Amp up your summer salads

Kathryn Rem

When Arch Bailey is creating a summer salad, he considers color, texture and taste.

“I think about a theme,” said the owner of Robbie’s, 4 S. Old Capitol Plaza, which has a variety of popular salads on the menu.

“We have a Hawaiian salad with pineapple, sliced bacon, sliced almonds and there’s toasted coconut on the side. The Southwestern has fajita-marinated beef and chicken, red onion rings, green pepper and, on the side, picante sauce and tortilla chips,” Bailey said.

It’s not hard to put together a salad for summer, the time of year when produce is at its freshest and invitations for potluck barbecues, block parties and picnics beg for a dish to share.

The easiest route is to toss lettuce in a bowl and add whatever you can find at the farmers market: tomatoes, onions, berries, cucumbers, peppers and other freshly picked items.

But if you think outside the salad bowl, you’re likely to come up with other ways to add interest to a salad. Some suggestions:

Use your grill. Throw chicken, beef, shrimp or veggies on the grate and either toss with lettuce or create a salad of only grilled ingredients.

Go over the rainbow. Instead of standard red tomatoes, try yellow or orange. Trade the usual green bell peppers for yellow, orange, purple or red. Consider white radishes, golden beets, purple potatoes and other non-standard hues for visual flair.

Eat herbs. Instead of lettuce, create a salad of basil, parsley, chives, tarragon, cilantro or mint. Mix the herbs with other veggies for a savory wallop.

Don’t forget the fruit. Watermelon chunks, melon balls, berries, Mandarin oranges, peach slices, grapes and nearly any other fruit can add color, flavor and texture to a salad.

Check the cupboards. Add beans, pasta or rice to your salad for heft.

Scout the deli. For new flavors, add meats and cheeses that you’ve never used in a salad. Think about strips of prosciutto or salami or look for cheeses from Spain or Scandinavia.

Offer an extra ingredient. Just as Robbie’s restaurant presents salad eaters with a cup of toasted coconut, a side of tortilla chips or another optional ingredient, consider giving your diners that choice, too. It adds visual interest and gives the diner the opportunity to alter the salad’s taste.

Bailey advises using ingredients in season.

“Go to the farmers market and buy your stuff fresh,” Bailey said. “If you use whatever is available locally, you’ll end up with a much better salad than if you try to make a crazy salad with ingredients that are hard to find.”

Pico De Gallo Shrimp & Avocado Salad

Adapted from Pace

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 pound extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined

16 ounces fresh or store-bought pico de gallo salsa

8 cups mixed salad greens

1 medium ripe avocado, peeled, seeded and sliced (about 1/2 cup)

Ranch salad dressing

Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and cook until they are cooked through, stirring often. Pour off any oil. Add 1 cup pico de gallo and toss to coat.

Divide salad greens among 4 bowls. Spoon shrimp mixture over greens and top with avocado slices. Serve with dressing and remaining salsa.

Makes 4 servings.

Salsa Verde Grilled Steak Salad

Adapted from Pace

1 pound beef skirt steak

16 ounces fresh or store-bought salsa verde (green salsa)

8 cups chopped romaine lettuce

1/4 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend

1/4 cup sliced pitted ripe olives (optional)

1/4 cup sour cream (optional)

Pour 1 cup salsa into shallow nonmetallic dish or resealable plastic bag. Add steak and turn to coat. Cover dish or seal bag and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.

Lightly oil grill rack and heat grill to medium. Grill steak for 10 minutes or until desired doneness, turning it over halfway through cooking and basting it often with marinade. Throw away any remaining marinade.

Slice steak diagonally into thin slices. Divide lettuce among 4 bowls. Top each with 1/4 of the steak, 2 tablespoons salsa and 1 tablespoon cheese. Top each with 1 tablespoon olives and 1 tablespoon sour cream, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Chicken Salad With Grapes and Almonds

From California Table Grape Commission

2 cups seedless white grapes

2 cups cubed cooked chicken breast

1 cup sweet red bell peppers, thinly sliced

1 cup sweet yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced

1/2 cup diagonally sliced Chinese pea pods

3 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds

2 tablespoons chopped green onions


1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise

1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

1/8 teaspoon dried rosemary

Combine grapes, chicken, peppers, pea pods, almonds and onions.

Mix dressing ingredients. Toss with salad.

Makes 6 main-dish servings.

Bloody Mary Tequila Salad

From “Texas Tortillas” by Patsy Swendson

12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) Bloody Mary mix

1/3 cup tequila

4 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/4 cup finely minced yellow onion

1/2 cup minced cilantro

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced

2 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled and diced

1 pound medium shrimp, cooked, shelled and diced

Lime wedges

Kosher salt

Tortilla chips, for garnish

In clear glass mixing bowl, combine Bloody Mary mix, tequila, lime juice, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, avocado and shrimp.

Rub rims of 4 to 6 martini or wine glasses with lime wedge. Dip into a small plate filled with 1/3 inch of kosher salt. Spoon mixture carefully into prepared glasses.

Garnish with lime wedges and tortilla chips.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Kathryn Rem can be reached at 217-788-1520.