More than a side dish: Use fruits to make summer salads a main event

When I’m bored with my cooking and need inspiration for summer meals, I love looking at what local chefs are preparing for takeout and delivery.

An offering of kale and peach salad with almonds, feta and herb vinaigrette from Jenn Robbins Nylander of Good Foods Kitchen caught my eye. Kale and peaches? I’d never have thought of it. With feta for the salt, almonds for crunch and an herb vinaigrette for savory, it would be a great change from the caprese salad that’s become a staple in my summer rotation.

I looked at the platter of peaches sitting on my counter and the two watermelons resting in the refrigerator. I could always make a traditional fruit salad, but I wanted more punch. It was time to reach out to a few more Atlanta chefs for ideas to turn my fruit into a savory dish.

Hampton + Hudson executive chef Jeff Stamp shared his recipe for the restaurant’s Summer Salad. “With peaches in season, we wanted to find a way to feature the fresh Georgia fruit in a light and refreshing salad. The sweetness of fruit, bitterness of the greens, acid from the pickled onions and dressing and the salty creaminess from the feta all come together in the perfect flavor balance.”

He suggests the home cook look around the kitchen and use the same principles to make a salad from what’s in the pantry and refrigerator. “Start with your favorite in-season fruit and add in some salty ingredients that complement it. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try a handful of different preparations. Bake it, pickle it, make jam, etc. The options for a tasty salad are limitless.”

From Recess executive chef Victoria Shore came a recipe for a green mango salad. She, like many of us, finds summer is the time to enjoy vegetable salads that are more than just greens. “The zing and chile kick of this Thai-inspired green mango salad really beats the heat. Underripe mango, or any stone fruits, for that matter, have a pleasant tartness that can be used in savory recipes where you would normally use lemon or lime juice, and provide great crunch.”

She turns the salad into a full meal by adding tofu tossed in a Sichuan black bean sauce. The result is crispy, salty and savory and pairs well with the noodle-like texture of the mango salad.

Watermelon, Blackberry and Grilled Peanut Salad is on the menu at King + Duke this summer. Chef Nate Boer says the inspiration for many of their dishes comes from personal memories. “We wanted to convey the nostalgic summertime images of enjoying freshly cut watermelons and eating berries right off the bush. We decided to simply highlight amazing local watermelon and blackberries with the classic regional flavor favorite of roasted peanuts.”

Boer’s fellow chef Amadeus Lixfeld offered advice for those thinking about ways to incorporate fruit into their meals. “Sweet fruits in traditionally savory applications can be challenging. One trick is considering the cooking medium to bring the two sides together. Open fire grilling is great in multiple ways. Grilling the fruit itself can temper the sweet-forward flavor of some fruits like peaches, strawberries and even melons. Grilling other meats and vegetables adds delicious charring and caramelized flavors that will contrast and balance the flavors of the sweeter fruits they are paired with.”

And culinary director Andy Long of Maven Restaurant Group provided Butcher + Brew’s recipe for the Tropical Bowl on their menu this summer and sent his suggestions for using fruit in a variety of savory dishes. “I like to use it in salads or as a simple pairing with protein. Sweet fruit like strawberries, crunchy fruit like apples and pears, or even pickled fruit, goes great with tangy goat cheese or salty feta. It can also help cut through peppery arugula to balance out a salad.”

And like many chefs, Long enjoys pickling summer fruit to preserve the fruit but bring another dimension to a dish. “You can pair pickled peaches with a grilled pork chop or roasted skin-on chicken to brighten up the richness of the dish.”

RECIPES

These recipes will convince you that fruit belongs in your summer salads. One thing that makes sweet fruit work in a savory salad is the added punch of fresh lime or lemon juice or a little splash of vinegar.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

King + Duke Watermelon, Blackberry and Grilled Peanut Salad

This salad is on the summertime menu at King + Duke, where chefs Amadeus Lixfeld and Nate Boer like to roast the peanuts in their wood-fired oven. Try doing this on your grill in an iron skillet. But you can also roast your peanuts in the oven. Heat the oven to 350 degrees, then roast the peanuts 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant.

Roasted peanut oil is a specialty oil with a deep roasted peanut flavor. They suggest if you must make a substitute, use walnut, hazelnut or unrefined coconut oil.

And if you’re looking to pair this salad with a protein, they say, “Grilled steak would be awesome with this dish.”

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Victoria Shore’s Green Mango Salad

You might find this salad offered as a seasonal salad at Recess, but for chef Victoria Shore, it’s a summertime staple for enjoying at home.

As the salad ingredients marinate while the tofu is prepared, everything absorbs the flavors of the dressing and the green mango matchsticks soften to the texture of noodles. She suggests for a complete meal, you serve this salad with steamed jasmine or coconut rice.

And if someone in your household is not a tofu fan, you can substitute cubes of chicken.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Butcher & Brew Tropical Bowl

Maven Restaurant Group’s culinary director Andy Long says the inspiration for this salad came from Louis Soon, co-owner of Maven Restaurant Group. “Louis was born and raised in the Caribbean and wanted a fun, tropical-style bowl to represent the islands. With that in mind, we incorporated mangoes and black beans to evoke flavors of the Caribbean.”

If the black beans aren’t enough protein for you, Long suggests adding grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp. If you want your salad to look like what’s served at Butcher + Brew, dress each ingredient individually and layer them in your serving dish.

Pearl couscous is also known as Israeli couscous and is generally available at your grocery store in the aisle with the rice and other grains.

Hampton + Hudson Summer Salad

Hampton + Hudson executive chef Jeff Stamp suggests adding grilled shrimp or chicken hot off the grill to turn this salad into a more complete meal.

ExploreMore food and recipe stories

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.