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Salad Days

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Photo by Jim Flint This updated version of broccoli salad features tamari-roasted pepitas and almonds.
Try 3 tasty, make-ahead dishes for 4th of July cookouts
Photo by Jim Flint Made without mayonnaise, Mexican-inspired pasta salad travels well to picnics and potlucks.
Photo by Jim Flint Chilled melon and cucumber salad hits the spot on hot summer days.

If you’re grilling and chilling on the Fourth, you need some great sides to go with those perfectly prepared proteins.

When it comes to salads, classics like potato, three-bean and chopped are the go-to for many of us.

But if you want to try something new that is easy to make, delicious and portable, consider these three ideas for your next cookout. All can be prepared ahead, allowing you more time to have fun in the backyard with guests.

This newer take on broccoli salad is healthier, crunchy and tangy — a perfect complement to smoky grilled mains. The broccoli softens and absorbs the flavors of its creamy, bright dressing after marinating for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator

Gaining a delightful chew from dried cranberries, this broccoli salad contains neither bacon nor cheese and uses less mayo, but it’s just as flavorful as the traditional recipe. You won’t miss the bacon when you taste the smoky, sweet-salty flavor of tamari-roasted almonds and pepitas.

Mexican-inspired, this pasta salad recipe has been a favorite of ours for more than 30 years. I find myself craving seconds every time. And later, I’ll sneak into the fridge for another spoonful — and another and another.

Unbelievably easy and flavorful, this salad is made without mayo making it a good traveler — perfect for picnics or potluck barbecues. We use juice from fresh limes or lemons, whatever we have on hand. Either works great and awakens all the other flavors. We originally used bow tie pasta (farfalle), but found that small shells or fusilli (spiral-shaped) work better, grabbing more dressing and bits of veggies in their grooves and crevices.

Nothing hits the spot on a hot summer day like chilled melon and cucumber. This salad, kissed with freshly squeezed lime juice and fragrant mint leaves, will lead your taste buds in a happy dance.

I use Alex Guarnaschelli’s method for the dressing, pureeing some of the melon with the citrus-honey-oil mixture, a creamy blend that brings everything together. It will cool you down and leave you feeling refreshed.

Any two ripe melons can be used in this recipe. If you use watermelon, make sure it’s firm, not overripe. A cantaloupe might benefit from sitting on the counter a day or two to ripen before using.

The best summer salads comprise the freshest ingredients. Look for locally grown greens, veggies and fruits when you shop the supermarket or Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market in Ashland (Tuesdays and Saturdays) and Medford (Thursdays).

Try one or more of these recipes for your cookout this weekend. They’re so tasty, you might want to make a double batch to ensure you have leftovers.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Nutty Broccoli Salad

1 pound broccoli crowns

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons maple syrup (or honey)

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or more to taste

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup diced red onion

For roasted nuts:

2 teaspoons tamari (or soy sauce)

1/2 teaspoon maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 cup whole almonds

1/4 cup pepitas (hulled)

Chop the broccoli florets into 1/2-inch pieces and remaining stems into a 1/4-inch dice, peeling away any woody parts first.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, olive oil, maple syrup, mustard, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Add chopped broccoli, the cranberries and onion; toss to coat. Cover and marinate in refrigerator several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the tamari (or soy sauce), maple syrup and paprika. Add the almonds and pepitas and toss to coat. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread in a thin layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown. Be careful not to burn nuts. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.

Before serving or packing for a picnic, toss roasted almonds and pepitas into salad, mixing thoroughly.

Mexican Pasta Salad

1 pound small-shell pasta

1 small bunch cilantro, chopped

2 1/2 cups chopped green pepper

2 1/2 cups roughly chopped tomato

1 cup chopped onion

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup shredded Parmesan

8 tablespoons lime or lemon juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeno

4 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta in boiling water according to package directions while you prepare rest of salad.

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients, except pasta. Drain cooked pasta and add to bowl, mixing well. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Melon and Cucumber Salad

1 medium ripe cantaloupe

1 medium ripe honeydew

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Zest and juice from 1 lime

1 tablespoon honey

1 large English cucumber, partially peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 cup fresh blueberries

6 fresh mint sprigs, stemmed, about 1/4 cup loosely packed torn leaves

Cut the melons in half and scoop out seeds. Scoop out melon balls with larger scoop on a melon baller and place in a large bowl; you should have about 6 cups melon. Refrigerate.

With a spoon, scrape out about a cup of flesh remaining in melons and reserve for dressing.

In a blender, combine melon scraps, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the lime juice, zest and honey. The last time I made this recipe, my only lime was not so juicy, so I added the juice of half a lemon. Puree on lower speed until smooth. A higher speed whips too much air into dressing.

Taste dressing for seasoning, adding more honey and/or lime juice if needed. Refrigerate.

Toss the cucumber cubes in a bowl with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and a liberal sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Refrigerate.

When ready to assemble, toss melon balls with dressing, add seasoned cucumbers, the blueberries and torn mint leaves, mixing lightly. Serve chilled.