If one food really captures the essence of summer, it’s salad

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

Anything can be a salad in the summertime. When fruits and vegetables are at their peak of the season, you don’t really have to do anything fancy…just toss them into a salad bowl and enjoy their natural goodness.
The hot, lazy days of summer arrived in our area a few weeks ahead of schedule this year, so it’s time to find some quick and easy cool foods to prepare. In our area, Indigo Farms Produce, Holden Bros. Farm Market and, of course, our Shallotte Farmers’ Market, have an abundance of lettuces, squash, berries, corn, cucumbers, peppers, peas, fruits, melons and tomatoes.

Salad without lettuce?
Some of my favorite summertime salads don’t even use any lettuce at all. Try a Greek salad made with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, Greek olives and tangy feta cheese, mixed with a simple dressing of lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, sugar, mint leaves and chopped oregano.
Make a guacamole salad, using chopped avocadoes, tomatoes, green onions and a can of chopped chili peppers. Chill for at least an hour.
If you’d like a great presentation for your guests, place some slices of garden-fresh tomatoes on a plate topped with fresh sliced Havarti cheese and then cover with fresh basil leaves and sprinkle with some extra virgin olive oil and salt. One of my personal favorites!

Add some protein
Turn that salad from a side dish to an entree by adding some protein. A salad is the perfect way to use up that leftover grilled chicken or steak. Any kind of lunchmeat is good. Smoked turkey, ham, tuna, salami, corned beef and prosciutto are all great on salads. If you want to keep it meatless, just open up a can of beans. Kidney, cannelloni, garbanzo and black beans all make tasty, satisfying salad toppers.
Roasted Shrimp with

Orzo and Feta Cheese
There are many variations of this dish that combines roasted shrimp, orzo pasta, green onions, cucumber, green pepper and feta cheese marinated in a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Once blended, I like to combine it with some fresh spinach leaves and toss lightly. If you’re not a fan of a lot of citrus, use oil and vinegar or an Italian dressing.
8 oz. orzo pasta (rice-shaped pasta)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup chopped green onion, white and green parts
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 small cucumber, unpeeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup diced green pepper
8 oz. feta cheese, cubed
1 bag fresh spinach leaves, rinsed, stems removed
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Fill a large pot with water, add one tablespoon of salt and a splash of oil (to prevent foaming) and bring the water to a boil. Add the orzo and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s cooked al dente. Drain and pour into a large bowl.
In a measuring cup or bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Pour over the hot pasta and stir well.
Meanwhile, place the shrimp on a sheet pan, drizzle with some olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and then spread the shrimp out in a single layer. Roast about 5 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Do not overcook.
Add the shrimp to the orzo and then add the green onions, dill, parsley, diced cucumber, green pepper and salt and pepper to taste; toss well. Add the feta and stir carefully. Set aside at room temperature for one hour to allow the flavors to blend.
When ready to serve, place a handful of fresh spinach leaves in each salad bowl and spoon equal portions of shrimp/orzo mixture over spinach. Makes 4-6 servings.

Chinese Chicken Salad
You can cook the chicken in advance and refrigerate or pick up a roasted chicken at your favorite deli.
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1-1/2 Tbsps. soy sauce
1 medium head of cabbage, shredded
6 chopped green onions
2 pkgs. chicken flavored Ramen noodles
1/2 cup plain sliced almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup rice or white vinegar
1 seasoning packet from the Ramen noodles
1 Tbsp. sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken breasts on foil and pour soy sauce evenly over chicken. Wrap in foil to make a packet and bake for 35 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove from oven, cool and cut into bite-size pieces.
In a non-stick skillet, toast noodles and almonds, stirring so they won’t burn. Add sesame seeds at last minute and brown lightly.
In a small bowl, mix together oil, vinegar, seasoning packet and sugar. Place cabbage, onion and chicken pieces into a large bowl and pour oil mixture over top and mix well. Add toasted noodles, almonds and sesame seeds; mix again. Makes 4 servings.

Broccoli Salad
3-4 heads broccoli florets
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 lb. bacon, fried/crumbled
For the dressing:
1-1/2 cups mayo (or miracle whip light)
1/2 cup sugar
5 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Prepare dressing. Mix all salad ingredients together. About 4-6 hours before serving, add the dressing to the salad ingredients to desired consistency. Keep chilled until served. Makes 4-6 servings.

Strawberry/Spinach Salad
2 bags spinach leaves
1 can Mandarin oranges, drained
1 pint strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup raisins
1 small red onion, sliced
1 cup pecans (optional)
For the dressing:
1/2 cup dark currant jelly
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Melt jelly in small saucepan on low heat or in microwave. When cool, stir in vinegar. Clean spinach leaves, dry and remove stems. Mix all salad ingredients together, except for the pecans. About 1-2 hours before serving, add the dressing to the salad ingredients to desired consistency. Keep chilled until served. Add one cup of pecans just before serving. Makes 4-6 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.