Salads have always been sleeper Genius Recipe hits year-round (the butternut you don’t have to peel? The radicchio with the secret onion? The bitter greens doused in melted cheese, nachos-style?).
But spring and summer, of course, with a rainbow of plant friends bursting forth, are when salads with a smart trick or two really get their day in the sun. Below are 12 of my favorites for prolific gardens and warm days, picnics and backyard barbecues—conversation-sparkers, each and every one.
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1. Kiwi & Feta Salad From Nadiya Hussain
The surprise star of this salad from The Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain is kiwis, skin emphatically on. Skipping peeling makes the salad brighter, crunchier, and, yep, easier. And don’t worry about the fuzz: The honeyed tahini dressing smooths it down like pomade on a bad hair day.
2. Salatet Fattoush (California Fattoush Salad) from Reem Assil
Reem Assil’s California-style take on fattoush salad is the meal you’ll want to eat all summer, but you needn’t stop there. “The medley of vegetables is what makes fattoush so special,” Reem writes. “If you’re not a purist, you can make it a medley of anything.”
3. The Best Potato Salad Ever From Monifa Dayo
With buttery Yukon golds, yogurt and aioli, a fit of herbs, and soft-poached eggs barely stirred together, Monifa Dayo’s forward-thinking potato salad, as guest Genius columnist Brinda Ayer wrote, “embraces the best of what potato salad already is, and fills in the missing gaps to help it fulfill its true potential.”
4. Not Just Another Chicken Caesar Salad From Ali Slagle
This salad’s genius starts with a double-duty dressing-slash-marinade—that you don’t have to let marinate, or even wipe off before cooking—but Ali Slagle’s thoughtful tricks don’t stop there. By the way, for a lemony, California-in-the-‘90s twist on a Caesar, I’m contractually obligated to plug my dad’s version, too.)
5. Whole Grilled Red Onions With Sage, Honey & Walnuts From Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich
It might look more like a blooming dahlia than a salad, but the most surprising thing about Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich’s whole grilled onion salad may be how utterly simple (and fun) it is to make.
6. Cook’s Illustrated’s Italian Pasta Salad
Leave it to the team at Cook’s Illustrated to solve clammy-cold pasta salads with an unexpected twist of kitchen science. Their secret to getting the perfect texture? Overcook the noodles well beyond al dente.
7. Marcy Ragan’s Grilled Panzanella Caprese
Private chef and caterer Marcy Ragan manages to squeeze three summery Italian staples—Caprese, grilled bruschetta, and panzanella—into one surprisingly simple and harmonious salad.
8. Small Oven’s Green Salad With Preserved Lemon & Candied Ginger
This winning green salad formula from bakery and café Small Oven in Easthampton, Massachusetts will energize—and never bore—you, thanks to two pantry powerhouses.
9. Blackberry Farm’s Zucchini Caesar Salad with Cheese Crisps
Blackberry Farm’s herby Caesar dressing with zoodles (remember zoodles?) is fresh in a more subdued way than the classic, and substantial enough to be lunch. Just a thin blanket of dressing is enough to find yourself eating a whole lot of zucchini, which is handy because that seems to be how zucchini comes.
10. Deborah Madison’s Lentil Salad with Mint, Roasted Peppers & Feta Cheese
When Deborah Madison was looking for a less-stodgy lentil dish in her pioneering days as the founding chef at Greens restaurant in San Francisco, “I wanted a salad that was brighter somehow, and this was it,” she says. “It seemed to work because this comment came back from the dining room to the kitchen: ‘You’ve done for lentils what Kennedy did for the presidency!’”
11. Canal House’s Marinated Zucchini
You can make this summer side from Canal House whenever you have 15 minutes, and then completely forget about it. And because the zucchini is already cooked through and relaxed, the marinade seeps in more quickly and thoroughly than if the order of operations had been reversed.
12. Maricel E. Presilla’s Cuban Avocado, Watercress & Pineapple Salad
Instead of the cheery fresh pineapple typically used in this salad in Cuba, Maricel E. Presilla shakes a little sugar on top and broils it for a little sultry char. Cumin, avocado, and lots of garlic tamed in lime juice play together with it well.