Vibrant colors. Tangy flavors. Crunchy textures. When temperatures sizzle, there’s nothing quite as delightful and refreshing as a summer salad.
“Summer salads have a light, fresh pop to them,” says Eric Wadlund, executive chef at Spencer’s Restaurant in Palm Springs. “It starts with the crunch of green vegetables, such as lettuce, broccoli, and green beans. Then add color with corn, peppers, and tomatoes, plus the fruity goodness of oranges, pineapples, grapefruits, and other produce. These are the perfect ingredients for a delicious summer meal.”
“I like to capture the flavors fresh from the garden, then apply technique to enhance the produce while preserving its natural essence,”
says Jimmy Schmidt, executive chef at Morgan’s in the desert at La Quinta Resort & Club.
“Summer salads make you feel lighter,” says Bernard Dervieux, executive chef and owner of Cuistot in Palm Desert. “When the weather turns warm, eating fresh and light is good for the body and the digestive process.”
“Tomatoes jump out in the summer,” Schmidt says. “I use them freshly picked and ripened. Refrigeration kills their nutritious profile and their taste. Once a tomato is refrigerated, it goes to sleep and never wakes up. So eating freshly picked produce is the best way to glean the optimum nutritional benefit, as well as preserve the flavor.”
All three chefs agree that summer salads prepared as a side dish for an entrée that includes a little protein, such as grilled fish or chicken, are filling alternatives to heavier meals. Other sources of protein that enhance a salad’s “crunch factor” are nuts and seeds, such as pecans, slivered almonds, and sunflower seeds.
“Summer has more sweet flavors and enhancing acids going on,” Schmidt notes.
“I like to use citrus in my summer salads,” Wadlund says. “Acid brings out other flavors and intensifies the mix of all the ingredients.”
“Fruit in many of my summer salads is a definite must,” agrees Dervieux. “Fruit can complement the other flavors in the salad, creating a dish that is as sublimely satisfying as it is refreshing.”
For their summer-salad creations, all of the master chefs agree that there’s nothing better than buying fresh, organic, and local ingredients whenever possible.
“The produce is so much better in the summer,” Wadlund says. “I especially like to use spring peas, leeks, tomatoes, corn, and avocados.”
“Every Wednesday there’s a farmers market going on right outside the restaurant,” Dervieux says. “Whatever is fresh that day also dictates what the salad will be.”
DRESSING THE SALAD
The nutritious goodness and low-calorie content of a salad can become quickly annihilated with a heavy, creamy dressing. Light oil combined with a variety of citrus juices and pulp or wine vinegars enhances a salad’s flavor and texture without much fat. Salt, pepper, garlic, and other seasonings (such as dill, basil, and mint) add pizzazz.
“I enjoy making vinaigrettes all year; but in the summer, I prefer the clean, nutritional flavors captured by emulsions,” Schmidt says. “Vinaigrettes are one part vinegar to three parts oil. In emulsions, it’s three parts vegetable solids and juices with acid, such as red wine or sherry vinegar, combined with one part oil. The texture made from the blending of the juice, an acid and the pulp, with a lacing of the oil creates a full, natural flavor that is refreshing.”
“In the summer, I love to use citrus,” Wadlund says. “A vinaigrette made with olive oil, mustard, and citrus juices is sublime.”
“Simple is sometimes the best,” Dervieux says. “You can never go wrong with a tasty, good-quality balsamic vinaigrette and extra virgin olive oil. Then just add salt and pepper to taste. Et voilà!”
When temperatures are up and you don’t want to add to the heat by turning on your stove, why not take a tip from these local chefs and get creative with the abundance of fresh fruits, leafy greens, raw vegetables, and other tasty additions available to make that perfect cool, delicious, nutritious summer salad.
BAJA SHRIMP SALAD
Eric Wadlund, Spencer’s Restaurant, Palm Springs
20 Gulf white shrimp
1 T. Italian seasoning
1 t. sea salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1 t. canola oil
8 c. Romaine hearts, end cut off and julienne cut, washed and spun dry
1 1/2 c. corn kernels (cooked)
1 1/2 c. tomatoes, medium diced
2 avocados, cut in half end-to-end, shelled, and fan cut
2 c. corn tortilla strips, tri-colored and fried
6 oz. tequila-lime dressing (recipe follows)
Light the grill and turn heat to medium-high. In a 4-quart mixing bowl, combine shrimp, seasonings, and oil. Once the grill is hot, grill the shrimp 2-4 minutes on each side.
In an 8-quart mixing bowl, combine the Romaine hearts, corn, and tomatoes. Place the mixture on salad plates. Garnish each with an avocado fan and tortilla strips. Top with grilled shrimp. Drizzle with tequila-lime dressing and serve immediately.
4 egg yolks
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
4 anchovies, puréed
1 c. canola oil
2 T. lime juice
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. tequila
2 t. Worcestershire sauce
1 t. Kosher salt
1/2 t. black pepper
Process egg yolks in a food processor until creamy. Add mustard, garlic, and anchovies. Mix, slowly incorporating half the oil. Mix in half the lime and lemon juice and mix. Mix in the remaining oil, lime juice, lemon juice, and tequila. Mix in Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.
SUMMER SPINACH SALAD
Bernard Dervieux, Cuistot, Palm Desert
1 bag fresh spinach
1 c. radicchio
1 c. Boston lettuce
1/2 c. candied pecans (recipe follows)
1 c. Roquefort cheese chip (or slices)
2 Asian pears, sliced
2 oranges, peeled and separate into wedges
1 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 /4 c. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, toss spinach, radicchio, and lettuce. Add pecans. Combine dressing ingredients and drizzle over salad. Toss. Divide among four salad plates and garnish with Roquefort chips, pear slices, and orange wedges. Serve with a crusty French baguette.
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. pecans
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put pecans on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven approximately five minutes. Meanwhile, stir water and sugar together in a saucepan. Turn on stovetop burner to medium-high heat. Do not stir mixture. Once the mixture has turned thick and dark brown, pour it into a bowl and toss the pecans into it. Using a fork, evenly coat pecans on both sides. Place parchment or wax paper under a wire rack; spread pecans on rack to cool.
HEIRLOOM TOMATO, ARUGULA, AND PARMESAN CRISP SALAD
Jimmy Schmidt, Morgan’s in the desert, La Quinta
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
3 medium red, orange, yellow, and green heirloom tomatoes (core removed, seeded, and cut into 8 wedges each)
2 T. sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 c. sherry or red wine vinegar
1/4 c. garlic oil
smoked sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 c. baby arugula
1/2 c. fresh basil, cut into long, thin strips
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
On a parchment-lined sheet pan, thinly spread 1 T. of Parmesan to form a circle. Repeat with the remaining cheese until you have 16 circles. Place on lower rack of oven, baking until lightly brown and crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.
To make emulsion, combine four tomato wedges, sun-dried tomatoes, and sherry or vinegar in blender and purée until smooth. With blender running, slowly drizzle in garlic oil until frothy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. In a bowl, combine tomatoes and emulsion to coat.
On serving plates, alternate remaining tomato wedges (red, orange, yellow, and green) emanating from the center of the plates. Season generously with smoked salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, combine arugula, basil, and crumbled Parmesan crisps (save four rounds to top salads) with a little tomato emulsion, tossing to coat well. Mound salad mixture on top of tomatoes, place a Parmesan crisp on top. Serve immediately.