According to the thermometer (by which I mean, of course, the weather app on my phone), the temperatures here in California, where I just moved, have been cracking 100°F lately. When it gets this hot, I'm after dishes that are cool and refreshing, which naturally leads me to salads. I still want a meal, though—a pile of mixed greens isn't going to cut it at dinnertime.
If you, like me, are looking for robust yet healthy main-dish salads this summer, have we got options for you. Asian noodles (like our peanut noodle salad with cucumber and basil, or a shirataki noodle salad tingling with Sichuan spice) are normally my default, but a good chicken salad (say, with avocado and corn, or a classic mayo-dressed chicken salad) is always useful for an emergency shot of protein. A green salad can become a full-on dinner if you bulk it up with ingredients like tofu, beans, and/or fish (try, for instance, our salmon bean salad, laden with tender poached salmon and plump cranberry beans). And, considering my new status as a resident of LA, I'm legally required to start eating poke, the delicious Hawaiian salad of raw fish, so that's on my summer list, too—and should be on yours. Keep reading for 19 of our favorite recipes for when we're craving a salad, but need a meal.
Blistered-Tomato Pasta Salad With Basil
You might not know it from some of the recipes or supermarket-deli offerings you see out there, but raw tomatoes just don't belong in pasta salad—the textures of fresh produce and cold pasta don't really work in combination. A much better approach is to lightly cook your tomatoes in olive oil and garlic until they blister and burst, creating a rustic, flavorful sauce to dress the pasta. Fresh basil leaves, on the other hand, are ideal for perking up the salad, and, while diced fresh mozzarella is a nice addition, wait until the tomatoes cool completely to mix it in so it doesn't melt and clump up.
Spanish Pasta Salad With Chorizo, Piquillo Peppers, and Pickled Onion
This simple pasta salad is sauced with a mixture of crispy Spanish chorizo, roasted piquillo peppers, and quick-pickled yellow onion; the latter gives the salad a little tartness without overpowering. As with all cold pasta dishes, we recommend overcooking the noodles a little, since they'll firm up as they cool down.
Italian Seafood-Salad Pasta Salad With Vietnamese Noodles
Though we generally recommend avoiding vinegary dressings with cold noodles—so much so that we consider it one of our fundamental rules of pasta salad—that warning applies only to Western-style wheat pasta, because, for whatever reason, Asian noodles pair wonderfully with vinaigrettes. Case in point: this refreshing hybrid salad, which combines rice noodles with an Italian-style seafood salad of lightly cooked, chilled shrimp and squid, plus lump crabmeat. Dress it with a bare-bones treatment of olive oil and lemon juice.
Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad With Cucumbers, Red Peppers, and Basil
A bowl of cold noodles in a clear-out-your-sinuses sort of peanut sauce is one of my favorite meals on a hot summer day. Many such dishes end up being little more than noodles and dressing. This one is different—we load it up on bright, crisp vegetables, like bell pepper, cucumber, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs, while the noodles are more of a mix-in. It feels nutritious and satisfying, and it's 100% vegan, though the thick, savory-sweet peanut sauce keeps it from tasting too healthy.
Sichuan Shirataki Sesame Noodle Salad With Cucumber, Sichuan Peppercorn, Chili Oil, and Peanuts
Made with yam starch, shirataki noodles are popular nowadays with those who maintain a gluten-free diet. Even if you don't, though, you can still appreciate their slick, slippery, slurp-able texture. Because they're essentially flavorless, the noodles are also a blank slate, ideal for soaking up the complexity of a sauce made with numbing-hot Sichuan peppercorns, black vinegar, peanuts, and soy sauce.
The Chicken and the Egg
The Best Classic Chicken Salad
The dressing for this chicken salad is fairly standard: mayo, Dijon mustard, lemon, celery, red onion, garlic, and herbs. What really sets it apart is the chicken itself, which is breast cooked sous vide for an incredibly tender texture. Tarragon and lemon added directly to the sous vide bag infuse the meat with extra flavor.
Chicken Salad With Avocado, Corn, and Miso Dressing
This summery chicken salad is inspired by nuta, a Japanese dish of tuna in a creamy dressing of miso and mirin. The preparation is simple: Cook chicken breast sous vide with chopped scallion and sliced ginger, then dress it with miso, mirin, dried Japanese mustard, and the Japanese spice blend called shichimi togarashi. Avocado adds chunks of creamy texture, and sautéed fresh corn provides a slightly nutty sweetness.
Hot and Numbing Sichuan Chicken Salad (Bang Bang Ji Si)
"Bang bang" chicken gets its name from the sound of meat being pounded with a mallet. But, thanks to sous vide cooking, you can ditch the blunt force and still wind up with tender, moist chicken that's flavorful, too. We dress it with a fiery sauce of Sichuan chili oil and vinegar, using a mortar and pestle to crush the spices and aromatics—it's far better for flavor extraction than a food processor or spice grinder.
Mayo-Free Chicken Salad With Kimchi, Ginger, and Scallions
This chicken salad recipe uses a more familiar (and easier) approach to the meat: shredding cooked chicken from a roast bird. But the dressing, which takes the form of a vinegar-heavy vinaigrette rather than a mayo-based sauce, is far from traditional: It gets a hit of tartness from kimchi (and kimchi pickling liquid) and a nice crunch from toasted pine nuts (though you can replace those with sesame seeds if you like).
The Best Egg Salad
The best egg salad starts with the best hard-boiled eggs. And the best hard-boiled eggs start with—well, oddly enough, not boiling. We find that steaming is actually a better method, and start the eggs off over hot water to make peeling easier. For the salad, we crush them by hand (which allows for better control over texture) and mix them with a simple, tried-and-true dressing of mayo, lemon, and celery.
The Hawaiian raw-fish salad called poke is unbelievably trendy right now, but this is one trend worth paying attention to. For the best-tasting poke, though, you're better off forgoing deli-case versions, or even restaurant offerings, and making it yourself at home. The key, of course, is starting with the freshest fish available, from a reputable fishmonger with high turnover. Here, we mix raw ahi tuna with sweet onions, hijiki seaweed, and a dressing of soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and a little honey.
Salmon Poke With Macadamia Nuts and Fried Shallots
Salmon isn't a traditional Hawaiian ingredient, but that's no reason to not use it in poke. Because it's fattier and heartier, raw salmon plays well with more potent mix-ins, like the Thai-style fried shallots we use here, along with crunchy macadamia nuts. This one is particularly good when served over steamed rice.
Hamachi Poke With Cucumber and Avocado
Buttery, melt-in-your-mouth hamachi (yellowtail) is one of our favorite fishes to eat raw. Its intense richness requires a few bright and crunchy ingredients for balance; here, we use diced cucumber, sliced Thai bird chili, and thin strips of lemon zest. Avocado mirrors the creaminess of the fish, and incorporating olive oil instead of sesame oil into the dressing keeps it relatively subtle.
Octopus Poke With Kimchi
Octopus in poke may be eaten raw or boiled, but on the mainland, you'll likely want to use boiled—not many places here sell octopus that's fresh enough to eat raw. Make sure to thinly slice the octopus so it doesn't wind up too chewy. It's hearty enough to handle big flavors, making it a perfect accompaniment for the kimchi and Korean chili flakes we use in this recipe.
The Un-Composed (i.e., Best) Niçoise Salad
Recognizing that Niçoise salads vary wildly in their makeup, you can't argue with the ingredients that might appear in a typical one: tender cooked green beans, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, salty anchovies and olives, and tuna. What we do argue with is serving it as a "composed" salad, with each ingredient piled up separately on the plate. It may look prettier, but it's just plain lazy! Instead, we cut all the components of our Niçoise salad into manageable pieces and toss them with a vinaigrette, ensuring that every bite is perfect.
Tofu and Kale Salad With Avocado, Grapefruit, and Miso-Tahini Dressing
The great variety of textures in this vegan salad comes from its three main ingredients: tofu, avocado, and grapefruit. Slow-cooking the tofu gets it especially crisp, while za'atar gives it woodsy, tangy, and nutty flavor. We then toss it with creamy avocado, juicy grapefruit, and sturdy kale (though any salad greens, including more fragile summer lettuces, will work), and finish it with a tahini and miso dressing—assertive enough to stand up to the tofu, but not so heavy that it drowns out the greens.