In late spring and early summer, when temperatures climb, and farmers markets and produce aisles are brimming with fresh vegetables, salads are a simple way to eat light and not really cook as often.
Even better, as several new cookbooks teach, salads can be much more than lettuce with some add-ons and dressing. They can be a dish with flavors and textures as complex as any other — but often much easier to prepare.
In her first cookbook, “Saladish” (Artisan, $24.95), Ilene Rosen takes the everyday notion of salad and transforms it into a sort of Platonic ideal of creativity and deliciousness.
Rosen is the co-owner of R&D Foods, a sandwich, prepared foods and catering shop in Brooklyn, and the former “savory chef” at The City Bakery in Manhattan.
With that background, her take doesn’t exactly eschew greens, but she’s more likely to use them as a base ingredient.
In the intro to “Saladish,” Rosen writes that trips to Chinatown and Middle Eastern markets during her time at City Bakery fueled her often offbeat creations:
“Combining these far-flung flavors in salads of seasonal produce and hearty grains and beans became a signature of my casual, unconventional style. I tossed Chinese black rice with fresh pea greens, and flavored them with a makrut lime dressing. I roasted cubes of sweet potato and folded in chickpeas and Indian snack mix. To my surprise and delight, the salad bar at City Bakery developed a cult following, with a huge crowd eager to share in all the vegetable goodness each day.”
Rosen’s Peas and Carrots Papadum is another recipe that uses pea greens, which can be found at farmers markets and Asian markets during the spring and early summer when farmers are growing peas and thinning out the vines.
Crispy fried Indian flatbread papadum serves as edible “plates” for a light, bright saladish that looks and eats more like a fancy starter or party hors d’oeuvre.
In “More with Less: Whole Food Cooking Made Irresistibly Simple” (Roost Books, $35), natural foods chef Jodi Moreno offers 130 recipes using 10 ingredients or less.
Though not specifically a salad cookbook, among the dishes Moreno creates there are 14 saladish-style recipes that feature a variety of spring and summer vegetables.
Cucumber Noodle Pad Thai uses spiralized cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash in place of regular noodles. They’re tossed with a homemade sweet and spicy peanut sauce and sprinkled with scallions, nuts, cilantro and basil for a combination that’s both light and full of flavor.
Another healthy-living cookbook, “Simply Vibrant: Vegetarian Recipes for Colorful Plant-Based Cooking” (Roost Books, $35), by Anya Kassoff includes the imaginative Tipsy Watermelon, Fennel and Arugula Salad.
Kassoff declares that few things are better on a hot summer day than “a simple, incredibly hydrating salad.” This one is spiked with a boozy marinade made with cold sangria, though you can substitute kombucha, if you must.
Either way, cheers to all sorts of not-so-ordinary salads this season.
These recipes use some of the coolest ingredients of spring and summer, including cucumbers, watermelons and pea greens, to create salads and “saladish” dishes that are anything but ordinary. Also included, a classic peanut sauce, plus two lively dressing recipes that can be adapted to many other uses.
Cucumber Noodle Pad Thai
“When the weather gets warm, I love making light salads with raw veggie noodles,” Jodi Moreno says. “I especially love using delicious sauces and preparations from dishes that would typically use a regular pasta or noodle, just like this ‘pad Thai’ recipe. To make the noodles, you can use a spiralizer or the more humble (but just as effective) julienne peeler. If you have neither, I would recommend starting with the julienne peeler. It’s an inexpensive investment that will end up getting a lot of use.
“Spiralizing cucumbers can be a bit tricky, and you usually end up with a little less yield than you do from the zucchini, which is why I included two cucumbers in the recipe. Be sure to chop up and save any cucumber that doesn’t get spiralized for another use or just add them on top of this salad.”
Sweet + Spicy Peanut Sauce
A classic peanut sauce is delicious and has so many uses beyond noodles. This sauce pairs particularly well with sweet potatoes.
Tipsy Watermelon, Fennel and Arugula Salad
“I can find few things more desirable on a hot summer day than this simple, incredibly hydrating salad,” Anya Kassoff says. “I got the idea from a friend, who ate something similar at one of the Four Seasons restaurants. Watermelon is made boozy by marinating in sangria, but if that’s not your cup of tea, you can use kombucha with very similar results. Despite being incredibly easy to prepare, this salad looks impressive, and could make for an elegant starter at a summer gathering.”
“Peas and Carrots” on Papadum
“The Indian flatbread papadum, typically a vehicle for chutney, becomes airy and crisp when fried,” says Ilene Rosen. “Here papadums serve as edible ‘plates’ for a light salad. You can also snack on them as they are, or break them up and scatter them over almost any salad.”
Note: Find bright, clean flavored pea greens at farmers markets, Asian markets and some specialty markets during the spring and early summer when farmers are growing peas and thinning out the vines.