Kitchen Confidence column: Create sensational summer salads | VailDaily.com

Kitchen Confidence column: Create sensational summer salads

Tom Castrigno
Kitchen Confidence

i know spending less time in the kitchen is high on my list when the weather is nice outside. For many people, not cooking equals, well, you guessed it — salad. Now don't think of this as a cop out; think of it as an opportunity to increase the variety of vegetables you eat. Let's see how you can take this staple to a new level. What variations could you play upon? How can you make a salad a satisfying meal? And how can you make your salad sensational?

Lets start with variations. The simplest way to do this is with the greens you choose. My wife, Kathy, likes to have two to three different greens in her salads. Take a break from spring mix and try arugula. Arugula can seem too bitter to some people, so you rookies can cut it with a little romaine if you need to. Shredded cabbage gives a nice crunchy texture, so try adding some of that. Belgian endive and radicchio make nice accents. For power greens, there is no better choice than kale or spinach. Be sure to choose a tender variety of kale such as Russian Red and cut it up small.

How can you turn a salad into a satisfying meal? Well, beyond the horizon of green salads lies a family of what I call protein salads. Some of my favorites are curried chicken salad, spicy tuna salad, classic egg salad and, for vegetarians, Asian tempeh. Each of these will add calories to make the salad more substantial. Just place a scoop or two on the side of the plate. Certain vegetables pair especially well with each protein salad. With the chicken, red bell pepper complements the curry flavor. Cucumber is a natural choice for the tuna, and a ripe heirloom tomato will enhance the egg salad.

Beyond those key pairings, it's hard to go wrong with adding avocado, carrot, mushrooms, radish, red onion or zucchini. From A to Z, if it tastes good uncooked, toss it in. Ready to go even further? Nuts such as sliced almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds or candied walnuts add quality fats. Sprinkle on some goat cheese or Belgian feta while you are at it.

Now it's time to give your creation true life. To make it sensational, try moving away from the standard "tossed salad," where everything is tossed together and all the "goodies" inevitably end up at the bottom, and allow the arrangement of the salad to have a unique look each time. To give them a special appeal, try grouping some of the ingredients together along the edge of the plate. Cucumber slices, for example, look more interesting laid in a row then lost under a bed of greens. One way to group an item is to make a center piece for your salad out of it. Fan out carrot slices and set them on end in the middle of the salad to give it some extra height. If there will be cheese included, such as a merlot Bellavitano, be sure to show off any colorful rinds.

Finally, apply dressing strategically by pouring it so it flows underneath all those beautiful, colorful veggies. You wouldn't want to hide everything under a blanket of creamy dressing, now, would you?

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So when you are ready to step away from the stove, get serious about salad. Set an intention to give it lots of variety. Add in a protein element to make it satisfying. Spend a few minutes arranging the plate to look so great you'll want to show it off to all your friends. With a little practice, I know you will create something sensational.

Tom Castrigno, of Frisco, cooks and writes about food. Castrigno has several of his books on Amazon and writes a blog called The Confidence Diet at theconfidencediet.com. Send comments to tom@amobilechefco.com.