First things first, don’t call a dish a “salad.” Most kids don’t like salad or the thought of a salad. Try something more fun like, “We’re having a cherry tomato surprise!” Most kids like surprises.
Next, let them get involved. For this particular easy late-summer dish, even the tiniest hands can help. I slice the tomatoes and my 2-year-old puts them into a bowl. Same goes for the basil. I handle the onions (and more on this in a second), then our 4-year-old adds the olive oil and helps to gently stir.
So the onions. Yes, I left in the long slices of red onion. I know most kids don’t like onions, but there are usually two ways to approach this: Make the onions so small kids won’t see and taste them or make them big enough to easily avoid. We went with the latter. And it worked.
The key to enjoying a salad as an entree is making sure you beef up the dish with more than just leafy greens, croutons and dressing. Hearty protein, plus cheese, vegetables, olives and eggs, turn a simple salad into a complete lunch or dinner. But when you remove the meat from the plate, finding substitute ingredients can be challenging and often leads to an unsatisfying meal. Food Network Magazine, however, reinvented the chef’s salad — one such main course salad traditionally packed with deli meats — into a meatless plate that won’t leave you disappointed.
Instead of turkey, ham or chicken, the star protein in Food Network Magazine’s Vegetarian Chef’s Salad (pictured above) is tofu, either your favorite smoked or baked variety. Tender roasted mushrooms add an earthy flavor, while crisp-tender wax beans — conveniently cooked in the same pot of hot water used to hard-boil the eggs — and prepared beets add texture. Puree a few of the remaining roasted mushrooms with tangy plain yogurt, olive oil and vinegar to prepare a smooth topping, then mix the topping with the greens, and assemble the vegetables, eggs, cheddar cheese and crunchy sunflower seeds on top for a classic chef’s salad presentation.
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My kids don’t like salad. In fact, every time they see lettuce, or fresh herbs for that matter, on anything, I hear the same thing from the pink booster seat section of the dining room: “Salad!? I don’t like salad!” But if you’re trying to get kids to eat (and at some point enjoy) fresh and healthy foods, it’s all about repetition — sometimes with a twist. I bought these Japanese vegetable cutters online for less than four bucks, and they’ve been worth their weight in gold. Here, simple carrots and cucumbers get a new look in seconds — and make this spinach salad suddenly appealing.
I’m no fool; I know a star-shaped carrot will get you only so far, but I’m just trying to get the kids engaged. Pique their interests. If it takes a heart or a star to pull off a spinach salad for the under-five set, I’m in.
Each summer I choose a salad that will become my go-to barbecue and party contribution for the season. One year I spent three months making variations of potato salads (my husband really liked that year). The next time around, I declared that it was to be the summer of slaw and ended up shredding cabbage, carrots, beets and kohlrabi well into the fall. The year I got married, I was all about quinoa salads.
I find that I really appreciate having a particular genre of salad to work with each year, as it gives me some structure (always a good thing in a busy life), but also allows me to explore the many different varieties that each kind of salad embodies. There’s a great deal of pleasure in trying on different combinations and seeing how the various flavors mix and marry.
Recently I decided that the summer of 2013 is going to be all about panzanella. This is a traditional Italian salad that stars cubes of toasted stale bread and often features tomatoes and a variety of other crunchy, savory things. It can be made with grilled vegetables, sweet potatoes and even chicken or tofu (I do love a salad that can become a full meal).
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Filled with fresh vegetables and crumbled feta cheese, this week’s Most Popular Pin of the Week is a go-to pasta salad dressed with a simple mixture of lemon juice and mustard.
For more everyday recipe inspiration, visit Food Network’s Let’s Cook: Recipe of the Day board on Pinterest.
Get the recipe: 30-Minute Lemon Pasta Salad
I learned to make basic vinaigrettes when I was in my early 20s. It was my first summer in Philadelphia and I was living alone in my grandmother’s old apartment. She had always been more of an entertainer than a cook, so my inherited kitchen featured every kind of cocktail glass, but not much in the way of durable cookware.
Her library of cookbooks was equally paltry. There was a community cookbook compiled to raise funds for the Philadelphia Orchestra, a coffee table tome from local celebrity chef Georges Perrier and a copy of the The Frog Commissary Cookbook (the Frog and the Commissary had been a pair of innovative Philly restaurants in the ’70s and ’80s that my grandmother had loved).
I found that I never had much use for those first two volumes, but Frog Commissary rapidly became my cooking primer. I turned to it at least once a week for guidance on soups, salads, muffins and desserts. I was most drawn to the 15 pages of vinaigrettes and dressings because the recipes were written clearly and gave me nearly endless options for improving my salads. I learned how to make a basic vinaigrette and how to enhance it with herbs, spices and aromatics. Eleven years later, the things I absorbed from that book stay with me.
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If you’ve ever been to New York City, then you know there is no shortage of delis and markets in the city, at least some version of them studding seemingly every street corner in Manhattan. Along with ready-to-go products like bags of chips, boxes of cereal and bottles of soda, a now-signature sight at many of these stores is a bountiful salad bar, one that’s a far cry from the spreads of tepid romaine and vegetables from the past.
While visiting New York, the Pioneer Woman and her daughter grabbed lunch from one of these salad bars, known for a wide array of crisp greens, fresh produce, quality cheeses, nuts and dressings. After picking out their favorite mix-ins, they watched as the ingredients were quickly tossed, then hand-chopped into a wholesome meal. Ree’s daughter Alex was so inspired by the salad she ordered there that when Ree returned to their Oklahoma ranch, she re-created the experience for her daughter at home.
Video: Watch Ree make the salad
How many times have you gone to a restaurant with a deliciously full menu of tempting offerings only to order that healthful, lower-calorie salad you think you should eat instead of what you really want? At the end of the meal, you’re still craving fettuccine Alfredo and now are a bit cranky because that bowl of lettuce leaves just didn’t fill you up, right? The same scenario likely plays out at home, too, as you wrestle with hankerings for pizza and instead tuck into an everyday tossed salad.
Now that the healthy-eating season is in full swing and it seems like everyone is committed to making smarter food and fitness choices in the New Year — well, at least in the month of January — it’s time to master the entree salad: that flavor-packed dish of not just lettuce and lemon juice but also other, more filling ingredients that surely won’t leave you feeling deprived. The key to enjoying a salad as a meal is to incorporate creamy cheeses, crisp vegetables, crunchy crackers, good-for-you grains and just about anything else you have on hand so that it becomes something substantial that you look forward to eating.
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My Grandma Bunny was known for her spinach salad. It was one of her most regularly requested recipes by friends and made an appearance on her table at nearly every family gathering. She would search out adolescent leaves, wanting greens that would relax upon dressing and tossing, but not wilt immediately. Palm-sized leaves were avoided, as they were too old to be eaten without the application of heat.
Once the right spinach was chosen, it was washed carefully (I think this was in part to give an eager grandchild an opportunity to help). I’d climb up on a stool next to the kitchen sink and swish the leaves around until Bunny was certain they’d released all their grit. Once they were clean, she’d shake off the big droplets and heap them into a large pillowcase that was fitted with a drawstring. She’d take the pillowcase outside and twirl it around over her head. More efficient than a salad spinner and far more entertaining for small children.
Then it was time to make the dressing. It started with a few slices of minced bacon and ended with slices of mushrooms, cooked until tender but not rubbery. That, along with slivered red onions, a little red wine vinegar, salt and pepper finished the salad. It was warm, savory and still wonderfully crisp.
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Summer cooking is all about choosing the lightest, brightest, most in-season ingredients and letting them shine in simple recipes. Whether you shop at a farmers’ market or neighborhood grocery store, look for the freshest summer produce and let that determine what you make for dinner. Check out a few of Food Network’s favorite summer salads below and visit our Summer Produce Guide for more fresh ideas.
With only a handful of ingredients, Food Network Kitchens’ Fresh Corn Tomato Salad (pictured above) is a refreshing no-cook dish that can be made in only 30 minutes. Because the cherry tomatoes and husked corn are eaten raw, they’ll pop with deliciously juicy sweetness and that just-ripened taste. Add chunks of cool mozzarella cheese for an indulgent bite and dress with a simple vinaigrette and lots of torn basil before serving.
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