NPR logo Keeping Cool: Salads Stay Composed

Keeping Cool: Salads Stay Composed

Nicoise salads are perhaps the best-known type of composed salad. But don't let your imagination stop there. Scroll down for recipes for lobster and wild rice salad, sesame chicken salad, more. iStockphoto hide caption

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Nicoise salads are perhaps the best-known type of composed salad. But don't let your imagination stop there. Scroll down for recipes for lobster and wild rice salad, sesame chicken salad, more.


About the Author

Bryan Miller is the author of 10 books about food and wine, and a former restaurant critic for The New York Times. He lives in New York City.

Like Caribbean tourism and ski shops, cooking slows down in summer. For many of us, the only tolerable cooking heat comes from a barbecue grill, and we turn to meals that are light, healthful and easy to assemble. This is when composed salads save the day.

But before we progress, an etymological question: What's with the name "composed salad?" It could just as well refer to paintings of food as food itself. Why not call it "full meal salad" or "salad with stuff on top?"

The "stuff on top" is generally a protein of some sort, such as poultry, meat, seafood and/or cheese. Portions are generally smaller, while sauces and dressings are low in fat and often built upon vinaigrette.

Aside from their health benefits, composed salads carry another, if not quite obvious, dividend: Being relatively easy to digest, you can dive back into the swimming pool before the usual three-hour wait. (If anybody asks where you got this advice, it didn't come from me.)

The other day, a real tar-melter, I decided to prepare a simple dinner salad for my wife and 14-month-old son who, surprisingly for his age, cannot get enough salad greens into his little mouth… before throwing them at the cat.

I used a recipe from Cooking with The 60-Minute Gourmet, a cookbook that I co-authored seven years ago with late chef and New York Times food columnist Pierre Franey.

Another easy and arresting salad that I have prepared with great success this summer comes from a splendid Spanish cookbook called The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen.

I was surprised to find green salads in a Spanish cookbook, for in the regions of Iberia I have visited, lettuce is not considered real food.

In fact, the Spanish notion of a salubrious, fiber-rich salad is something called Ensalada Rusa, which is a glutinous igloo of frozen peas, potatoes, bell peppers, canned tuna and other ingredients, all asphyxiated in a viscous, yellow mayonnaise. A staple at tapas bars, you usually find it set out on the counter, unrefrigerated.

When I prepared this dish, quality fresh cod wasn't available at the market, so I went with fillets of North Atlantic salmon. (Tuna is excellent as well.) The rich, buttery salmon and the sweetly acidic orange made for a sublime marriage that will never need a divorce lawyer.

Read last week's Kitchen Window.

Warm Salad of Salmon and Orange

This recipe is modified from The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen. The original recipe calls for cod instead of salmon. Tuna is another excellent substitute.

Serves 4

1 1/4 pounds salmon fillets, cut into 4 serving pieces

Vegetable oil for cooking

Juice of 4 navel oranges (about 1/2 cup juice)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Salt and pepper

4 cups mixed greens

1 cup basil leaves

Season salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Coat a pan with vegetable oil and cook the salmon over medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile, whisk together orange juice, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix with greens and basil leaves and arrange on 4 plates.

Place the salmon over the greens.

Sesame Chicken Salad

Serves 4

For chicken:

1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breast, cut into 4 servings pieces

Salt, pepper, sesame seeds (to taste)

For dressing:

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/3 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup finely chopped arugula or watercress

Place chicken breasts between layers of plastic wrap and flatten with a meat pounder (or heavy pot) until they are about 1/4-inch thick. Season well with salt and pepper, coat with sesame seeds and put aside.

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. You can make this dressing hours in advance. Before serving, toss with the finely chopped arugula or watercress.

Pan fry the chicken filets and present them over the greens. (If you have a nozzle-tipped, plastic sauce squeezer, squirt dressing over the chicken in a festive pattern; otherwise, use a spoon). This salad can be made with just about any meat, poultry or seafood.

Chicken Paillard with Spicy Summer Corn

Bryan Miller
Chicken Paillard with Spicy Summer Corn
Bryan Miller

This recipe works equally well with turkey fillet and pork loin.

Serves 4

3 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (6 to 7 ears)

1 sweet red pepper, seeded, ribs removed and finely chopped

4 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced (or to taste)

1/3 cup fresh coriander

12 basil leaves, thinly sliced crosswise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets (about 1 1/4 pounds total)

1 1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary (optional)

Parsley or other herb

In a large bowl, combine the corn, red pepper, scallions, jalapeno pepper, coriander and basil.

Place the mustard in a small bowl and slowly drizzle in the vinegar while whisking vigorously; repeat with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the corn salad and toss well. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Place the chicken breasts on a hard surface and cover with plastic wrap. With a meat pounder or a heavy pot, flatten the chicken until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Season with rosemary, salt and pepper on both sides.

In a very hot pan, sear the chicken on both sides until golden (about 2 minutes per side). Lower heat to medium and cook, turning, until there is only a trace of pink in the center — remove immediately because chicken will continue to cook. Slice the chicken into 1/2-inch strips.

Distribute the corn salad evenly over 4 plates and top with the chicken breasts. Garnish with parsley or herb of choice.

Lobster and Wild Rice Salad

Serves 4

3 1/2 cups wild rice

1 1/2 pound lobster

2 medium avocados, ripe but not mushy

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup coarsely chopped onions

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a medium pot, combine the rice, 3 cups water and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook over low heat for about 45 minutes. The rice should be slightly firm. Drain and set aside to cool.

Boil the lobster in salted water for about 18 minutes. When cooked, remove the meat from tails and claws and cut into bite-sized cubes. In a serving bowl, add lobster meat to the cooled rice. Peel the avocados and slice in half, working around the pit. Cut into roughly 3/4-inch cubes. Sprinkle evenly with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Add to the salad bowl and sprinkle with onions.

In a small bowl, whisk the mustard and vinegar, then drizzle in the oil while beating briskly. Add the garlic, parsley and salt and pepper. Pour over the salad, toss gently and serve at room temperature.

Quick Shrimp and Spinach Salad

Serves 4

3/4 pound spinach, well washed and dried

4 thin slices red onion, broken into rings

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 sweet red peppers, seeded and ribs removed, sliced into bite-sized, 1/2-inch crosswise strips

2 teaspoons minced garlic

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar

1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled

3/4 cup fresh basil leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Arrange spinach on 4 serving plates. Top with onion rings.

Pour olive oil into a pan over high heat and cook the red peppers for 2 minutes; add the garlic and cook another minute, stirring. Add vinegar and cook 45 seconds. Add shrimp and cook for 3 minutes, stirring. Add half of the basil and stir well.

Spoon the mixture evenly over the onion rings. Garnish with remaining basil leaves. Serve immediately.