It’s hot. Make a meal that’s light and cooling.
When temperatures rise and appetites fall, dinner salvation comes in plastic bags.
Bags of lettuce, that is.
In the decade since they were introduced, these nifty bags of iceberg, romaine, escarole, radicchio, spinach and baby greens have helped propel salads from a side dish to a main course. Last year, industry trackers reported that half of the $3 billion Americans spent on bagged salads was turned into entree salads.
Experts cite convenience and, to a lesser degree, a desire to eat more healthfully as the driving forces behind the bagged-salad revolution. Simply open the bag, wash, dry and toss in a smattering of ingredients, from leftover barbecued chicken to mangoes to grilled shrimp. Dress, and dinner’s ready.
“We’ve come to see salad as a complete meal, something that fills you up without weighing you down. And the fact that you don’t have to cut all the lettuce only increases their appeal,” says Patrick Boll, chef at Geisha a Go Go in Scottsdale, Ariz., and one of three chefs we asked to doctor a bag of lettuce into a summer meal.
Their salad creations outshine the all-too-common chef’s or chicken Caesar salads, and they reflect the diversity in America’s tastes. They also fit the bill for heat-weary appetites.
• Boll created an ethnic-inspired shrimp and mango salad over Asian mixed greens. His goal was to blend subtle flavors. “You don’t want too many robust flavors in any one salad. You do not want any one flavor to overpower the others,” he says. Along with fruit and seafood, his salad includes cucumbers, red onion, daikon radish sprouts and toasted sesame seeds in a sake-lime vinaigrette.
• Cullen Campbell of Fine’s Cellar in Scottsdale likes salad flavors to play off one another, like the sweetness of a grilled peach and the saltiness of prosciutto over a bed of peppery arugula. He added figs, almonds and goat cheese for even more contrast. “I love the way these competing flavors all mesh together in a light but filling salad,” he says.
• Joe Meyers of La Grande Orange in Phoenix shared a recipe for a chopped salad similar to one he makes at home. “I don’t have time to cook dinner every night, but I have the time to toss a salad.” His creation takes advantage of leftover barbecued chicken, which he pairs with crunchy bacon, hard-boiled eggs, diced avocados, onions, cheese and tomatoes. His smorgasbord of ingredients is tossed with bagged spinach and blue-cheese dressing.
Like all dinner salads, these concoctions are extremely forgiving. If a recipe calls for chicken but you’re hankering for beef, go ahead and substitute. The calorie-conscious can leave out rich cheeses or high-fat meats such as bacon.
Try these tasty recipes:
ARUGULA BASIL SALAD WITH SEARED PEACHES AND PROSCIUTTO
one-half cup fresh basil leaves
one-fourth cup fresh Italian parsley
one-fourth cup champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
one-half teaspoon salt
three-fourths cup canola-olive oil blend
3 peaches, cut in half and pitted
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Salt, to taste
2 bags baby arugula
3 packages sliced prosciutto
one-fourth cup almonds
one-fourth cup crumbled goat cheese
18 fresh figs, cut in half
Coarsely chop basil and parsley. Add to blender with vinegar, sugar and salt. Blend on high while slowly adding canola-olive oil blend, about 1 minute
Coat peaches with olive oil. Sprinkle with brown sugar and salt. Heat a pan over medium-high heat and sear peaches, pitted sides down, for 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside.
In a large bowl, toss arugula with dressing. Place prosciutto slices on a large salad plate. Top with arugula, almonds and goat cheese. Arrange peaches and figs around the edges of the plate. Makes 6 servings.
BBQ CHICKEN CHOPPED SALAD
6 cups (about 7 ounces) baby spinach
3 ounces blue cheese, ranch or vinaigrette dressing
2 barbecued chicken breasts, shredded
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
one-third cup shredded cheese (any kind)
one-half cup yellow corn
one-half of a medium California avocado, diced
10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
one-half cup thinly sliced red onion
one-half cup chopped bacon (optional)
Cracked pepper, to taste
Toss spinach with salad dressing. Place spinach on a plate and then line up each ingredient, side by side, across the spinach. Finish with fresh cracked pepper. Makes 2 servings.
GREEN MANGO AND GRILLED SHRIMP SALAD WITH SAKE-LIME VINAIGRETTE
For the sake-lime vinaigrette:
1 cup sake
4 tablespoons brown sugar
Juice of 4 limes
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 teaspoon garlic-chili paste
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
one-half cup rice vinegar
1 and one-fourth cups rice-bran oil (available at Asian markets)
For the grilled shrimp:
12 large shrimp, peeled
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the salad:
12 ounces of bagged Asian-blend mixed greens
1 green mango, peeled and sliced into julienne strips
one-fourth cup thinly sliced red onion
one-fourth cup cucumber slices
three-fourths cup cilantro leaves
one-half of a package of daikon radish sprouts
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
For the vinaigrette, mix sake, brown sugar and lime juice in a small saucepan. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about one-third cup.
Pour in a mixing bowl to cool. Add garlic, ginger, red-pepper flakes, mustard, garlic-chili paste, sesame oil and cilantro. Gradually whisk in rice-bran oil.
Pour one-fourth cup of the vinaigrette over shrimp and marinate for 20 to 30 minutes. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Heat a grill to medium-high and cook the shrimp about 2 minutes per side.
Combine the greens, mango, onion, cucumber, cilantro and radish sprouts in a large bowl. Toss with remaining vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Place salad on a chilled plate and top with shrimp. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds. Makes 4 servings.
How to toss up a delicious dinner salad
• Pay attention to “use by” dates on lettuce bags. Only the freshest will do.
• Look for vibrant color. Pass on packages with brown-edged or wilted lettuce.
• Bagged greens have been washed, but wash them yourself for extra insurance against food-borne illnesses. Dry well or your dressing will slide off.
• For maximum nutrition, make sure your salads have lots of color. Build the salad around what is in season.
• Main-dish salads can be packed with vitamins, cancer-fighting chemicals, protein and “good” carbohydrates. But don’t assume all salads are diet foods. Dressings, meats and cheeses can be loaded with fat and calories.
• To cut calories, use lean grilled meats and cut back on the oil in the dressing. A squeeze of lemon adds lots of taste. The more you toss the salad, the more you’ll distribute the dressing and you’ll use less.
• Keep your pantry stocked with salad-friendly ingredients such as olives, canned beans, hot Italian peppers, capers, whole-wheat croutons, nuts and dried fruit.
• Think leftovers. Build a salad around last night’s grilled steak.