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Summer is the perfect time to experiment with fresh ingredients since wonderful produce is abundant at the farmers market. With temperatures heating up, salads are a welcome main course keeping both you and the kitchen cool.
We enjoy grilling on our barbecue every weekend. When grilling, I always prepare extra main course meats and vegetables for Dwight to grill. We use the leftover grilled items during the week to accent salads, quesadillas, rice or pasta.
That makes weeknight dinners not only flavorful but quick. Tonight, I’m preparing salads with the finishing touches of grilled salmon and grilled onions, both prepared on a cedar plank last weekend.
But don’t stop there. There is an infinite variety of flavors available. Take another look in your garden, your local farmers market or your refrigerator and get creative.
A bed of mesclun, arugula and watercress adds a pleasing bite. They turn a salad of today’s greens into a protein-packed entrée by adding last night’s grilled chicken or salmon. A few radishes contribute color and crunch as well as vitamin C, folate and potassium.
Build a smart salad by starting with the basics.
The darker the greens, the better: arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, kale and watercress, for example, are excellent sources of vitamin C, calcium and fiber.
Dress leafy greens well with high-quality olive oil, rich in flavor, as well as antioxidants. Olive oil is also one of the best bases for light vinaigrette.
Experiment with heart-helping nut oils, such as walnut, almond, hazelnut, sesame and grape seed.
Blending avocado into a dressing adds richness and good fat, while buttermilk and low-fat yogurt provide creaminess and tang without a lot of extra calories.
Keep in mind; it is easy to diminish the benefits of a healthy salad with a mayonnaise-heavy dressing, calorie-packing croutons or an extra cup of grated cheese.
Grilled chicken salad with nectarines and greens — Ingredients for chicken: 2 whole skinless boneless chicken breasts, 1 tablespoons olive oil, 2 scallions minced, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves. Ingredients for salad: 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 shallot minced, 4 cups shredded romaine rinsed and spun dry, 1 small bunch of watercress coarse stems discarded and the leaves rinsed and spun dry, 2 medium nectarines pitted and cut into 1-inch dice. Makes four servings.
Preparation: On a large plate drizzle chicken with 1 tablespoon oil, sprinkle chicken with minced scallions, 1 teaspoon of thyme, salt and pepper, turning to coat well. Let the chicken marinate in these flavors at room temperature, turning once, for no longer than 30 minutes. For the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 shallot minced, 1 teaspoon thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons oil in a stream, whisking. Whisk the vinaigrette until it is emulsified.
Grill chicken for 4-5 minutes on each side, until it is cooked through. Let chicken rest for 5 minutes to absorb juices. Then, slice chicken across the grain into ¼-inch thick pieces. Meanwhile, in a large bowl toss the romaine, the watercress and the nectarines with just enough of the vinaigrette to coat the salad well, transfer greens to salad plates and top with grilled chicken pieces.
Serve the remaining vinaigrette separately.