Late last month spring snuck up on us without much pomp or circumstance. While most of us are still donning sweaters (or more), the seasonal shift means the inevitable return of fresh produce to our favorite stores and farmers markets and that can only mean one thing—salads are back!
One of my favorite childhood memories was visiting my grandparents for Sunday dinner (which is the midday meal in the South, in case you didn’t know). While the food selection was never lacking, I almost always gravitated toward the salads made from fruits and vegetables that had just been plucked from the garden an hour earlier. It’s no surprise that this time of year is when my taste buds go into overdrive. That’s why I have chosen to focus on the oft-ignored salad this month.
We’ll start with a basic salad dressing to dress up any salad before moving on to a perfect pasta salad, a spicy kale salad, and an impressive wilted spinach salad that will win over even the most anti-veggie out there. Nothing welcomes spring like a big bowl full of spring veggies, and you can’t deny the health benefits of getting more produce in your diet either.
Spring Salad Dressing
You can never go wrong with a simple, light vinaigrette dressing. It complements a spring salad without overwhelming it. To make your own at home, you only need to remember the ratio 3:1. That is, three parts oil to one part acid. With that as your starting point, you can create all sorts of wonderful flavors depending on the type of oil and the type of acid you choose.
To start, go with a light vegetable oil and apple cider vinegar, and keep your amounts on the small side until you find a combo that you’re really happy with. For example, 3 tablespoons of oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar. Add a pinch of salt, some chopped (fresh or dry) herbs, and you’re in business! Balsamic and red wine vinegar are also excellent options, just like fresh lemon juice! A touch of sweetener can go a long way, too. Just don’t be afraid to experiment; you just might discover your new favorite dressing came out of your own kitchen!
Pasta salad is one of those dishes that is best prepared a day ahead of time so the flavors have plenty of time to meld together. It’s perfect for potlucks, picnics, and barbeques, but it’s so easy that you will want to make it a regular side dish at home, too. I like the crevices in rotini to grab onto those bits of veggies, herbs and spices, but if you prefer another type of pasta, don’t let me stand in your way.
- 1 box tri color rotini
- 1 small can whole kernel corn
- 1 cup finely chopped broccoli florets
- 1/3 cup minced red onion
- 1/2 cup shredded carrots
- 1/4 cup black olives
- 1 cup +/- Italian dressing
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh parsley (dried will work in a pinch)
- Cook rotini according to package directions. Drain and run under cool water to stop the pasta from cooking any further.
- In a large bowl, add pasta and the other ingredients and toss well to mix. Add salt and pepper to taste if desired.
Spicy Citrus Kale Salad
If you thought kale was just for the tree huggers, then you really need to give this quick recipe a try. It’s flavorful, easy to make, and the citrus makes it really refreshing!
- 1 bunch kale
- 1 orange
- 1 pink grapefruit
- 2 teaspoons agave or honey
- Salt (about 1 teaspoon)
- Cayenne pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds
- Wash and tear kale into bite size pieces, removing stems. Place in a large mixing bowl.
- Cut the orange in half. Juice one half and chop the other half. Add both to bowl.
- Peel and chop pink grapefruit and add it to the bowl.
- Add honey, salt, cayenne pepper, and olive oil. Work the ingredients into the kale with clean hands for 2-3 minutes. This is an important step that goes a long way toward breaking down the tough cell walls of the kale, making it much easier to chew and eat.
- Add cranberries and almonds. Transfer to a resealable container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Wilted Spinach Salad
This salad is quick to prepare and jam-packed with flavor. The recipe is one I pull out of the arsenal whenever I have a guest who thinks they hate spinach. Of course bacon and feta are involved, which are almost certain to guarantee a win.
- ½ lb. baby spinach
- 2 slices bacon
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 small sweet onion, minced
- 1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
- Sea salt to taste
- In a large skillet, fry bacon over medium heat until crispy. Cool on paper towels and chop.
- Add olive oil, garlic, and onion to the skillet and sauté until onion is translucent. Remove garlic and discard.
- Whisk in vinegar and allow to heat through for about a minute. Add spinach and bacon and toss to coat. Transfer to a serving bowl; add feta and salt to taste.
- Serve immediately.
Michael Nolan is a professional gardener and food writer based in Atlanta. His digital cookbook, Food Camp: Kitchen Survival Skills, is available at Amazon.com or through his website, MyEarthGarden.com.