Main-Dish Summer Salads to the Rescue! 50 Recipes to Get You Through Summer
Be the boss of the long, warm days with our 50-recipe guide. From grilled chicken or steak to Asian chopped salad with tofu, we’ve got you covered.
Maybe it’s too hot to fire up the kitchen. Or maybe it’s time to make inroads into all that produce from the farmers’ market. Or just maybe the evening sky appears so vast and beautiful you want to toss together a cold meal and sit staring up at the stars. Whatever the reason, there comes a time in every summer when a big salad answers the “what’s for dinner” dilemma. Maybe even the “what-should-we-serve-to-guests” dilemma.
We’re talking crisp and refreshing yet hearty salad recipes you can make a meal out of, and there are a lot to choose from: From quick and easy to more elaborate summer salad recipes; classics, like Cobb or taco; and more surprising ones such as Vietnamese tofu and noodle salad.
Since your hardest task may be deciding what to make, start with the protein. Chicken, seafood, grains and beans, steak, or bacon: What are you in the mood for? From there you can peruse the creative styles and flavors. With so many kinds at your fingertips, salad may become the answer multiple nights a week.
Chicken Salads Around the World
When mild, versatile chicken is your main ingredient, you can be off to the Mediterranean, China and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and back to North America. Be prepared for some culinary mash-ups along the way, though. Caesar salad, for example, may have been invented in Tijuana, Mexico — by Italian immigrant Caesar Cardini, which explains the parmesan and anchovies — but these days we play it loose by adding grilled chicken and even pasta. Chinese Chicken Salad first appeared in America, and there was little about it that was authentically Chinese; same today, with crunchy and delicious add-ins like ramen noodles or fried wonton wrappers. (You can vary the concept by using a different salad dressing; try Thai peanut in the Crunchy Asian Salad, or ginger and sesame in the Asian Chicken Salad.) For another culinary leap, consider the watermelon salad below — a great choice if you’re looking for fruit salad for dinner. While it includes feta cheese and pine nuts, it’s unlikely you’d find the combination in Greece. You can grill, saute, or poach your chicken, or grab some rotisserie chicken as a shortcut.
Shrimp, Salmon, and Tuna Salads
Some much-loved classics land in this category. Think of a crisp Shrimp Louie salad with a tangy chili-sauce mayo dressing, or a beautifully composed French-style Niçoise with grilled or canned tuna, green beans, potatoes, and tomatoes. (In fact, Niçoise is a good way to go if you’re craving potato salad and want to make a meal out of it.) Then there are the seafood versions of many popular dishes like taco, Caesar, and chopped salads. A good olive oil, fresh lemon juice or lime juice, and some crunchy red onion will go a long way to giving even a simple salad a lot of flavor.
Vegetarian Grain, Bean, Tofu, and Cheese Salads
A vegetarian or vegan main-dish salad can still be plenty filling when you include whole grains like quinoa and farro, chickpeas or white beans, seared tofu, or little balls of mozzarella, in the case of the Summer Panzanella (think of it as a tossed version of a Caprese salad). Flavors here run the gamut from Greek salad (with feta cheese and kalamata olives) or Mediterranean basil and tomato salad, to Middle Eastern tahini, Southwest cumin and cilantro, and Vietnamese lime, lemongrass, and peanuts. There are plenty of good choices if you’re wanting a regular or heirloom tomato salad, cucumber salad, or avocado salad.
Steak and Ground Beef Salads
Some main-dish salads are both warm and cool, and steak and ground beef salads are among the most popular. The key to success is to keep the meat nice and juicy to contrast with the crunchy greens. Thinner steak options like skirt and flank cook so quickly they stay moist. New York and ribeye steaks, being a bit thicker, take a few minutes longer, but the marbling in the meat ensures they’re juicy. Kristine’s Kitchen takes an unconventional approach to cook the ground beef in her healthy taco salad; she goes for medium to low heat, adds water (but no oil), and cooks the meat until it’s browned. As for the greens, feel free to swap in a favorite like butter lettuce, say, for mâche (in the Grecian steak and cucumber salad) if that’s what you have available.
Bacon, Sausage, and Ham Salads
If you’re among the people who think the mere mention of bacon, sausage, or ham in an ingredient list is a great reason to try a recipe, this category’s for you. Sure, you’ll also find chicken, shrimp, and cheese in the mix, but salty pork is key to the flavors here. Think big and filling cobb and chopped salads; broccoli salad; a summer pasta salad recipe with sausage (that’s good hot or cold); and a classic make-ahead layered spinach salad.