Summer and salads go together in a large variety of tasty ways. From simple side salads to main dish salads loaded with summer’s fruits and vegetables and topped with grilled chicken, strips of steak or even shrimp, there are an endless array of options. Add all the varieties of dressings into the mix and the options multiply.

Summer schedules often mean less time to spend in the kitchen and even less motivation to cook over a hot stove or heat up the oven on days when it’s already too hot for comfort. Days like that make salads an easy choice. Incorporating salads in your weekly meal planning also gives you an excellent reason to shop your local farmers’ market for the freshest of ingredients.

While some salads can call for a number of fresh fruits or vegetables and homemade dressings, don’t dismiss how good a simple plate of greens with just a couple of your favorite fresh vegetables and some leftover chicken dressed with store-bought dressing can taste. Salad ingredients don’t need to be numerous to create a great meal.

To make sure a lettuce salad is fresh and delicious, here are a couple of tips from plainandnotsoplain.com:

• Make sure to choose lettuce that is fresh without any blemishes, bruising or yellowing leaves.

• To get a head start on preparing the salad, clean the leaves, wrap them in a clean, dry kitchen towel and place the towel in a plastic bag. Leave the bag open and place in refrigerator. The leaves will keep for up to one week.

• To easily dry salad greens, use a salad spinner for quick work. A salad spinner is a kitchen tool that literally spins washed greens to make excess water come off.

• Tearing greens is preferable to cutting them with a knife. It’s easier and gentler on the greens, and it looks better, too. If you use a metal knife to cut greens, the greens will discolor quicker than if you use a plastic knife or tear them with your hands.

• To easily core a head of lettuce, grab the head between your hands with the bottom of the head facing down. Quickly slam the head on the countertop. It will loosen the core so that it can easily be pulled from the center of the head.

Of course a summer salad does not have to include greens. Pasta salads, potato salads and fruit salads are all wonderful ways to use summer produce in great ways and reduce the time spent and heat generated in the kitchen. Whatever kind of salads you aspire to make, enjoy the tastes of the season!

Janelle Thomas can be reached at janellethomas@charter.net.

Asian Steak Salad

1 lb beef sirloin tip steaks, cut 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick

1/2 C prepared Asian-style dressing

3 cloves garlic, minced

8 C mixed salad greens

2 Tbsp dry-roasted peanuts, chopped, or wasabi green peas

Stack beef steaks; cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1-inch wide strips. Combine 2 tablespoons dressing, garlic and beef in medium bowl. Cover and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Heat large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add half of the beef; stir-fry 1 to 3 minutes or until outside surface of beef is no longer pink. (Do not overcook.) Remove from skillet. Repeat with remaining beef.

Using slotted spoon, add beef to salad greens. Add remaining 6 tablespoons dressing; toss to coat. Sprinkle with peanuts. Recipe and photo courtesy of beeftips.com.

Berry Orange Spinach Salad with Citrus Balsamic Vinaigrette

For the salad:

6 C baby spinach, packed

2 mandarin oranges, peeled and sectioned

3/4 C raspberries

1/2 C blackberries

1/2 C Feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 C walnuts

For the vinaigrette:

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp fresh (mandarin) orange juice

1 Tbsp honey

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients until well combined. Taste and adjust the dressing to your preference. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the salad ingredients, then drizzle the desired amount of vinaigrette on top. Toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Note: If planning to have leftovers, keep the salad separate from the vinaigrette and cover both in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Re-whisk the vinaigrette and drizzle just before serving. Recipe and photo courtesy of yayforfood.com.

Summer Vegetable Pasta Salad

12 oz bow tie pasta

2 medium Roma tomatoes

1 medium summer squash

1 medium zucchini

1 medium broccoli crown

1/2 medium red onion

15 oz jar roasted red peppers

1/2 bunch parsley

Vinaigrette:

1/4 C vegetable oil

1/4 C olive oil

1/3 C red wine vinegar

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp garlic, minced

3/4 tsp salt

Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and boil for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender. Drain in a colander.

While waiting for the pasta water to boil and the pasta to cook, prepare the vegetables (squash, zucchini, broccoli, tomato, onion, parsley, red pepper). Wash the vegetables and then cut into bite-sized pieces (onions and red pepper thinly sliced; parsley removed from stems and chopped).

While the pasta is cooling, prepare the vinaigrette. In a small bowl whisk together the vegetable oil, olive oil, red-wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, oregano, minced garlic, salt and pepper.

Combine the cooked pasta, chopped vegetables and vinaigrette. Stir until everything is well mixed and coated with vinaigrette. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to eat. Makes 8 servings. Recipe and photo courtesy of budgetbytes.com.

Broccoli and Blueberry Salad

1½ lb fresh broccoli cut into bite-size pieces

1 C fresh blueberries

1/4 C finely chopped red onion

1/2 C dried cranberries

1/4 C sunflower seeds

1 large apple, chopped into bite-size pieces

1 Tbsp lemon juice

For the homemade dressing:

1 C plain Greek yogurt

1/4 C honey

1 Tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp apple cider vinegar

1 Tbsp poppy seeds

Place broccoli, blueberries, red onion, cranberries and sunflower seeds in a large bowl. In a small bowl, toss apple with 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Add to the big bowl with the salad.

In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over the salad and toss gently to combine. Salad may be served immediately or refrigerated until serving. It will last for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Notes: You can substitute 1 cup mayonnaise for the Greek yogurt. Reduce the honey to 3 tablespoons. You can substitute apple cider vinegar for the lemon juice in the dressing. You can also leave the poppy seeds out of the dressing and no substitutions are needed. Makes 8 servings. Recipe and photo courtesy of kristineskitchenblog.com.

Lettuce, Artichoke and Red Pepper Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

Salad:

1 head red-leaf lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 head Romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces

Half of a small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 14-oz jars quartered artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped

1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers, drained and diced

1/2 C toasted pine nuts

1 batch zesty red wine vinaigrette, recipe below

Optional garnish: extra freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Zesty Red Wine Vinaigrette:

1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 C extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 C red-wine vinegar

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp Kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 tsp garlic powder

Add all salad ingredients to a large bowl, and toss until evenly combined. Serve immediately, with vinaigrette dressing and garnished with extra Parmesan cheese, if desired.

To make the vinaigrette dressing, whisk all ingredients together until combined. (Or add them together in a mason jar, and shake until combined.) Use immediately. Recipe and photo courtesy of gimmesomeoven.com.