Best Summer Salads and Recipes

David Levine

How to freshen up your summer salads

After a long winter of limp lettuce, lame tomatoes and lousy cucumbers, there is no better time for salad than summer. Farmers markets, roadside farm stands and even your neighborhood supermarket are all bursting with fresh produce from just down the road. The choices are endless -- and all you need is some creativity and a fresh idea or two. Look no further -- here are 10 ways to add new ingredients that will liven up your summer salads.

Strawberries with white wine and balsamic vinegars

Strawberries in a salad? Absolutely, says Adrienne Raimo, a registered dietitian in Columbus, Ohio, and creator of the food blog One Bite Wellness. "Strawberries are in season during the summer and provide vitamin C, manganese, folate and potassium," she says. "Additionally, the white wine and balsamic vinegars are lower in calories compared to rich, creamy dressings." Raimo adds nuts, seeds or chicken to bring a little protein to the proceedings.

Basil, cilantro and mint

Culinary herbs can add a lot of flavor and freshness to a salad, without a lot of calories, Raimo says. "Basil works well with avocado and tomato in a salad, cilantro works well with Thai- or Mexican-inspired meals, and mint with cucumber in a quinoa salad is a wonderful antidote to summer's heat," she says. These herbs also contain antioxidants and may even have therapeutic properties. "Basil possesses a compound called rosmarinic acid, which has antibacterial benefits," she says. "Cilantro has the ability to remove mercury from contaminated ground water. Mint contains menthol, which can help prevent muscle cramping and may provide relief to those with IBS-symptoms, including bloating, gas and stomach cramping."

Orange slices, mushrooms and cashews

On a hot summer day, toss together butter lettuce, mandarin or clementine slices, sliced mushrooms and cashew nuts and cover it all with a citrusy dressing. "You can get some good protein, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium from this one," says Aileen Birkitt, a registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition 4 You in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.

Bok choy and water chestnuts

Add an Asian twist to your salad by combining romaine lettuce, bok choy, water chestnuts, peanuts, red peppers and wonton noodles. Top with an Asian sesame or sesame-ginger dressing. "This one gives you some good fiber, calcium, iron, protein and vitamin K," Birkitt says. If your local supermarket doesn't carry bok choy, look for a nearby Asian or specialty market.

Seaweed

Speaking of Asian style, seaweed -- a staple of many Asian diets -- is not only tasty, but it also contains minerals the body needs to function and repair itself. "Dulse, for example, is a colorful salad ingredient, while also being an excellent source of iodine. It also has protein and is rich in iron at about 10% of the daily value per serving," Raimo says. "Nori is another seaweed that is deliciously crispy and salty, and it is easy to crumble on top of your salad or to use as a wrap around it."

Lesser-known leafy greens

"There is a world beyond romaine, spinach and kale," Raimo says, "and it includes arugula, mache, watercress, chicory, purslane and wild greens." By diversifying your greens, you are also diversifying your nutrient intake, which can help you stay healthy. "Next time you're in the green, jungly-looking produce section, have a food adventure with another type of salad green," she advises.

Avocado and tortilla chips

Give your salad a Mexican flavor with romaine lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, green peppers and diced avocado, then top it all with a few crumbled tortilla chips. "Make your own honey lime dressing; use equal amounts lime juice and extra virgin olive oil, a drizzle of honey and chopped cilantro," Birkitt says. "This salad will give you some great omega-3s, folate, fiber, potassium and protein."

Artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives

Artichoke hearts are low-calorie additions to a healthy, delicious salad, Raimo says. "They contain vitamin C, fiber, potassium, folate and magnesium, which are important nutrients for the functioning of our bodies." Consider adding artichoke hearts to Birkitt's Mediterranean-inspired salad of chopped baby kale, chickpeas, feta cheese crumbles, pitted Kalamata olives and diced red onion, topped with an olive oil and vinegar dressing. "This salad provides omega-3's, protein, fiber, vitamins A, C, K, folate and fiber," Birkitt says.

Gouda and Havarti cheese

Birkitt provides two cheese-themed salads for the price of one. For dinner, try red leaf lettuce, grated carrots, diced red onion, sliced green or red pepper and sliced smoked Gouda cheese. Use a balsamic vinegar dressing. "This one provides protein plus vitamins C, E, A, K, folate, fiber, calcium and iron," she says. For a quick lunch, toss arugula, sliced apple, halved cherry tomatoes and diced Havarti cheese with a balsamic vinegar dressing. "This one will give you some fiber, protein, calcium, vitamins C, K and A."

Edible flowers

"Did you know that instead of just decoration, you can add edible flowers as an ingredient to your salad?" Raimo says. She recommends combining some mustard, white wine vinegar and olive oil to make a dressing for your salad greens, and then add some nonchemically-treated flowers such as violas, nasturtiums, purslanes and even roses. "Edible flowers can be rich in vitamin C, and dandelion flowers provide some vitamin A, while the greens are a good source of calcium, phosphorus and iron," she says. But pick flowers with care, Raimo says: "Avoid flowers located roadside where exhausts and other pollutants can collect on the flowers. Ensure your flowers have not been sprayed with pesticides and remember that some flowers are toxic, such as foxglove and sweet pea. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before trying any flowers and, if you do, start with a small amount to check for any allergic reactions or digestive upset."

Ingredients to bring your summer salads to life:

-- Strawberries with white wine and balsamic vinegars.

-- Basil, cilantro and mint.

-- Orange slices, mushrooms and cashews.

-- Bok choy and water chestnuts.

-- Seaweed.

-- Lesser-known leafy greens.

-- Avocado and tortilla chips.

-- Artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives.

-- Gouda and Havarti cheese.

-- Edible flowers.