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It’s summer salad time

Salads are a refreshing summer meal (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Gardens and farmers’ markets abound with fresh greens — lettuce, spinach, pea shoots, arugula. It’s salad time!

Salads of fresh, tender greens are a special seasonal treat. They’re easy to put together, light, healthy, and make delicious eating.

At this time of global pandemic, good nutrition is important to a strong immune system — and fresh leafy greens offer many nutritional benefits. They have few calories (lettuce has just 9 per cup) and are excellent sources of important antioxidants as well as fiber.

While the nutritional value varies, most greens provide varying amounts of important vitamins and minerals, in particular potassium, calcium, iron, copper, vitamins A and C. The darkest leaves have the highest concentration of beta carotene (vitamin A). The spine and ribs contain the most fiber, while vitamins and minerals are concentrated in the leaves.

Many greens are high in lutein, which helps prevent age-related macular degeneration, and may also impede the adhesion of cholesterol to blood vessel walls, guarding cardiovascular health. For optimal nutritional value as well as best flavor, greens should be eaten as fresh as possible.

It’s true that a good dressing makes a salad sing. Fresh, delicious, wholesome salad dressings are best made at home and take just minutes to prepare. While bottled dressings may offer convenience and variety, they’re significantly more expensive and lack the flavor, freshness, and nutrition of homemade dressings.

Bottled dressings are loaded with salt and sugar. Some contain unhealthy sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup. They include thickeners, stabilizers, preservatives and other multi-syllable chemical additives.

The main ingredient in salad dressings is oil, and oils vary in their health benefits. Bottled dressings are usually made with soybean oil. Cheap and highly refined, it does not have the same benefits as extra virgin olive oil, which is what most home cooks use for dressings.

Homemade dressings are healthier because you control what goes in, and how much. They’re made fresh with pure, natural ingredients. They make use of nutritious herbal, wine or cider vinegars or citrus juices loaded with vitamin C, as well as fresh herbs like garlic, basil or oregano.

The right ingredients can turn your salad into a healthy immune booster. Add garlic for flavor and its strong anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Creamy dressings like Ranch, Russian or Thousand Island are based on mayonnaise and buttermilk or sour cream. When making these at home, you can substitute fermented probiotic foods with live, active cultures like kefir or yogurt. These strengthen the microflora in the gut, which are responsible for a healthy immune system as well as good digestion. Unprocessed fermented foods increase the number of antibodies that fight infectious diseases.

The best summer salads are light, bright, flavorful and easily enjoyed outdoors. Here are a few recipes for dressings and salads.

Creamy Yogurt-Mayo Dressing

Ingredients:

1 garlic clove, minced or crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 – 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon mustard

Directions:

Crush garlic with salt in mortar and pestle. Whisk together all ingredients. This is wonderful in egg salad, potato salad, pasta salad or over a salad of fresh greens.

Vinaigrette Dressing

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or balsamic or wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 – 3 basil leaves, chopped

Directions:

To make the dressing, in bottom of salad bowl rush the garlic with salt. Add pepper, basil, oil and vinegar, and blend well using a fork, Toss the greens into the dressing; stir to coat Add other vegetables like cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes or peppers, as well as cheese and prosciutto, if using. Stir and serve.

June Salad with

greens and flowers

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh torn leaf lettuce or mixture of lettuces

1 cup fresh spinach

1 cup fresh torn arugula, beet greens or chard

1 cup fresh pea shoots

1/2 cup fresh baby dandelion greens, if available

1 cucumber, diced (peeling optional)

1/2 cup plain kefir

1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup snipped chives

1/4 cup fresh minced parsley

1 cup violet blossoms

2 Tablespoons grated cheese

2 Tablespoons finely minced ham (optional)

Directions:

Wash and tear greens. Chop cucumber. Combine in salad bowl.

In small bowl, combine kefir or yogurt, salt, garlic, chives, parsley, and mayonnaise. Fold into the greens.

Garnish with violet blossoms, cheese and ham, if using.

Fresh Greens

and Bowties salad

This is a great spring picnic salad. You can make the dressing and cook the pasta the day before; this helps the flavors to blend.

Savory Vinaigrette:

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon Dijon style mustard

1 garlic clove, crushed

pinch of sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup olive oil

fresh ground pepper to taste

Pasta Salad:

2 cups bowtie pasta, uncooked

6 cups mixed greens, shredded

1 cucumber, diced (about 2 cups)

1 cup thinly sliced radishes

¼ cup fresh parsley, minced

¼ cup fresh chives

1 cup walnuts

½ cup Parmesan cheese, fresh grated

Directions:

To make the vinaigrette, whisk red wine vinegar, mustard, garlic, sugar and salt together. Pour in the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking continually. Mix well. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Mix half of the vinaigrette in with hot pasta, set aside.

Toast walnuts by heating them in a dry, heavy skillet for just a minute or two. They’ll soften, become golden in color and give off a toasty fragrance. Remove from heat and chop coarsely. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, toss together the greens with remaining vegetables. Fold in cheese and nuts. Stir in the pasta and remaining vinaigrette. Serve at once.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Words are My World.

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