As the days get longer and the summer sun shines bright, we tend to crave fresher and lighter meals. And, if you’re anything like me, you enjoy summer salads made with a variety of tastes and textures featuring the best produce that the season has to offer.
A summer salad is also an ideal addition to any meal like a quiet lunch or dinner at home, an elevated outdoor picnic, or a wonderful side dish for your next barbecue grill out. Whatever you’ve got going on, there’s a salad for every moment. I’ve compiled some of my favorites showcasing summer fruits, vegetables and herbs alongside substantial grains and pasta like couscous, orzo, quinoa and rice. Of course, I’ll be relying on my favorite quality products from RiceSelect® to add unforgettable aroma, texture, and taste.
For your next event whether you’re hosting or attending, make sure to set the scene with a bit of fun music and one of these great meals.
There are abundant benefits to using fresh seasonal produce that’s local, if possible. If you haven’t heard me talk about it enough, just take a look at these side dish side dish recipes using spring produce that highlight some important facts about using what is in season.
The key is to find clever combinations that bring out the very best in each ingredient so you can unlock delicious flavor in your meals. If you have a green thumb and plant your own garden at home, you’re most likely familiar with some of the classics like tomato and zucchini, but I’d like to share a few of my favorite fruits, vegetables and herbs that make for wonderful additions to summer salads.
Embrace the fresh produce of the season by using:
Fruits: apples, apricots, avocados, berries, cantaloupe, cherries, honeydew melon, lemons, limes, mangos, peaches, plums and watermelon.
Vegetables: zucchini, tomatoes, summer squash, okra, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, green beans, celery, golden beets, bell peppers and carrots.
Herbs: basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives, parsley, dill, arugula, Vietnamese mint, Thai basil and lemongrass.
For me, adding a refreshing touch is all about using fruit and vegetables to your advantage. When it comes to adding in fruit, while most any can be tossed into a summer salad, I’d suggest making sure your fruit adds to the overall flavor and creates a contrasting texture. Pair softer fruits with nuts or crisp vegetables while fruits with a crunch, such as grapes, can pair with chewier couscous, orzo or rice.
Note: If you're eating a wheat-free diet, you might be wondering if orzo or pearl couscous/Israeli Couscous is Gluten Free? As they are made with durum wheat semolina they are not! However, all rice and quinoa is naturally free of gluten.
1. Cucumber and Couscous Watermelon Salad: Each slice of watermelon adds a refreshing touch to this cucumber, pepper and herb salad tossed with RiceSelect® Pearl Couscous for a hearty touch. Drizzle over a tangy vinaigrette for an added zippy finish.
2. Strawberry and Pearl Couscous Summer Salad: Celebrate strawberry season with a delicious summer salad. Using sweet berries paired with a sweet white balsamic dressing, RiceSelect® Tri-Color Pearl Couscous, crunchy pine nuts and a fresh helping of mint.
3. Thai Pork Larb Rice Salad Wraps: Salads don’t always need to be served in a bowl. Create a delicious rice salad filling made of Thai flavored pork and Jasmati® White Rice. Garnish with extra chili peppers, crunchy peanuts, cucumbers, Thai basil, cilantro,mint and lime. Bonus: Also made with white rice, if you love Asian flavors, these Vietnamese-inspired Lemongrass Chicken Skewer Lettuce Wraps are cooked on the grill and served with a homemade Nuoc Cham sauce.
Preparing for an elegant 3-course meal, elevate your salad to fit the bill for your event and create your own distinguished style. I love to essentially reinvent the classic salad in fun new ways.
4. Quinoa Avocado Citrus Salad: With vibrant red quinoa, creamy avocado, red onion, orange and almonds these show-stopping towers are a perfect elegant accompaniment or starter for your meal.
For Presentation: I place my mixture into the round or square mold, let it set and then carefully unmold where it will be served. For a special touch, I drizzle the salad and plate lightly with vinaigrette and top with salad greens like arugula or other microgreens.
5. Royal Blend Chicken Salad: The secret to this elevated chicken salad recipe is the addition of RiceSelect® Royal Blend® Rice
For Presentation: To upgrade from a traditional bowl, I love to use a cucumber ring by cutting it very thin lengthwise using a mandoline or a sharp knife. I place the mold in the center of my serving plate and insert the cucumber slices overlapping each end. I fill with the chicken salad and very carefully lift the mold and serve. I try not to prepare too much ahead of time to avoid any spillage or spoiling. Also, if you find your cucumber is not staying together, gently coat in a vinaigrette.
6. Green Goddess Pearl Couscous Salad: With a creamy herb green goddess dressing, this vibrant salad is made with incredible flavor.
For Presentation: To create a chef-style plating design, I smear some of the yogurt dressing onto the bottom of the serving platter or each plate. I toss the rest of the dressing with the salad ingredients and I arrange it on the platter with avocado slices and microgreens, feta, reserved fennel fronds and a hint of lemon zest.
Note: Fresh and fragrant herbs add a punch of flavor to any meal, particularly when they are snipped from my own garden. Summer herbs like basil, thyme and oregano are very simple to grow in pots during the warm season and make great company for larger plants such as tomatoes if planted in the ground.
A wonderful addition to a barbecue or outdoor picnic, I love to bring a salad that wows the crowd a bit more than the grilled options themselves. Pair these summer salads alongside any of your favorite grilling recipe ideas.
Pesto Rice and Corn Salad: A quintessential barbecue wouldn’t be complete without a corn salad, however this version is upgraded with aromatic Texmati® Rice, freshly made basil pesto, juicy cherry tomatoes and grilled corn cut off the cob. For an additional Italian touch, use Arborio Rice instead.
Minted Orzo with Tomatoes: Not your typical pasta salad, this dish uses orzo infused with flavor combined with fresh mint and cherry tomatoes. Still wondering, what is orzo? It's a small pasta that is often confused with rice but makes for wonderful skillet dishes and pasta salads alike.
Turmeric Couscous Salad with Chicken Shawarma: Layered with incredible Middle Eastern flavors, RiceSelect® Pearl Couscous with Turmeric is tossed with all kinds of flavor and texture with fresh cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, mint, parsley and a lemon vinaigrette with seasoned chicken, halloumi and tahini.
Couscous and Swiss Chard Tabbouleh: An exuberant mash-up of flavors, and textures, this bright-green summer salad tastes incredible next to any of your favorite grilling dishes.
My mouth is already watering just thinking about all of these delicious and hearty salads! Try any of these options for your next event, or simply start with RiceSelect® grains or pasta with fresh produce and build your own salad from there.