Here’s to the glory of summer’s bounty. Summer platter salads celebrate Vineyard farms, and the ease of summer cooking.
A platter salad is a meal in one, chock-full of local vegetables, cheeses, fish or meat, designed to feed four to eight — easily. That’s the key: ease, quickness, and minimal cooking. You start with a base of leafy greens topped by tons of veggies and a protein of choice. It’s also a good way to cut back on meat or chicken — it’s not the center of the platter, just a part.
These have been my new favorite salads for the past few years, especially for company and casual dinners. Think Cobb Salad or Salad Nicoise with rows or groupings of colorful ingredients, but keep in mind that there’s no reason they have to be the same each time. Take the concept, but add flexibility, creativity, personal preferences, and what you might find in season around you, and you have the dinner platter. Once you realize that nearly anything goes, you can create an infinite variety — choosing from a myriad of summer veggies, shredded chicken, grilled shrimp, beans, tempeh croutons, or even mini lamb burgers — why not? A family favorite is a grilled steak summer platter with grilled bread, juicy tomatoes, greens, and cucumbers. For a recent salad of roasted salmon with raw veggies, I added roasted artichokes and cooked lentils for a little variety.
Start with a base of greens: baby lettuce, arugula, or baby kale. If you are buying off-Island lettuce from the supermarket in the summer, you should be booted off the Vineyard. Morning Glory’s Salanova mix of washed and ready soft baby greens in a bag or loose is a popular favorite. So is the party mix from Beetlebung Farm in Chilmark. North Tabor Farm, also in Chilmark, grows near perfect arugula — just the right amount of spiciness.
Baby kale is the most tender of the kales. This nutritious, dark, leafy green makes a great base for a platter salad. Look for baby kale at Ghost Island and Morning Glory farms.
While you are picking up salad greens, look around at what else the farm grows — juicy summer tomatoes, crisp tasty cucumbers, radishes, red cabbage, carrots, red onions. You will reduce your carbon footprint by buying and supporting local farms, buying tastier food that hasn’t been trucked for hundreds or maybe thousands of miles. You’ll often find some surprises, too, like fennel, daikon radish, or kohlrabi, which make crunchy additions. I try not to cook too much for the platters, but sometimes farm potatoes go nicely, or those yummy summer green beans (steamed for 4 minutes), or even farm-fresh hard-boiled eggs.
Cheeses like blue cheese from the Grey Barn Farm or the feta at Mermaid Farm add additional flavor. If you can’t get Mermaid Feta, my second choice is the Valbresso feta from France. Fresh mozzarella works too.
For the protein, anything grilled makes sense in summertime. (anything roasted, like salmon or chicken, works well, too.) Sometimes I use a combination to accommodate all guests — some rolled prosciutto along with fish, or chicken and grilled shrimp. It is possible to make the platters without cooking at all: Smoked bluefish or salmon can work, as can rotisserie or leftover chicken, shredded or diced.
You can put together these salads a few hours ahead of time. Take them out of the fridge a bit ahead of serving; the platters are nice when vegetables are at room temp.
Make sure to make the dressing yourself — this makes the difference between a decent salad and ones your friends or family will rave about. Store-bought dressings typically use highly processed oils, not extra virgin olive oil, along with plenty of additives. My best go-to summer herb vinaigrette takes about 5 minutes to make and works on any salad.
I cannot emphasize enough the taste and quality that you get from fresh summer produce and the difference it makes in your summer meals. When fall rolls around, and I’m often forced back to the supermarkets, I really notice the difference and get a little blue. But for now, I’m in summertime glory.
These have been my new favorite salads for the past few years, especially for company and casual dinners.