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8 cool recipes that turn hot summer days into salad days – Tricks and Tips

8 cool recipes that turn hot summer days into salad days

For hot summer days, sometimes a cool salad is all you feel like preparing or eating. Tossing any kind of greens – lettuce, kale, spinach – with whatever type of ingredient you have in your kitchen, including fruits, veggies, meats or pasta, can make a meal that’s nutritious and colorful. Of course, in the South, we’re also fond of our “congealed salads,” a fancy name for gelatin mixes with fruit, whipped topping, nuts and any number of other ingredients that are a mainstay of holiday gatherings or potluck suppers.

But don’t stop there. Think beyond lettuce and Jell-O. “I want to encourage your readers to be adventurous when it comes to making their salads,” says Tera Glenn, regional extension agent II for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. “Sometimes we can get in a rut and use the same old ingredients every time we make our salads. Take a chance on an ingredient that you are not quite sure about.”

To save time (as it can be very time-consuming to chop up your veggies and prepare all of the ingredients at once), Glenn suggests doing a little prep work at the beginning of the week. “Go ahead and have all of your ingredients chopped up and ready to go, so it’s easy to throw together when it is time to prepare the salad,” she says. “Salads are a great way to pack a variety of nutrients and minerals all into one meal.”

Mixing it up

Here are Glenn’s tips for making salads special:

  • Change up your greens. Don’t be afraid to mix different types of greens together.
  • To bulk up your salad, add in your favorite grain (quinoa, brown rice, wild rice) or even pasta.
  • Pack your salad full of veggies. To save money, be sure to buy veggies in season.
  • For extra flavor, toss in your favorite fruit – strawberries, blueberries and oranges.
  • To make your salad more filling, add protein (chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon, shrimp, eggs).
  • Beans or peas can also be a great addition. Glenn often adds chickpeas to salad, and it’s common to add snow peas or sugar snap peas.
  • Add a little crunch to your salad with your favorite nuts and seeds.
  • If you have the extra time, make your own salad dressings from ingredients you have in your pantry or refrigerator. (When choosing store-bought dressing, pay attention to how much you are using, because they can be very high in sugar, fat and salt: If you make your own dressing at home, you can control your ingredients.)
  • Use fresh herbs and spices for extra flavor.
This Italian Tortellini Salad with homemade dressing is anything but boring. (The Buttered Home)

Italian Tortellini Salad

Salads don’t have to be boring. A good salad is like a great pair of pants: You can add anything to them to make them more stylish. This Italian Tortellini Salad is proof of that. If you love the flavors of cured Italian meats paired with creamy pasta, this salad is for you. And we show you how easy it is to make a delicious homemade dressing to complete the meal.

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 3 cups green leaf lettuce
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup chopped pepperoni
  • ½ cup chopped hard salami
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • 1 pound package frozen cheese tortellini, cooked to package directions
  • ¼ cup shaved Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded or shaved
  •  2 tablespoons chopped basil

For the dressing:

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Instructions

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and cool. Chop lettuce, tomatoes, pepperoni, salami and onion. Combine vegetables, salami, pepperoni, shredded mozzarella and shaved or grated Parmesan in a large bowl with pasta and toss. Mix vinegar, salt, pepper, lemon juice and garlic. Drizzle in olive oil and whisk or shake in a jar to combine. Pour over salad and toss until all is covered. Garnish with more shaved Parmesan and chopped basil.

Brooke Burks, The Buttered Home

A dislike for waste led Jimmie Lou Horton Carpenter to create this Watermelon Salad. Her granddaughter, Angela Bradley, still swears by it today. (Brooke Echols / Alabama Living)

Watermelon Salad

Angela Bradley’s grandmother, Jimmie Lou Horton Carpenter, never wanted to waste any food, so using up all the meat in a watermelon was important to her. “We cut the meat out of the rind and put in bowls, but it would start to dry out, so she started making this salad,” Bradley says. “She was fearless that way. Even if she had never heard of something, never seen it or ate it, she would try it. The recipe would fluctuate now and then to include what was in season, or on sale at the IGA.” The salad, made zesty with the addition of lemon juice and cayenne adding a kick, is still something Bradley makes, “especially when melons are in season. There always seems to be more than you can eat, so it’s a great way to keep it from going to waste. I like to serve it best after a big meal like Sunday dinner or a barbecue. It’s better than a pie or cake on a hot day.”

Ingredients

  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons honey (or substitute blue agave syrup)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
  • 1 pound strawberries, stemmed and quartered
  • 3 cups seedless watermelon, cubed
  • 1 pineapple, peeled, cored and cut in chunks

Instructions

Whisk together lemon juice, honey, salt and cayenne. Toss with fruit and chill at least one hour.

Angela Bradley

Fresh Apple Salad

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 2 large red apples, unpeeled
  • 1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks, reserve juice for dressing
  • 2 cups seedless green grapes
  • 1½ cups toasted pecans
  • 1-2 teaspoons poppy seeds

For the dressing:

  • Pineapple juice reserved from salad
  • ¼ cup margarine
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup mayonnaise or ½ cup mayonnaise and ½ cup plain yogurt

Instructions

Make dressing first. Combine pineapple juice, margarine, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan, heating to a boil. Combine cornstarch and water to make a paste and add to hot mixture. Cook until thick and smooth. Chill completely, then stir in mayonnaise or mayonnaise and yogurt.

Chop apples and grapes (green apples and red grapes also work). Toast the pecans and cool. Mix apples, pineapple chunks, green grapes and poppy seeds. Pour in prepared dressing and mix well. Top with pecans.

Joyce Gibson

A special dressing helps this Chicken Salad from Karen Turnquist really stand out. (Brooke Echols / Alabama Living)

Chicken Salad

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 3 cups chicken, cubed
  • ½ red onion, chopped
  • 1 package green grapes, sliced in half
  • 2 avocados, peeled and cubed
  • ½ cup walnuts

For the dressing:

  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 2½ tablespoons orange marmalade
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 1-2 dashes pepper
  • 1 dash salt

Instructions

Combine the chicken, red onion, grapes, avocado and walnuts in a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing on the mixture to your liking and toss gently. Cook’s note: The dressing is also good brushed on steaks or ribs and chicken while cooking.

Karen Turnquist

Roasted Cauliflower Summer Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 12-ounce bag cauliflower, chopped (or chop your own into small pieces)
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • ½ cup Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • ¼ cup fresh Parmesan, grated
  • Handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Red pepper flakes, optional

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chopped cauliflower on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast cauliflower approximately 20-30 minutes, or until cauliflower is slightly golden. Add cooked cauliflower to a large serving dish and add the other ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Kathy Phillips

Coke Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 large box cherry Jell-O
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • 1 20-ounce Coca-Cola
  • 1 large can crushed pineapple, drained, but reserve juice
  • 1 large jar maraschino cherries, sliced and drained, but reserve juice
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped

Instructions

Pour reserved cherry juice and reserved pineapple juice in a pan and bring to a boil. Pour over Jell-O. Allow to cool. With an electric mixer, combine Coke and cream cheese. Mix Jell-O with cream cheese and Coke. Stir in pineapple, cherries and pecans. Refrigerate until set.

Mary Grace Miller

Strawberry Delight

Ingredients

  • 1 21-ounce can strawberry pie filling
  • 1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, well-drained
  • 1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 large Cool Whip
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped

Instructions

Mix all ingredients together and chill.

Mary Grace Miller

Here’s another tasty take on Italian Tortellini Salad from Judy Kennett. (Brooke Echols / Alabama Living)

Italian Tortellini Salad

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 packet dry Italian salad dressing mix
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 5 cups cheese-filled tortellini, cooked
  • 1 15-ounce can kidney beans, well-drained
  • 1 8-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, undrained
  • 1 cup celery, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can sliced black olives, drained
  • ¼ cup green onion, chopped

Instructions

In a large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, basil and Italian dressing mix. Add remaining ingredients and toss until all ingredients are well-coated. Cover and chill at least 2 hours or overnight. Makes up to 7 cups salad.

Judy Kennett

This story originally appeared in Alabama Living magazine.