition to tossing something on the grill, paired with something fresh from the farm market – or, if you’re lucky enough, from your garden.

You know summer is here when you can stand in the backyard and smell the barbecues around the neighborhood all fired up and grilling whatever it is their owners are preparing for dinner. I love when that moment comes each year.

Healthful eating is easy in the summer because of all the delicious, locally grown produce that’s available. Preparation is easy, too: A drizzle of this and a squeeze of that enhance and release all the fresh, amazing flavors.

During the summer season, my family transitions to eating salads of many colors each day. We make sure we have fresh produce stocked in our refrigerator, waiting to be made into something delicious. 

There are so many options when you frequent all the farmers markets, and there are many of them dotting the peninsula. If you grill your protein and pair it with a different salad every day, your belly will be happy, and dare I say your waistline will thank you. 

As you prepare for salad season, here are some things to think about: 

• When using lettuce or herbs with tender leaves such as a spring mix or basil, rip or tear the leaves instead of using a knife. The steel in the knife’s blade oxidizes the leaves, making them wilt quickly and turning the edges brown. If you want the clean-cut line, use a plastic or ceramic knife to cut the tender leaves. Basil is more aromatic when the leaves are torn by hand rather than cut with a knife.

• Emulsify, emulsify, emulsify! Salads can taste great naked, but most of us prefer to eat them dressed. The magic behind a great dressing is emulsification, which you can accomplish by hand. 

Use a stainless-steel bowl, and add olive oil and an acid such as lemon juice or the vinegar of your choice. Aerate the liquids by using your wrist as you quickly whisk them together.

The other option is using a hand-held emulsion blender (this tool is tenderly known in our home as the “zee zee”). You’ll know you’ve accomplished your goal when the liquids are blended into one. 

• Salt is magic. I know I’ve said this before, but when it comes to working with fresh produce, a little bit of salt goes a long way and makes all the difference. 

The type of salt you use matters, too. Throw out your Morton because it’s weaker in flavor and highly processed. Replace it with kosher salt or a flaked salt. You don’t need much, but the kind you choose to use makes all the difference. 

• Use freshly ground pepper. Coarse black pepper is really the key to making fresh produce taste good. I love lots of pepper on most things, but for those who don’t, I recommend using at least a smidge – pepper adds zing and zip to all things. Also invest in a good pepper grinder so you can adjust the grind.

• Salad spinners are key. This is a tool everyone should have in their kitchen. Rinsing and then spinning the water away with centrifugal force allows you to avoid bruising your greens. Clean, dry produce makes a good salad great!

Cherry Burrata Salad

Photo by Brett Kosmider.

2-4 servings

I recommend building the burrata on a platter because it’s a show stopper. 

• 2 fresh heirloom tomatoes, sliced
• Pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
• Pint of sweet cherries, halved, pits removed (or substitute peaches, sliced, pits removed)
• Big bunch of fresh basil, washed and ripped into small pieces (keep the small leaves whole because they look beautiful)
• Burrata cheese, sliced into 6-8 pieces
• Drizzle of olive oil 
• Drizzle of balsamic glaze 
• Salt and pepper to taste

Start by placing the tomato slices on a platter. Sprinkle the halved cherry or grape tomatoes and the halved sweet cherries (or sliced peaches) over the top, building layers as you go. Top with the fresh basil and burrata cheese. Finish this off with a drizzle of olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic glaze over the top. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Fresh Romaine with Lemon Vinaigrette

Photo by Brett Kosmider.

2-4 servings

This is a super light, simple, crunchy salad that goes well with a fish or chicken dish.

• 1-2 heads of romaine lettuce, washed, spun dry and chopped
• Bunch of fresh Italian parsley, removed from the stems and chopped
• ½ cup olive oil
• Juice of 1 lemon
• Pinch of salt
• ½ cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
• Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the romaine and parsley in a big bowl. In a separate bowl, add the olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt, and whisk until emulsified. Pour the dressing over the romaine, and top with Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Classic Wedge with Bacon and Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

Photo by Brett Kosmider.

Makes 4 servings

Iceberg lettuce is the perfect example of farm-fresh delicious versus grocery-store produce. The first time I harvested iceberg lettuce out of the garden, I thought I was going to cry because I grew up being forced to eat store-bought iceberg lettuce. Crunchy, yes; flavor, no. These days I look for iceberg lettuce at farm markets. It’s hard to find, but it’s like gold in my opinion. Garden-fresh iceberg lettuce is what makes this classic salad fantastic.

• 1 head of iceberg lettuce, washed, quartered, core removed
• ½ cup bacon, cooked crisp and chopped into bits (optional)
• Salt and pepper to taste

Place a quarter of the lettuce head on each plate.

Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

• ¼ cup sour cream
• ¼ cup mayonnaise
• 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
• 1 clove fresh garlic, diced finely
• 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
• Drizzle of olive oil
• ¼ cup blue cheese crumbles

Blend all the ingredients except blue cheese using a whisk. Then blend most of the cheese into the creamy dressing, reserving a little for sprinkling. Drizzle some dressing onto the lettuce. (This dressing is thick, so it will drizzle down the side of the wedge.) Sprinkle a little extra blue cheese crumble on each plate, and add some bacon crumbles to each salad (optional). Finish with some coarsely ground black pepper and a sprinkle of salt.