Summer salads are, of course, a staple of the home grown diet at this time of year. You are likely to have plenty of leafy greens and other salad crops to choose from. Summer is definitely a time of abundance in a polytunnel garden. If things have gone well so far this year, you should find that you are now harvesting a wide range of different crops.
But after a while, you may find that you are finding it a challenge to find new salad ideas. So to help you stave off the boredom and continue to enjoy a varied and nutritious diet, here are 15 ways to make those summer salads more interesting:
1. Choose Greens Other Than Lettuce
Lettuce is of course a very varied ingredient. You might be growing a huge range of different lettuces in your polytunnel, from loose-leaf varieties to headed lettuces, with a broad range of textures, colours and tastes.
But lettuce alone may sometimes be a little boring. So as well as sowing more varied lettuce varieties as you continue successional sowing, you should also consider other options. Growing rocket, mustard greens, mizuna, mibuna and other more spicy/peppery/ flavoursome leaf crops can help you to enliven those summer salads this year.
You can also consider other leafy greens for your summer salads, such as spinach, chard, and a number of different perennial edibles that you might not have considered.
2. Add Fruits Other Than Tomatoes
Tomatoes are, of course, a staple of summer salads. It is likely that you will now be finding ripe fruits on your polytunnel grown crop. But tomatoes are not the only fruit that can work very well in summer salads. For example, courgettes are more commonly cooked – but when small can also work well raw in a salad.
But you can also look beyond the vegetable patch, and consider putting soft fruits into your summer salads. Strawberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries and more can all enliven salads at this time of the year.
3. Add Some Raw Vegetables You Usually Cook
Vegetables like broccoli and other brassicas are crops that we are more used to cooking before we eat them. But these can also work very well when simply chopped up and added to a summer salad.
Broccoli stem and kohlrabi taste very different when eaten raw, and they not only taste good, but also have higher nutritional benefit when eaten in this way. So adding them to a dish won’t just help you ring the changes. It could also help you to stay healthier.
4. Grate Root Vegetables Into Leafy Salads
Another thing I like to do to add flavour, nutrition and interest to a summer salad is to grate root vegetables into a leafy salad. Baby carrots thinned to make space for larger carrots to grow can of course simply be added whole. But larger roots that you would usually cook before you eat them can be grated into a salad for a quick and easy addition to your meal.
In addition to carrots, you can also grate other root crops – beetroots, for example, are an excellent option, and great for adding vibrant hues to take away from the endless greens. Larger radishes that are too fiery to eat whole could also work as a condiment grated over a salad dish.
5. Add Some Edible Flowers for Colour and Flavour
To create beautiful salads, it is a great idea to move beyond leaves. Consider the potential of a range of edible flowers. It is likely that you will be able to find at least a few edible flowers in your garden.
Some that work great in summer salads include nasturtiums, borage and pansies – to name but a few. You can also add squash flowers, allium flowers, and a range of other flowers from your kitchen garden.
6. Add Intrigue To Summer Salads With Edible Weeds
You don’t have to stick to plants you have cultivated yourself when you are making your summer salads. Remember, there are also plenty of weeds that you can eat. Common weeds from your garden can add intrigue to a salad, as members of your household, or any house guests you may have try to work out exactly what it is they are eating. They may be surprised to learn just how tasty some common weeds can be.
One of my favourite weeds to add to a salad is chickweed. It has a nice crisp texture and a mild flavour that works well alongside more familiar salad crops. The odd dandelion leaf can also add a bit of bitterness to a salad. Other edible weeds that work well in salads also include henbit, fat hen, and purslane, for example.
7. Add Some Sprouted Seeds For Flavour and Nutrition
If you have some seeds left over from spring and summer planting, you could also consider sprouting those seeds and adding them to your summer salads.
Brassica seeds, for example, are great for sprouted seeds (or micro greens). But there are also a range of other seeds that can be sprouted and eaten in this way for great taste and nutritional value.
8. Serve Warm Summer Salads as Well as Cold Ones
Salads are, of course, usually served raw and cold. But you could also consider making some warm salads to serve on a cool summer evening. This is another way to ring the changes and stop yourself from getting bored.
Potato salads and rice salads are just two interesting options to consider. And there are, again, a huge range of warm salad recipes to choose from. A warm potato salad, for example, can be enlivened with the addition of some delicious homegrown herbs, like thyme, parsley, chervil etc…
9. Add Herbs and Spices to Vary the Flavours
Adding herbs and spices can be a great way to vary the flavours, whether your summer salad is served hot or cold. You can simply strew in some fresh herbs. But you can also consider other interesting options – like making pestos and dressings that you can drizzle over your salads to make them more enticing.
More exotic spices can also sometimes be grown in a polytunnel. These too can be used to make a wide range of dressings. Grating ginger into a fresh salad is, for example, one interesting way to liven things up. And a spicy chilli dressing with other exotic spices can also add a fiery zing.
10. Consider a Fermented (Sauerkraut) Type Salad
Fermentation is a traditional way to preserve food. For example, cabbage is fermented to make a traditional sauerkraut. Adding fermented foods to your salads will help to keep things more interesting.
It could also be very good for your health, and help you to preserve the produce you grow in your polytunnel. And prevent food waste.
11. Make Your Own Salad Dressings from Things You Grow
When it comes to salad dressings, you can certainly go beyond a simple mayonnaise. Even if you don’t have chickens, and make your mayo from scratch, you could still consider improving a store bought mayonnaise or other condiment. For example, you could make your own garlic mayo using your home grown cloves. Or add other herbs to change the flavour of the dressing to suit your tastes.
A range of home made relishes, chutneys and sauces can also be customised to make your own salad dressings. You are really only limited by your imagination. For example, I like to make a spicy chilli and gooseberry relish, and that works very well drizzled over a mild summer salad.
12. Make Homemade Vinaigrettes for Summer Salads
You can also use your own homegrown herbs, flowers, fruits and spices to make your own home-made vinaigrettes. Again, there are a huge range of flavoured vinegar recipes to choose from.
You might even be able to make your own apple cider vinegar to use as a base for your home-made vinaigrettes.
13. Add Some Toasted Seeds to Summer Salads
If you are harvesting some squash or other seeded fruits this summer, don’t toss the seeds. You can also enliven your summer salads by taking those seeds and toasting them before throwing them over the top of your dish.
Again, this will add nutrition as well as making your salads more interesting and full of flavour.
14. Add Croutons Made From Home-Baked Bread
You can also consider baking your own bread, with seeds and other ingredients from your polytunnel, then using leftovers to make croutons.
Croutons are far more interesting when they are full of added extras, and include other herbs, seeds or other things that you grew in your polytunnel garden.
15. Serve Summer Salads Outdoors in Your Garden
Finally, remember that setting can make a big difference. Make any summer salad seem more interesting by serving it outdoors. Eat al fresco (or even inside your polytunnel perhaps) for a fresh and enjoyable dining experience.
What do you put in your summer salads? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.