Using vibrant vegetables and fruits at peak freshness is a great way to eat well — and inexpensively — throughout the season.
Summer has many charms — the sun lingers late, fireflies abound and vegetables and fruit taste so good, they don’t take much effort to turn into delicious, satisfying dishes. Thankfully, fresh produce hasn’t risen in price as much as other ingredients this year and is especially flavorful now.
We’ve given you loose formulas, much like our no-recipe recipes, for 20 of our favorite combinations. Buy whatever looks and smells the most enticing (and costs the least), then play around with the suggestions below, using amounts that make the most sense to you and your taste. (And if you want exact recipe proportions and instructions, you can find the recipes on New York Times Cooking.)
The dishes below cover all the salad bases: leafy tosses that are crisp and fresh; sturdy mixes that can sit out for a couple hours or be made the day before; hearty pastas, grains and beans that can bulk up — or make — a meal; fruit combinations that hit sweet and savory.
Go ahead and make these your own. Swap out bitter lettuces for milder ones, use a variety of fruits instead of just one kind, go wild with the herbs or banish them (hey, cilantro!). Season to taste — salt heightens flavors, tames bitterness and balances out sweetness and acidity, while pepper adds a floral bite. Whatever you do, don’t sweat it. It’s summertime, and the cooking should be easy.
Eric Kim recreates the sweet and savory salad dressing served at many Japanese American restaurants.
Blend a small carrot and a knob of fresh ginger with a hearty glug of olive oil, a couple spoonfuls of rice vinegar, then season with sugar, soy sauce and onion powder. Thin with a little water, then toss with cold crisp leaves of Little Gem or romaine lettuce. Shower with mint.
Four simple ingredients share starring roles in Ali Slagle’s guide to this classic salad.
Toss the perkiest baby arugula with olive oil, then sprinkle the greens with just enough fresh lemon juice and salt to balance the bite. Scatter shards of Parmesan on top for its nutty, salty edge.
Eric embraces the bitterness of radicchio with a lemony garlic and anchovy dressing.
Drain the oil from a tin of anchovies into a skillet. Chop a few of the anchovies and cook, along with bread crumbs, until the crumbs are toasted. Then, chop the rest of the anchovies — save a few for garnish — and whisk them with olive oil, grated garlic, mayo, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan. Toss with radicchio and sprinkle with the anchovies and crumbs.
Sweet, salty, savory, spicy: This Vietnamese-inspired dinner salad from Yewande Komolafe hits all those notes.
Whisk together sugar, lime juice, water and fish sauce, adjusting amounts to your preferred balance of sweet, sour and salty, then stir in some chopped garlic and chile (a spicy one). Toss with slivered cabbage, cucumber and bell pepper and shredded cooked chicken. Fold in watercress or arugula, and handfuls of basil and mint. Top with store-bought crispy fried shallots.
Melissa Clark’s riff on a classic Cobb is satisfying enough to be a full meal.
Combine crunchy chopped romaine and cucumbers, juicy cherry tomatoes, crisped bacon, hard-cooked (or jammy) eggs, avocado, crumbled blue cheese and scallions. Toss at the table with a simple dressing of olive oil with lemon zest and juice.
Sweet corn gets a boost from zesty chile, lime and herbs in this summer side from Genevieve Ko.
Mix lightly cooked corn kernels with halved cherry tomatoes, lime zest and juice, olive oil and a little minced fresh hot chile (or a lot of chile or none at all). Tear basil and cilantro leaves over everything and mix in.
Genevieve adds crunch to tenderized kale with the pop of sunflower seeds.
Massage thinly sliced kale leaves (any kind) with salt and lemon juice and zest until softened, then combine with chopped dates, cut-up fresh plums (or any stone fruit), sunflower seeds and olive oil.
Pantry-hero tuna tastes especially fresh with Genevieve’s additions of celery and parsley.
Briefly marinate a few sliced sweet and hot peppers with a bit of vinegar. Add oil-packed tuna (with its oil), diced celery and roughly chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper and serve, or refrigerate for up to two days.
A mix of chunky nut butter and fragrant hoisin is irresistible when tossed with tender tofu and snappy summer beans in Genevieve’s Southeast Asian-inspired dish.
Cook green beans in salted boiling water until tender but still crisp. Stir together crunchy peanut butter with half as much hoisin sauce, a big squeeze of lime juice and pinches of sugar and red-pepper flakes, then thin with some of the bean cooking water. Toss the dressing with the beans and cubes of extra-firm tofu.
Melissa coats plump, perfectly cooked shrimp with lemony mayonnaise accented with tons of fresh herbs.
Simmer shelled shrimp with lemon slices until just opaque and drain. Whisk together the zest and juice of a lemon with mayonnaise and a bit of olive oil. Stir in the still-warm shrimp (chopped or not), some diced celery, red onion and a handful of chopped dill, parsley or cilantro (or all three).
Melissa’s dressing infuses pasta, tomatoes and cheese with a garlicky flavor.
Cook and drain pasta. While it’s still warm, mix with a red wine vinaigrette spiked with grated garlic and dried oregano. Add a bounty of halved small tomatoes, cubed mozzarella, salami ribbons, sliced cucumber and chopped red onion. Throw in a heap of chopped parsley and basil.
Raw zucchini gets a jolt of sour and spicy pepperoncini in Ali’s recipe.
Boil lentils for about 10 minutes, then add orzo and simmer until both are cooked through. Toss with pickled pepperoncini slices, oil and lots of lemon juice. Stir in chopped zucchini, pistachios, sliced scallions and as many soft fresh herbs as you like.
Lightly toasting the millet in Yewande’s grain bowl brings out its gorgeous nuttiness.
Dry-toast millet (or another small grain) until deep golden, then simmer until tender and toss with olive oil. Whisk lemon zest and juice, honey and oil, and stir some into the cooled millet, along with cucumber chunks, mint and sliced almonds, if you’d like. Top with avocado and more vinaigrette.
Eric seasons chickpeas with salty, nutty roasted seaweed and a sesame mayonnaise.
Whisk together mayonnaise, toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar and a pinch of sugar. Toss in finely chopped gim (Korean roasted salted seaweed; don’t use nori, it will suck up the moisture), chickpeas and a small handful of diced red onion.
Dried fruit and nuts add color and crunch to this Middle Eastern-inspired side dish from David Tanis.
Cook some short-grain rice as you would pasta, then toss it — drained and cooled — with olive oil whisked with tahini and lemon juice and zest. Add plumped currants, chopped almonds and pistachios and as many kinds of herbs as you like (parsley, mint, chives and savory are good places to start).
Crunchy celery and its fragrant, underutilized leaves are key players in this picnic staple from Melissa.
Add a minced shallot and a spoonful of Dijon to cider vinegar, then slowly whisk in olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in a colorful mix of beans, sliced celery and shallot and chopped parsley and celery leaves.
A summer gift from Eric: aromatic tropical fruit, unhindered by peels or rinds.
Combine chunks of ripe pineapple and mango with slices of banana (slightly underripe, so they don’t turn to mush), or use whatever fruit you have on hand. Season with salt and spritz with lemon juice until it tastes lively but not sour.
Ali gives Caprese an unexpected sweet-tart lift by swapping tomatoes for ripe stone fruit.
Cut up stone fruit (nectarines, peaches, plums, cherries) and arrange on a platter. Squeeze lemon juice over everything, then sprinkle with sugar and flaky salt. Let sit until fruit juices pool, then tuck in morsels of fresh mozzarella and basil or mint (or both). Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with black pepper and more salt.
Millie Peartree uses mango to add a welcome sweetness to a standard barbecue side.
Thinly slice ripe-but-firm mangoes and toss with shredded cabbage and carrots (go ahead and use bagged coleslaw mix), fresh cilantro, lime juice and honey. Season with celery salt and black pepper. Chill and serve cold.