A Chef's Secrets + Recipes For Making Salad the Main Dish

A Chef's Secrets + Recipes For Making Salad the Main Dish

The Secrets for the Perfect Salad

In the second installment of our “Savoring Summer with Kitchensurfing” series, we’re sharing three summer salads from Chef Lori Hill. Based on experimenting with what she’s stocked in her fridge, Chef Lori’s recipes prove to be healthy, cool starters and meals for the season. Here, she dishes on her secrets for making salads that are easy, unexpected and don’t always require lettuce...

The best part of salads, especially when the market is bursting with the fresh colors and textures that the summer sun provides, is that you can’t go wrong with putting them together. This is the time when you should channel your youthful innocence and feel free to play and experiment in the kitchen. It’s a great opportunity to combine your refrigerator’s leftovers to make a new and refreshing dish.

A good checklist for composing delicious, well-balanced meals is to follow your five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. Umami, meaning savory, is an especially creative trick for making your salad. Mushrooms, cheeses, meats, and/or seafood take what is typically a neglected dish and turns it into the main attraction.

Often, this formula can be applied to how you compose your salad dressing too. Combining citrus juice and or vinegar (sour); salt (but not too much); honey, agave, maple syrup, etc. (sweet); and olive oil, garlic, or shallots (umami) can, for example, make a simple dressed salad of crunchy bitter greens. This is a refreshing starter or main dish when combined with a protein of meats, fish, or nuts. Taste as you go to get the balance of ingredients to fit your specific preferences.

A misconception about salads is that they have to be made with lettuce. I love a good lettuce-based salad and try to eat one everyday, but greens aren’t required to have a tasty cold starter or meal.  Just about anything in your refrigerator can make a good salad. Cut up one of everything in your vegetable drawer, add beans, quinoa, nuts, tortilla chips, the last few strawberries, or toss in last night’s chicken to the salad bowl and mix it up. Clean out your herb drawer by swirling the herbs in your food processor with a good salad oil, salt, vinegar, citrus juice, a little garlic. and shallot and you might as well be sitting in Chez Panisse.

That’s how the "Lentil and Zucchini Salad" recipe featured below came to be a delicious go-to. The leftover lentils from a warm dish the night before made a great base for a cool salad tossed with a bit of yogurt and the last zucchini in the vegetable drawer. It’s since inspired more salads using the same ingredients and, the best part, my family now asks for it regularly. Repurposing is a strong tool for exercising your creativity in the kitchen, especially when it comes to salads.

If you enjoy the following recipes from Chef Lori of Kitchensurfing, consider letting our friends give you the night off in the kitchen by using the code kshonest for 10% off your first booking. They’ll make summer dining easy (and tasty!).

Tomato Salad with Fennel Red Wine Vinaigrette

Prep Time:  20 minutes

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients (Use Organic When Possible)

  • 4 Heirloom tomatoes
  • ¼ cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp Agave Nectar
  • 2 tsp Shallot
  • 1 tsp Garlic
  • Handful Fennel Fronds
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper (optional)
  • Good Olive Oil


1. Dice the tomatoes in full, one inch cubes and set aside. Ripe, room temperature tomatoes are best for this recipe.

2. Finely dice the shallot and garlic and let sit in the red wine vinegar for 10-20 minutes with a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, roughly chop the fennel fronds and set aside.

3. Toss the vinegar and aromatics with the tomatoes and fennel fronds. Drizzle with good olive oil to taste. Add salt if needed and always taste and adjust your dressing as you go.

Lentil + Zucchini Salad with Basil Yogurt Dressing

Prep Time: 1.5 hours

Inactive Time: 30 minutes

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients (Use Organic When Possible)

  • 1 cup dried lentils
  • 2 California Bay Leaves
  • 4 cups water or broth
  • 1 zucchini, chopped or cut in strips
  • 1 cup basil, chopped or chiffonade
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar or white balsamic
  • ¼ cup yogurt
  • salt to taste


1. In a medium saucepan, add water and enough salt to taste. Boil water then add lentils and bay leaf. Cook gently until cooked but still firm and holding their shape. When cooked through, drain from the water and add the vinegar while hot. Cool lentils in the refrigerator. Discard the bay leaf.

2. Meanwhile, add the diced garlic to the yogurt and dice or slice the zucchini and basil.

3. When the lentils are cool, drain from the vinegar (or, if you like it, keep it and add to the yogurt) and combine the rest of the ingredients, adding salt as you see fit.

Shrimp Avocado Salad from Kitchensurfing Chef Lori Hill

Shrimp with Shaved Celery and Avocado with Four-Herb Dressing  

Prep Time: 30

Servings: 6

Ingredients (Use Organic When Possible)

  • 18 Wild Caught Shrimp, deveined (3 shrimp per person)
  • 6 celery stalks
  • Head of Frisée
  • 4 avocados, cut into small cubes or sliced
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 Tbsp tarragon
  • 1 Tbsp mint
  • 1 Tbsp basil
  • 1 Tbsp parsley
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup grapeseed oil
  • salt to taste


1. Finely dice the herbs and set aside.

2. To make the creamy dressing, add the egg yolk to a medium-sized, preferably glass bowl and, using a hand mixer with the whisk attachment, slowly drizzle the oil into the egg yolk until a creamy texture has formed. Stir in lemon juice, herbs, and salt to taste.

3. Sear the lightly salted, cleaned shrimp on a grill or sautée pan and set aside. This salad is delicious with hot or room temperature shrimp. Using a mandoline, finely shave the celery stalks into long lengths and toss with frisée. Slice avocados and combine all ingredients for a beautiful and delicious salad.

For more great recipes in our summer series, go here! And share your favorite salad dishes in the comments below — we'd love to add them to our recipe repertoire.

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.