Spring is here and with it, all the delicious fruits and vegetables of the season. Finally, the heavy Dutch ovens and beef shanks can be put away, and raw salads can be fully embraced. If you think of salads as mere shards of insipid iceberg lettuce under slimy tomatoes and cloying Ranch dressing, think again. Salads can be the most satisfying, delicious way to enjoy spring’s bounty. They must simply be approached from a seasonal point of view.
Don’t go for hardy winter greens like kale or radicchio (save them for casseroles, veggie wraps, and other recipes). Instead, opt for gentle lettuces that only thrive in spring and summer. Lambs lettuce, baby watercress, and oak leaves are all good choices for softer lettuce. Choose frisee for a sturdier lettuce. Herbs can also be used in place of lettuce—dill, parsley, cilantro, mint, and chervil can be combined for a spicy, fragrant salad base.
Go wild with whatever is fresh at the farmers market. New potatoes, haricots verts, and fava beans are all in season now. Roast the vegetables to add some char and crunch to the salad. Resist the urge to add tomatoes until later in the summer, when they truly become juicy and sweet, and leave beets until colder weather returns. Use spring scallions or ramps sliced very thin to add a slightly garlicky taste to your salads.
Stone fruits like peaches, plums, and apricots add an unexpected note of sweetness to your salad. Add thin slices to your salad, and be sure to leave the skin on for flavor and texture.
Go beyond the standard grilled chicken and really use what is seasonal. This time of year, lamb is at its best and most tender. Use lamb loin, roasted in an oven at 350°F until slightly pink. Then, after it rests, slice it and lay it on your salad at room temperature just before serving. Or, try a poached egg on top of your salad. Don’t forget to add cheese—a sheep’s milk cheese for salt, goat cheese for a creamy texture, or aged cheddar for tang.
Go light on the dressing. This is when the produce and protein should shine, with no creamy or spicy dressings needed. A simple dressing of sherry vinegar and hazelnut oil often compliments the delicate flavors of an early spring salad.
Nuts, seeds, and gourmet croutons are all delicious additions of texture and flavor to a salad.