Two of my favorite flavor-packed, nutrient-dense, make-ahead summer salads

Sheet-pan kale salad with grilled corn, sungolds, and smoky cumin cashew dressing

The latest wave of heat + humidity that rolled through town had NYC feeling mighty tropical; more like an equatorial rainforest than a mid-Atlantic metropolis. Last Monday the heat index was 110 degrees F in Central Park! I just can’t even…as the kids say. My Itali-fro has been pulled back into a perma-bun for the last couple of weeks, I’ve found it difficult to wear anything besides my airiest linen caftan, and my home cooking has basically alternated between things-on-toast (nut butter + fruit, tahini + crispy egg, tomato + olives + feta) and big salads. Luckily the weather that isn’t so enjoyable for city folk is pretty great for all of my favorite summer edibles: sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, peaches, plums, zucchini, basil.

Out of these too-hot-to-eat-anything-but-salad days two new favorites were born: a sheet-pan kale salad with curry-roasted sweet potato, grilled corn, sungold tomatoes and a smoky cumin cashew dressing, and a new spin on a summery black bean salad with zucchini, sweet corn, honey lime jalapeño dressing and spicy candied pumpkin seeds.

The great thing about both of these salads is that they can be largely prepped in advance, with the more delicate ingredients (cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, leafy herbs) added right before serving so they don’t get soggy or mushy. These are salads hearty enough to serve as a plant-based main course, and they’re also great paired with a protein or grain of your choice — grilled chicken or fish, steamed quinoa or brown rice, grilled tofu or tempeh. And because they hold up nicely in the fridge these are also perfect recipes for Sunday batch cooking so you’ll be armed with several weekdays’ worth of no-sweat lunches and dinners.

Sheet-pan kale salad with grilled sweet corn, curry-roasted sweet potato, sungolds + smoky cumin cashew dressing
serves 4 to 6 as a side; 2 to 3 as an entree
Gluten-free, Grain-free, Vegan-adaptable

The beauty of this salad is that the marinated kale and other ingredients are tossed together right on the sweet potato’s baking sheet and then served on the very same pan. I love serving salads this way, rather than in a deep bowl, because it allows more even distribution of ingredients and dressing. Add the creamy, cashew-based dressing, sliced cukes and halved cherry tomatoes right before serving.

Maybe you’ve had a less than optimal experience with raw kale in the past? I know I have. Marinating the kale with lime juice, Celtic salt and olive oil helps to tenderize the leaves (almost like a kale ceviche) and mellow their flavor; using lacinato kale (aka Tuscan kale or cavalo nero), whose leaves are more tender than traditional curly kale, also helps.

Be careful with raw kale (and raw brassicas in general) if you have hypothyroidism, as certain compounds in these vegetables, when consumed uncooked, can interfere with thyroid function. For most of us a moderate serving of raw kale once a week or so shouldn’t pose a problem.

for the salad:
1 medium sweet potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 small bunch lacinato kale, stems removed, leaves washed, spun dry and thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ears of sweet corn, husks removed
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced into half-moons
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup thinly sliced chives
kosher salt, as needed
black pepper, as needed
2 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds
small handful of fresh basil leaves

for the dressing:
2 heaping tablespoons raw cashew butter (Artisana Organics Raw Cashew Butter is my favorite)
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.

On a rimmed baking sheet toss together sweet potato, olive oil, curry powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread out sweet potato cubes into a single layer and roasted until crisp-edged and golden, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

In a large bowl combine kale, lime juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt. Massage kale with clean hands until it begins to soften, about 1 minute. Set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.

Heat a grill or grill pan over medium heat. Brush corn with a little olive oil and grill until lightly charred on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from grill. When cool enough to handle slice the kernels from the cobs and set aside.

Add kale and corn kernels to sheet pan with sweet potato and toss to combine. (The salad can be prepared to this point up to 1 day ahead. Store in a covered container in the fridge and let sit at room temp for 15 minutes before serving). 

Combine all dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, taste and add more salt if desired. If too thick, blend again with 1 to 2 tablespoons water until the dressing has a pourable consistency. (Dressing can also be prepared up to 1 day ahead; store chilled and let sit for 15 minutes at room temp before serving. The dressing tends to thicken as it sits; stir in a little water to thin it out, if needed.)

When read to serve, top kale mixture with cucumber and tomatoes, drizzle with dressing, and finish with chives, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, and fresh basil.

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Black bean salad with zucchini, sweet corn, honey lime jalapeño dressing + spicy candied pumpkin seeds
serves 4 to 6 as a side; 2 to 3 as an entree
Gluten-free, Grain-free, Vegan-adaptable

You can’t go wrong with a brightly colored and richly textured black bean salad this time of year. I am hooked on this combination of creamy black beans with crunchy raw carrot, tender sautéed corn, zucchini, and bell pepper, juicy sungold tomatoes, sweet-tangy vinaigrette and crisp candied pumpkin seeds. It’s delicious with crumbled feta on top, and also makes a great side for your next BBQ.

for the candied pumpkin seeds:
1 teaspoon unsalted butter or olive oil
1/2 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

for the dressing:

juice of 2 limes (about 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon raw honey (or substitute agave syrup)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper
1/2 jalapeno, minced
1 garlic clove, smacked with a knife and peeled
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/4 cup olive oil

for the salad:
1-1/2 cups cooked black beans (or 1 can, drained and rinsed)
1 small carrot, sliced into half-moons
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1 small summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
kernels cut from 1 ear of sweet corn
1/2 green or red bell pepper, diced (about 1/2 cup)

2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
small handful of basil leaves
kosher salt and black pepper, as needed

Melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pumpkin seeds and toast, stirring often, until golden, about 2 minutes. Add chipotle, cumin, coriander, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook for 1 minute to toast the spices. Add maple syrup and cook for 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with remaining salt, if desired. Allow to cool.

In a large bowl whisk together lime juice, honey and salt. Add black pepper, jalapeño, garlic, oregano, chipotle chile, and olive oil and whisk to combine. Set aside for 10 minutes and remove garlic clove. Add black beans, carrot and scallions and toss to combine.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add squash, corn, and bell pepper, pinch of salt and a couple grinds of black pepper. Saute until vegetables are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer vegetable mixture to bowl with beans and dressing. Toss to combine and season with salt and black pepper, if needed. (Can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Store chilled in a covered container; let sit at room temp for 15 minutes and toss gently before serving).

Right before serving top black bean mixture with chives, cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, and candied pumpkin seeds.

3 thoughts on “Two of my favorite flavor-packed, nutrient-dense, make-ahead summer salads

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