As peak harvesttime arrives, bringing an abundance of fresh summer produce, a visit to your local farmers market or gourmet grocer is more enticing than ever. It’s easy to go overboard while wandering among all the lush fruits and colorful veggies, but a good set of recipes will help you to navigate the aisles and make the most of your purchases—or the bounty you’ve plucked from your backyard victory garden.
Below, we’ve collected five of our favorite summer salads, all vegetarian recipes ready to be the main focus of your meal or a delectable side. Some are no-cook, easy-to-assemble dishes that ensure you’ll stay as cool as your dinner. Others are perfect for showing off your chef chops at that small backyard gathering or socially distanced picnic. Each delivers a ton of flavor and texture. Before you start chopping, pour a glass of one of our recommended wine pairings, and enjoy the process!
This version of a Lebanese staple, from renowned Georgia chef and cookbook author Hugh Acheson, is a bright, zesty complement to any summer meal. The recipe comes together fairly quickly—only chopping is required, with no additional fancy techniques—and the extra step of making your own pita crisps is an easy way to heighten the crunch of the salad and intensify its texture and taste. Fattoush draws its flavor from plump, ripe tomatoes, fiery poblano chiles and peppery radishes, while cucumber, sweet bell pepper and mint provide a cooling counterpoint. The salad is dressed with a blend of olive oil, lemon, red wine vinegar and Middle Eastern spices like sumac and cumin. Acheson serves it alongside grilled tri-tip steak, with a yogurt-tahini sauce to continue the Eastern Mediterranean theme, matched with an easy-drinking red from the region. But on its own, this refreshing salad could pair with any number of bright white wines that mingle citrusy and savory notes. Add it to your sunny-day repertoire!
This recipe, from South American chef Francis Mallmann’s cookbook Mallmann on Fire, is the embodiment of his culinary style: minimalist and rustic, yet sophisticated. His favorite cooking is done outside on an open fire, but for this dish all you’ll need is your hands—no grilling involved. Composed of only seven ingredients, it’s all about the quality of the produce, with a focus on seasonality. Through the beginning of October in the United States, figs are ripe and ready to be the focus of this salad, complemented by the mellow flavor of creamy burrata and fragrant fresh basil. Mallmann is open-minded and adventurous when it comes to wine pairings, but for a meal in which this salad is followed by his smashed chicken breast in a potato crust, he settles on a juicy Pinot Noir for striking the best overall balance. Accented by the wine’s berry flavors, the honeyed, caramelly sweetness of the figs turns this salad into an indulgent treat after a day’s work from home.
For a sweet bite in a salad, we often look to just-ripened fruit. But in this version, with colorful radishes and baby kale leaves, carrots deliver both a hit of residual sugar and an array of textures. Chef Chad Townsend, the creator of this dish (who now specializes in another summer treat, having founded his own ice cream company), cooks most of the carrots quickly at medium heat to develop their inherent sweetness. He then seasons them with berbere, a staple Ethiopian spice blend that adds a fiery heat. Some carrots are left raw to be sliced thinly, adding a freshening crunch to the salad, which is dressed with a honey-Champagne vinaigrette. To round out the plate, a tangy, nutty goat’s milk yogurt contributes acid and a natural source of fat.
Unless you’ve achieved a farm-stand level of diversity in your own garden, this salad merits a run to your local market. Though you’ll find carrots at your grocer year-round, they provide peak flavor intensity in July and August; toward the end of the summer, the abundance of rainbow carrots allows you to add playful touches of purple, red and yellow to the dish. (To get the most out of your produce purchase, keep the carrot tops, as you can clean them and use them in other salads, soups or sauces, or employ them as a garnish.) Townsend recommends pairing the salad with a lively, medium-sweet German Riesling, which offsets the berbere and parallels the sweetness of the carrots. Find your perfect balance!
With its vibrant colors and deep flavors, this beet and citrus salad screams summer. Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, partner of the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner Lambs Club in New York, knows how to give vegetables the starring role in a dish. Here he puts roasted baby beets center stage, mingling their dark berry reds and sunny yellows with endive, pomelo and orange on a platform of tangy goat cheese tahini. Zakarian adds intriguing garnishes such as crunchy hazelnuts and Middle Eastern spices, then dresses the ingredients with a Chardonnay vinaigrette livened up by a seven-spice blend. A refreshing Provençal rosé pairs seamlessly with the beet salad, as well as with another Zakarian menu item: gorgeous flower bouquet–like “icebox crudités” with green goddess dressing. These veggies are meant to impress, but prepping some of the components in advance allows you to stay relaxed when it’s time to assemble the plate. Get ready for your sunset picnic or backyard dinner!
Yes, this is a sophisticated restaurant menu item, but it’s also an ideal side dish to elevate your backyard barbecue menu—or even pack on a picnic. This recipe from Flight Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., can easily be executed at home and is broken down into steps that can be done in advance. Make the seasoned ricotta one day, roast the beets and carrots another. Play with color and pick different variations of beets and carrots, as with the carrot salad above. Added right before serving, the crunchy fennel, with its licorice flavor, makes a nice alternative to the romaine or arugula you’ve been reaching for throughout the season. Head to your spice rack for other flavors to complement this salad: Warm ground nutmeg makes a flavorful companion to the roasted veggies while setting a subtle reminder that fall weather is soon approaching.
Flight co-owners Swati Bose and Kabir Amir also suggest packing your picnic basket with a roast pork, Swiss cheese and pickle sandwich and a strawberry-vanilla trifle. With so many options on their Best of Award Excellence–winning wine list, Bose and Amir have a hard time limiting themselves to one wine pairing. Instead they recommend a versatile, food-friendly Old World flight of an aged Spanish white, a crisp French rosé and a savory Austrian Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) that shows off each dish in a different way. Check out their picks and alternatives, and start experimenting!