It's the salad days of summer, but don't limit yourself to tossed greens

Though it’s easy to default to the thought of tossed greens, salads can be built out of just about any ingredients.

It's easy to customize individual plates to suit everyone's preferences

Salad doesn't always have to be leafy greens. This couscous salad has fresh mint and feta cheese in it. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

We're into the salad days of summer — though the Shakespearean phrase originally referred to the naïveté of youth.

It could perhaps be more useful in describing that time in mid-August when suddenly everything is in season: tomatoes, corn, peppers, zucchini, greens, stone fruit. Your salad options are practically limitless.

Though it's easy to default to the thought of tossed greens, salads can be built out of just about any ingredients, not necessarily tossed but arranged (artfully or not).

A composed salad (like a niçoise or cobb) is one that's arranged on a platter or plate, rather than tossed in a bowl; ingredients are layered, scattered or neatly organized, with any oil, vinegar or dressing drizzled overtop.

It's one of the very best ways to assemble dinner, and to use up what you have, or to make the most of what's in season.

  •  Listen to Julie Van Rosendaal's full interview on the Calgary Eyeopener below for pantry staples and tricks for when you're missing an ingredient.

Arranging ingredients on a plate is also ideal when you need to make enough for just one or two, or even five or 10 — and it's easy to customize individual plates to suit everyone's preferences.

Plated salads can include all things, from fresh produce to grains to proteins. It provides a great opportunity to consider how different elements contrast and pair well on a plate: crisp and green, crunchy, soft, rich, buttery, acidic, sweet, tangy, briny, nutty, earthy.

A composed salad is a great way to get the feel of "cooking" without following a recipe.

Besides the usual leafy greens, consider all vegetables, raw or cooked — grilled, roasted, boiled, steamed — and plated warm, at room temperature or cold. (While grilling or roasting, make extra with future salads in mind.)

Starchy things like stale bread (toasted or grilled, preferably, and torn into rough croutons), crushed toasted pitas, pastas, whole cooked grains or even potatoes provide a good base when you want something a bit more substantial.

If you're boiling potatoes, pasta or grains, you can multitask by tossing green beans, shelled peas or asparagus into the cooking water for the last couple minutes to blanch them before you drain the lot.

Dress it with oil and vinegar or lemon juice, or a quickly shaken vinaigrette. A typical ratio is one part acid (vinegar or citrus juice, like lemon or lime) to three to four parts oil. With a squirt of mustard or spoonful of mayo to emulsify them, add garlic and/or any herbs and spices you can dream up, plus a pinch of salt and pepper.

You don't really need to follow a recipe to build a salad. Be inspired by the season or your garden, and guided by your appetite. But here are a few that made it into the CBC studio for tasting on Tuesday.

Peach-Tomato Salad with Corn and Grilled Sourdough

Quantities here don't matter — gauge the number of tomatoes and peaches you use by the number of people you're feeding, and dress it all according to your taste.

In this tomato, peach and sourdough salad, you can gauge the number of tomatoes and peaches you use by the number of people you’re feeding, and it can be dressed according to your taste. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Of course, all ingredients are optional. If you don't have something or other, don't sweat it. Any combination of these is delicious.

  • Ripe tomatoes. 
  • Salt. 
  • Thickly sliced sourdough.
  • Corn on the cob.
  • Garlic olive or canola oil. 
  • Ripe peaches.
  • Fresh basil. 
  • Fresh mozzarella, burrata, feta or goat cheese.
  • Freshly ground pepper.


  • Red wine vinegar.
  • Olive or canola oil.
  • Mayo (optional).
  • Grainy mustard (optional).
  • Salt and pepper, to taste.

Thickly slice your tomatoes onto a platter or plate, and sprinkle with salt. Let them sit (the salt will draw out some of the juices) while you grill your sourdough and corn (or leave either or both raw, or toast your bread in the toaster). Put the garlic into a little dish of oil and use it to brush your toasted bread.

Sprinkle with a bit of salt. When it's cool enough to handle, tear the bread into the dish with the tomatoes, and scrape the kernels of corn off the cob and add them, too.

Slice in your peaches, tear in the basil and mozzarella (or crumble in some feta or goat cheese). Either drizzle with oil and red wine vinegar, or shake together about 3:1 oil to vinegar, with a spoonful of mayo and/or a squirt of mustard, if you like.

Add a pinch of salt and pepper and drizzle over your salad, to taste. Serves as many as you like.

Potato, Pasta and Green Bean Salad with Tuna and Pesto

You could do potatoes or pasta, or both. Often when I'm cooking short, chunky pasta, I'll make extra to toss into a salad. Boiled potatoes also keep well in the fridge for a few days.

In this potato, pasta and green bean salad with tuna and pesto, the ingredients are flexible. If you don't have (or don't like) any of the ingredients, you can just leave them out. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Again, quantities and ratios don't matter — cook as much as you'd like to eat — and don't worry if you don't have (or don't like) any of the ingredients, just leave them out.

  • New potatoes, halved if large. 
  • Chunky pasta, such as farfelle or cavatelli or fusilli. 
  • Green beans, stem ends trimmed.
  • Pesto. 
  • Olive oil. 
  • Salt and pepper, to taste. 
  • Canned tuna in oil. 
  • Crushed olives. 
  • Hard or soft-boiled eggs. 

Boil the potatoes in enough water to cover them for about 10 minutes, or until just tender, adding the green beans for the last minute or two of cooking time, so that they're tender-crisp.

Cook the pasta until just tender (you may be able to get away with cooking them together).

Drain and transfer to a plate or bowl (cool and refrigerate, if you want it cold) and spoon over some pesto, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Toss gently to coat the potatoes, then scatter with tuna and olives, and nestle in quartered eggs, if you like.

Couscous with Chickpeas, Tomatoes, Cucumbers and Feta

Couscous is a type of pasta. It's tiny grains of semolina flour that can be quickly cooked by pouring water from a kettle over dry couscous, covering with a plate and setting it aside until the water is absorbed — a perfect method when it's hot outside. (Use slightly more water than couscous, about 2 extra tablespoons per cup.)

If you're using large pearl or Israeli couscous, cook it like pasta, in salted water, for about 10 minutes, or until it's just tender.

This is fantastic with a skewer of grilled chicken or shrimp nestled overtop, and drizzled with garlicky yogurt.

  • Couscous (any kind).
  • Cooked or canned, drained chickpeas.
  • Tomatoes, chopped.
  • Cucumber, chopped. 
  • Crumbled feta.
  • Fresh mint, parsley or basil, or a combination.
  • Fresh lemon juice.
  • Olive or canola oil.
  • Salt and pepper, to taste.

Cook the couscous according to the package directions, and set aside to cool. Pour it out onto a platter and scatter with chickpeas, chopped tomatoes and cucumber, crumbled feta, and chopped or torn herbs.

Squeeze lemon overtop and drizzle with olive or canola oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.


Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.