6 Summer Salad Recipes to Beat the Soaring Heat
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Lifestyle

6 Cooling Summer Salads to Beat the Heat

Eat light and right as the temperatures soar.

Ingredients of shrimp pasta salad on kitchen surface
Caitlin Bensel (Food Stylist: Margaret Dickey; Prop stylist: Christine Keely)

The last thing I want to do in the summer heat is spend hours in front of a hot stove to make dinner. Here in Florida, chilled salads are a dinner staple. I enjoy a light salad, but my love goes beyond ordinary romaine lettuce, tomatoes and a splash of balsamic. When I incorporate meat, seafood, crunchy veggies or pasta, my salads reach a whole new level of deliciousness. They make a substantial lunch or dinner entree since they’re packed with protein and grains. I usually serve them with sliced fruit and freshly baked bread to round out the meal.

Here are six of my favorite salad recipes that are sure to be a hit with your own family and friends.

Summer salad arranged on tile surface
Caitlin Bensel (Food Stylist: Margaret Dickey; Prop stylist: Christine Keely)

Mexican Black Bean and Corn Salad

My best friend loved to host summer barbecues in her beautiful backyard, and this light, crunchy bean salad was always a crowd-pleaser. It’s now my go-to dish for potlucks, and the fact that it’s vegetarian is a bonus.

Serves 3-4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 scallions, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups corn

1 red pepper, diced

1 green pepper, diced

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced

2 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced

1 can black beans, drained

Mix all ingredients together and chill for 3-4 hours before serving.

Summer salad arranged on tile surface
Caitlin Bensel (Food Stylist: Margaret Dickey; Prop stylist: Christine Keely)

Tropical Chicken Salad

When my children were little, I belonged to a mommy-and-me playgroup that met for lunch twice a month. There was always a large pot of coffee brewing and simple salads and desserts on the table. This recipe was circulated among the mothers, and was quite popular when we were craving something tropical, sweet and salty.

Serves 4-6

5 cups cooked chicken, diced

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups green grapes, halved

1 1/2 cups diced celery

1 (15 1/4 ounce) can pineapple chunks, drained

2 (11 ounce) cans mandarin oranges, drained

1 cup chopped walnuts

3/4 cup mayonnaise

Combine the first 4 ingredients and chill for 30 minutes. Add all other ingredients together — but don't mix in the mandarin oranges until right before serving to keep them firm.

Summer salad arranged on tile surface
Caitlin Bensel (Food Stylist: Margaret Dickey; Prop stylist: Christine Keely)

Crab Pasta Salad

My sister was a genius in the kitchen. Cooking was an art form for her, and a dinner invite to her house was always a special treat. When I mentioned that my youngest son was entering a seafood contest, she whipped up this recipe for a cold crab pasta salad. She taught my son how to make it, and he took first place in the contest! Sadly, my sweet sister passed away shortly after, but I honor her memory by making this delicious salad often for family and friends.

Serves 6

1 (16 ounce) box small seashell pasta, cooked and drained

1/2 bag frozen peas, thawed

 3 scallions, chopped

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup Miracle Whip

1/4 cup sour cream

1 pound crabmeat, chopped (or use refrigerated imitation crabmeat)

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 cup fresh dill, minced

salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together and chill 4 hours before serving.

Summer salad arranged on tile surface
Caitlin Bensel (Food Stylist: Margaret Dickey; Prop stylist: Christine Keely)

Wilted Spinach Salad (inspired by the New Varsity restaurant in Palo Alto, California)

In the 1970s, there was a popular theater restaurant in Palo Alto where locals and Stanford students hung out for hours to eat great food and drink California wine. Although the restaurant is long gone, the New Varsity wilted spinach salad is still a favorite dish among former patrons.

Serves 4

8-10 ounces fresh spinach, washed and stems removed

6 slices thick maple bacon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, minced

sea salt and pepper to taste

4 large button mushrooms, sliced

2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced thin

1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Fry bacon and remove to a paper towel to drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the fat. Crumble bacon and set aside. Heat skillet on medium, add bacon fat, then make a light vinaigrette by whisking in oil, vinegar, sugar, Dijon, garlic, salt and pepper. In a large bowl, wilt the spinach by gently tossing in the mushrooms and dressing. Top with sliced eggs, crumbled bacon, and sesame seeds.

Summer salad arranged on tile surface
Caitlin Bensel (Food Stylist: Margaret Dickey; Prop stylist: Christine Keely)

Picnic Couscous Salad

Since we live near the shore, beach picnics with the kids and grandkids are a regular activity. As a result, I'm always needing a salad that packs well and withstands hours in our tropical climate. This recipe is a family favorite, whether served cold or at room temperature. The vegetarians in my family also appreciate this satisfying couscous dish.

Serves 3-4

2 cups cooked couscous

1 large tomato, diced

3/4 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3 scallions, chopped

3/4 cup black olives, chopped (optional)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped fine

Mix all ingredients together and chill 3-4 hours before serving. Add more oil and lemon juice if you prefer a moister salad.

Summer salad arranged on tile surface
Caitlin Bensel (Food Stylist: Margaret Dickey; Prop stylist: Christine Keely)

Greek Shrimp, Feta and Spinach Pasta Salad

The first time I visited my cousin in St. Simons, Georgia, I sat at his kitchen bar and watched him effortlessly put together this yummy pasta salad. With the abundance of fresh seafood in Georgia, he told me, this versatile dish can be made with crab, lobster or scallops. It can be served warm, cold or at room temperature. I love to serve it for dinner with my friends because it can be made ahead of time, and I can relax when they arrive.

Serves 4-6

2 bags fresh spinach

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

16 oz. box rotini or penne pasta

1 basket cherry tomatoes, sliced

1/2 cup black olives or kalamata olives, pitted and sliced

1 pound cleaned and cooked shrimp, tails removed

1/4 cup fresh basil, minced

Juice of 1 lemon

8 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Sauté spinach in oil and garlic, set aside. In a large pot, boil pasta, drain, then add all ingredients except for the feta, including the spinach, into the same pot with the. Return to stove and lightly warm on low heat. Stir until everything is warm. Remove pot from the stove, add feta cheese and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Serve at room temperature or chill in the fridge if you prefer a cold salad. 

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