4 Protein-Rich Dinner Salads for Summer’s Hottest Days
For those days when you’ve got mouths to feed but it’s too hot to do any substantial cooking, turn to these crowd-pleasing yet carb-conscious dinner salads.
If I lived alone, I’d probably eat a watermelon every night of the summer and call it dinner. But that wouldn’t be very nutritionally sound, and I don’t live alone. Which leaves me with the challenge of making meals that feel, to my family, like actual meals — but without spending a lot of time in my hot kitchen and without serving up steaming plates of cooked whatever that nobody really wants to eat.
Enter these hefty substantial salads, with their extravagant proteins – steak! salmon! bacon! — in portions that don’t break the bank, and their delicious dressings and their crunchy extras and all-around cool appeal. Feel free to mix and match the proteins: Chicken would go great in the blue cheese salad or on the Caesar; steak would be delicious slivered and mixed into the gingery slaw; boiled eggs or baked tofu make great vegetarian stand-ins. You can also use whatever you’ve got leftover from last night’s grilling – pork chops, chicken thighs, shrimp. Or omit the protein entirely and serve these as sumptuous sides – with the exception of the bacon and egg salad, which doesn’t have quite enough going for it once you omit the bacon and eggs, at which point it’s just. . . salad.
You’re getting a few bonus dressing recipes in here, which are tailored to specific salads, but which you should feel free to run away with and use on the salads of your choosing! If you’ve never tried it before, then know in advance that making salad dressing is like a magic trick: It’s not hard, and the dressing turns out way better than anything you can buy at the store. Plus, it’s not full of weird, unpronounceable stabilizers and preservatives. And it’s guaranteed to have no added sugar – because you didn’t add any! Which doesn’t mean it’s not rich and delicious. These are rich and delicious dressings. Trust me.
Thanks to the decadence factor, these are not virtuous-feeling meals, though you will feel great after eating them – and even while you’re making them. So go ahead and fill your sink with cold water to wash a giant bowlful of greens. Then plunge your hands into that cold water for a nice summer cool-off, and rest assured that this feeling is going to carry you all the way through dinner.
This decadent concoction is based on a fancy French bistro salad, Frisée aux Lardons, which tops bitter curly endive with lardons (French for “bacon chunks”), a poached egg, and croutons. We’re skipping the croutons here, for the sake of a carb-reduced life, but we are doubling the bacon, so really, it’s a net gain! Plus, topping a salad with a poached egg is kind of like topping a salad with a rich, delicious ladleful of Hollandaise sauce, in the best possible way.
If you’re feeding folks who are skeptical about the whole concept of salad as dinner (“What are we — rabbits?” these people might say, annoyingly), then you might think of this as a kind of gateway recipe. It is really hard to argue with steak. And it is really hard to argue with blue cheese dressing. Plus, I’ve served this to my 19-year-old son and not even caught him an hour later eating what he refers to as “second dinner.” That’s how satisfying it is.
This salad is my ideal summer meal. It requires that the stove be on for a grand total of a mere 10 minutes, and it’s crunchy, herby, zippy, and totally satisfying without making you need to lie down on the couch in a stupor after eating it. I love Napa cabbage here – the way it somehow gets wilted but stays crisp – but regular green cabbage will work, too; just give it a little time to sit and soften after you dress it. Flavor-saturated tofu is a great vegetarian substitute for the chicken in this recipe, if you have vegetarians living in your house, which I do.
I’m not picking favorites among my dinner-salad children, but man is this good. The salmon is cooked over low heat, which makes it plush and fresh-tasting; the dressing is bright with lemon and funky with anchovies; and the cheese crisps offer just the right amount of carbless crunch (to say nothing of the additional snowy heaps of parmesan).
Photo credit: Catherine Newman