Summer Salad Simplicity

Cucumber Mango Salad (cucumber, mango, cumin, black pepper)
Cucumber Mango Salad (cucumber, mango, cumin, black pepper)

Summer is the easiest time of year to get our fruits and veggies. So many choices for fresh, easy snacks, like ripe peaches or red bell peppers. Yet, when we are vacationing or trying to savor a little quiet time at the pool or beach, putting a complete meal together is a challenge. And let’s face it, working parents are trying to juggle the allure of a carefree summer with our kids with the reality that our jobs and businesses are operating as usual! Bottom line: Food can still become a chore, and shortcuts are tempting.

Are you thinking I’m going to tell you to buck up and get into the kitchen? Prioritize your family’s and your health and get cooking?  Well, yes and no. Because your and your family’s health requires not only healthy eating but also quality time to take care of yourself and have fun!

So I have one solution to share with you today: the simplicity of summer salads. The classic “dinner” salad is as far as many people go in the salad genre. But I’m here to tell you that salads are a great way to extend any cooking you do, highlight the freshness of the summer season, and use your food prep time wisely so that you can have a little summer down time, as well.

  • Look for simple recipes that focus on whole foods, herbs, and spices. Fewer ingredients is NOT an indicator of health, but focusing on whole foods can help you to have a better handle on what you are eating. I recently discovered this 4-ingredient cucumber mango salad in the Cooking Healthy Across America cookbook, deliciously spiced with cumin and black pepper (I would never have paired these spices with fruit, so this was a fun discovery!). I added a touch of fresh basil, and it didn’t hurt to have fresh cucumber from my neighbor’s garden!
  • Combine leftovers into a salad. This will be easier if you plan for leftovers. In other words, cook a little more than you need, and refrigerate single ingredients so you can mix and match the next day. You may be able to compose a “new” salad for the next few days with the same ingredients. I threw together a little leftover chicken, quinoa, and corn on the cob (sans cob) with fresh lettuce, cucumber, and tomato… voila! Also, try sprinkling on a new spice blend to shake up the flavors.
Chicken Quinoa Veggie Salad (chicken, quinoa, corn, cucumber, tomato, romaine lettuce)
Chicken Quinoa Veggie Salad (chicken, quinoa, corn, cucumber, tomato, romaine lettuce)
  • If you are feeling more adventurous in the kitchen, my colleague Toby Amidor put together a fun medley of cucumber salads on the Food Network’s Healthy Eats blog.
  • And if you want to combine a family outing with food, check out the National Farmer’s Market Directory to celebrate National Farmer’s Market Week (ending tomorrow!) to gather the ingredients and inspiration for your next creation.

Elevate the salad to the center of the plate this summer to experience old flavors in new ways. If you are pressed for time (if?), look for shorter recipes, and repurpose your leftovers to create simple, original summer favorites each day. Have a yummy weekend!

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