I don’t know about you, but when the weather gets hotter, the last thing I want to do is spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to eat meals that are scrumptious and satisfying. When summer arrives, thoughts of salads dance in my head. There are a lot of people who think salads are boring bowls of ripped up lettuce and tomatoes with bottled dressing poured on top – have those people been eating the wrong salads? I think so! Creating a refreshing summer salad is like composing a sonata or painting a masterpiece; it’s all about color, texture and taste. Ingredients can run from simple to stunning, from easy to exotic and from light to luscious. Once you start creating salads that are out of the ordinary, you’ll learn how extraordinary they can be. Here are 7 steps for making refreshing summer salads:

1. Use Different Greens

The first ingredient that comes to mind when people think of salads is probably lettuce. Lettuce is great, and there are so many kinds besides iceberg…though that’s good, too. Romaine lettuce is the classic choice for Caesar Salads, but why not be adventurous and try all the different greens available? In  the lettuce category alone, there is leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, Boston lettuce, escarole, Frisee, radicchio and mesclun. When you massage kale with a bit of oil and salt, it gets soft and tender, as in this Avocado and Kale Chili Salad. Other greens you can use in your salad include arugula, cabbage, chard, dandelion greens, endive, fennel, spinach and watercress. Try creating your own mix of greens by combining two or three varieties like in this Arugula Fennel Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing or this Smoky Chickpea Watercress Salad with Mango and Avocado. Choose greens that have different tastes or textures. For example, combine mild Boston lettuce with peppery arugula and crunchy cabbage.

7 Steps for Making Refreshing Summer Salads

2. Or Leave Out the Leaves

Who says salad has to have greens at all? The base of a salad can be anything you want it to be. Make summer vegetables the star of the show like in this Grilled Beet Salad with Almonds and Dried Cranberries and this Potato Salad with Cilantro, Dill and Tomatoes. Grains can be the main focus in a salad as in this Curried Couscous and Vegetable Salad and this Freekeh Salad with Cucumbers, Pistachios and Mint. Salads made with beans and legumes are packed with flavor and protein. Try this Chickpea Waldorf Salad or this Spicy Lentil Salad.

7 Steps for Making Refreshing Summer Salads

3. Sweeten It Up With Fruit

Summer is the best time to indulge in juicy, ripe fruit. Putting fruit in a salad adds flavor, texture and beautiful color. Try using a combination of fruits that have different tastes and textures like in this Massaged Kale Salad with Fresh Figs and Oranges and this Quinoa Salad with Figs, Purslane and Goji Berries. Or, have an entire bowl of sweetness and savor a delicious fresh fruit salad.

7 Steps for Making Refreshing Summer Salads

4. Use Your Noodles

When it’s too warm to serve a hot meal, serve up a cool and refreshing pasta salad. Pasta salads are extremely versatile – you can serve them hot or cold, and you can use any type of pasta you like, whether soba noodles, penne or rice noodles. They are portable, and, since vegan mayo has no eggs, you don’t have to worry about it spoiling in the heat. Cool down with this Soba Noodle Salad with Avocado and Mango or Cold Rice Noodles in a Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce over a bed of Cabbage.

7 Steps for Making Refreshing Summer Salads

5. Power Up With Protein

Contrary to what some people think, salads can be wonderful sources of protein. You can easily turn a salad into a satisfying main course by adding tofu, tempeh or seitan. Serve some vegan versions of classic salads such as a Simple BLT Salad, Mock Chicken Salad and Tempeh “Tuna” Salad. Who wouldn’t love a Sesame Tofu and Broccoli Salad or a Baby Greens Salad with Maple-Glazed Tempeh? Yum!

 7 Steps for Making Refreshing Summer Salads

6. Go Nuts for Texture

Salads taste best when they have different textures running through them. Add some crunch, as well as protein, to those tender greens with nuts and seeds. Bite into a Snap Pea Salad with Almonds in an Herbed Vinaigrette or a  Quinoa and Beet Salad with Hazelnuts. Other crunchy toppings include seeds such as sesame, chia, hemp, pumpkin and sunflower.

 7 Steps for Making Refreshing Summer Salads

7. Dress It Up

No salad is complete without a tasty dressing to go with it. If you love creamy dressings, top your greens with a Vegan Caesar Dressing, Creamy Balsamic Dressing or a zippy Ginger Tahini Dressing. Go exotic with an Umeboshi Dressing or a Sweet and Tangy Green Chile-Chipotle-Cilantro Dressing. Impress your guests with a beautiful and delicious Green Goddess Dressing. Prefer to be oil-free? No problem. Indulge in salad dressings that are as healthy as they are delicious with this Berry Miso Dressing or this Tomato, Kalamata and Miso Dressing.

7 Steps for Making Refreshing Summer Salads

Just because the weather makes it too hot to cook doesn’t mean we can’t eat fantastic, fresh salads that are healthy, satisfying and delicious. When you remember that a salad is about so much more than just lettuce, the possibilities become endless.

Lead image source: Spring Salad: Edible Flowers and Dandelion Leaves