During the dog days of summer, just the thought of firing up the stove or grill can cause a bead of sweat to form on your brow. Thankfully for Texans, while temperatures may soar during the summer months, the amount of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables skyrockets as well. The greatest part is that many are perfectly delicious eaten raw or refrigerated, so you don’t have to worry about breaking a sweat to eat something healthy and filling.
The easiest way to enjoy all that Texas has to offer produce-wise this summer is by mixing up a great salad. We spoke to an internist and a dietitian to get their favorite tips for elevating salads and we take a peek inside their recipe boxes for some simple yet satisfying summer salad recipes.
Rethink Pasta Salad
Before you point out that pasta needs to be boiled on the stove, there are many nutritionist-approved microwaveable kinds of pasta on the market now. Although pasta salad is a staple at many Texas barbecues or cookouts, several are made with white pasta, which can pack about 200 calories and 42 grams of carbohydrates on its own. Then the pasta is usually drenched in creamy, rich sauces, upping the calorie, sodium, cholesterol and fat factor.
“Side dishes for a BBQ often contain traditional pasta, however, a new healthy alternative to this is a vegetable–based pasta,” says Amanda Jimenez, M.D., an internist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Flower Mound and at Texas Health Internal Medicine, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. “For example, spinach and zucchini pasta are popular right now.”
Many of these kinds of pasta are made with a purée of vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, spinach and zucchini, providing 20 percent of the daily recommended amount of vegetables, all while still delivering that comforting ‘al dente’ texture we all love about pasta.
If you really want to add a kick to your summer pasta dishes, you can even introduce ‘zoodles’ into your favorite pasta dishes, which are vegetables like squash or zucchini spiralized into long strings similar to pasta. Steam them until al dente, then Jimenez recommends dressing them with healthy dressings such as Bragg Organic Vinaigrette, Annie’s Naturals organic dressings, or a combination of olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.
Give ‘Salad’ a New Definition
Many greens are cool-season crops, but corn, chilis, onions and tomatoes are all in peak season during the summer months in Texas. So why not ditch the leafy greens and opt for this fresh summer corn salad instead?
Ingredients (Makes 6 cups)
- 5 ears of corn, shucked
- ½ cup diced red onion
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 orange bell pepper
- ½ cup of fresh basil leaves chopped
- 1 scallion chopped
- 2 small jalapeños, seeds removed, chopped
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- Place the corn in a pot of boiling, salted water and cook for three minutes.
- Drain and immerse in ice water to stop the cooking process.
- Once cool, carefully cut the kernels off the cob and place in a serving bowl.
- Add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Can be enjoyed immediately or kept covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
While fans of a certain popular burrito chain may recognize this salad and consider it more of a salsa, with fiber- and protein-rich corn, low-fat, potassium-rich and zero cholesterol bell pepper, onion and tomatoes, and the Omega-3 healthy fats from olive oil, this salad is satiating enough to stand all on its own. The best part is you don’t even have to stand in line.
Opt for Plant Proteins
During the summer months, walking outside just to fire up the grill can be a daunting task nor less actually manning the hot grill. But it may seem like a necessary evil in order to get some protein on the table. It can be easy to forget that protein comes from many other sources besides animals, but plant sources of protein such as legumes, beans and grains are great substitutes.
“When legumes and beans are combined with a whole grain product such as crackers or pita bread, they become a complete protein and are equally as nutritious as protein from an animal source,” says Vanessa Abbood, a clinical dietitian on the clinical staff at Texas Health Huguley. “Black beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, and quinoa are great salad toppers and contain protein, fiber, and minerals. Cheese also acts as a protein source and is always a nice addition to any salad. I would recommend a low fat/low sodium variety and monitor the portion size.”
Add Fruit to Your Salad
Even though we are big fans of fruit salad comprised of only fruit and we agree it makes a tasty dessert, we’re equally huge fans of adding fruit to a traditional leafy green salad as well. Berries, cherries, melons, peaches, plums and nectarines are all available in abundance during summer and they make great additions to any salad.
“Raspberries and blueberries are one of my favorite fruits to add to salads,” Abbood says. “They pair beautifully with spinach or mixed greens, nuts, and cheeses such as feta and goat cheese. They are also simple and do not require much prep aside from rinsing!”
For an easy salad when entertaining guests, Abbood suggests adding mixed greens, raspberries, chopped walnuts and feta cheese in a large salad bowl and toss with a light drizzle of grapeseed oil and balsamic vinegar.
“A staple in my home during the summer season is watermelon,” Abbood adds. “My favorite salad for hot summer days in Texas is a cool and refreshing cucumber and watermelon salad. Not only is it delicious and nutritious, but it is a great way to utilize any leftover watermelon!”
- 1 large cucumber
- 3 cups of bite-sized watermelon cubes
- ¼ cup crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese
- ¼ cup chopped mint leaves
- 2 cups of arugula
- 2 tbsp avocado oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic dressing
- Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- Rinse and peel the cucumber. Slice lengthwise and scoop the seeds out with a small spoon. Cut the cucumber into thin slices.
- In a large bowl, combine the arugula and mint. Top with cubed watermelon and cucumber slices.
- Drizzle oil and balsamic dressing over top and lightly toss. Top salad with feta cheese and fresh cracked pepper (if desired).
Another sweet tip is to grill your fruit before you add to your salad. If you’ve got the grill fired up, try tossing some halved or sliced fruit onto the grates before chopping them up, but keep a close eye — fruit does not take long to heat up on the grill. The heat from the grill will cause the sugars in the fruit to caramelize, making the salad above (or any salad!) feel more like a treat. For smaller fruits such as strawberries, we suggest a grill pan so the fruit doesn’t slip through the grates.
Replace Creamy Dressings with Avocado
Although most of our avocados come from Mexico, California or Florida, the rough-skinned fruit can also be grown right here in Texas. Lucky for us, the creamy texture that is signature to an avocado can make a healthy substitute for fat-rich creamy sauces and dressings in our salads.
For a healthier twist on tuna, chicken, potato or even pasta salad, swap out mayonnaise for mashed avocado. You can play with quantities, but one medium-size Hass avocado can be swapped out for about one cup of mayo. Avocado is about half the calories of mayonnaise and also contains half the fat and is cholesterol free. You can also use it anywhere you’d normally use mayo, such as on sandwiches, burgers and even deviled eggs!
Abbood says creating a creamy dressing with half the fat is also simple with avocado.
“Combining avocados with non-fat Greek yogurt is a great way to reduce the fat content of the creamy dressing while still keeping the wonderful nutrients that avocados provide,” Abbood says. “Non-fat Greek yogurt is also a nutrition powerhouse containing protein, calcium, and probiotics.”
Give this creamy avocado cilantro lime dressing a try in place of your regular creamy dressing:
- 1 avocado
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled
- ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro
- ¼ cup low-fat Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Place all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times. Thin the salad dressing out with about 1/3 cup water until it reaches your preferred consistency.
- Enjoy immediately or keep in an airtight container for one to two weeks.
Not a fan of avocados? Not a problem! Abbood says you can also transition plant-based dips such as hummus or baba ghanoush into a creamy dressing with less fat.
And by coastal, we mean the Gulf Coast. Adding some already cooked, refrigerated cocktail shrimp sourced from the Texas Gulf can be a heatless, protein-rich, healthy and not to mention easy way to keep your salad cool this summer. Just add a few to your favorite go-to salad in place of your regular protein.
If you’re in a bit of a salad rut or just want to try something seasonal in your salad this summer, give these recipes and additions a go. You can take comfort in knowing you’re enjoying something fresh, local and healthy without having to clean off the grill or jack up the A/C.
Summer may be full of opportunities to indulge, but it also offers up plenty of opportunities to make easy, healthier swaps. If you find you need a bit more help navigating the myriad of menu items available at restaurants, family cookouts or celebrations this summer, and year-round, Texas Health is here to help with nutrition services. To learn more about the nutrition services available at a Texas Health location near you, visit TexasHealth.org/locations.