Potato salad and coleslaw may be bywords with barbecue while egg and tuna salads can prompt a picnic. Such tried-and-true sides always have roles in outdoor dining, but some salads should stand front and center.
More than greens, main-dish salads are "meal solutions," says Mary Shaw, who frequently promotes them at Ashland Food Co-op's culinary kiosk. After showing customers how to stretch chicken in salads at several May demonstrations, Shaw plans twice-weekly tastings of summery salads throughout the month of June.
"People love them because it gives them a meal," says Shaw, the Co-op's culinary educator.
Shaw suggests starting with seasonal produce, layering it in a big bowl. Salads, she says, can give new life to leftovers, such as grilled chicken or fish. Because every week Shaw cooks batches of beans and whole grains, those find a place in the dish, adding heft and fiber.
"I kind of have to make myself stop adding things," says Shaw. "It's so unlimited."
Taking her cues from flavor profiles of the salad, Shaw whisks up simple vinaigrettes with a few oils and vinegars she keep on hand. The classic combination of balsamic vinegar and olive oil complement tomatoes, basil and other familiar pieces of produce. Peanut oil and rice-wine vinegar accent ingredients more common in Asia. Economical, more healthful and infinitely tastier, homemade dressings take just a couple minutes to make, says Shaw.
"I think the possibilities for vinaigrettes border on endless."
Achieving the correct proportions for vinaigrette, says French chef Jacques Pepin, elevates salads from mainstream to memorable.
"Great-quality oils and vinegars," he says, "should be mixed in the proper ratios: one part vinegar to three parts oil, or one part vinegar to four parts oil."
Star of the new public-television series "Essential Pepin" this fall, the chef offered a hearty, warm salad of bacon or pancetta tossed with white beans for The Associated Press' "20 Salads of Summer." The food world's biggest names furnished the AP's lineup for 20 weeks of warm-weather cooking.
Regardless of the season, most salads taste best when served cool, but not cold, says Pepin. This one, he says, is "almost like a stew."
Although Pepin and many chefs attest that too many berries or fruits produce too-sweet salads, green papaya became the centerpiece for Eric Ripert's contribution to the AP's series. The Michelin-starred chef's seafood salad dressed with lime juice and pungent fish sauce was inspired by a visit to Vietnam.
Also leaning toward Asian flavors, cookbook author Patricia Wells submitted a recipe for ginger-sesame chicken salad with glass noodles from her just-released "Salad as a Meal."
See the recipes on this page.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this story.