Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.

Colorful salad in wooden bowl

Make your own croutons by saving the end of a fresh loaf of bread and baking it a low heat for 30 to 40 minutes.

The farmers markets are opening up again, and some of the great joys of the early season produce are tender, sweet greens. And because my husband just read about a study that suggests eating greens helps with memory as we age, we’ve been eating a lot of salad these days!

One of the most wide-ranging and versatile of meal courses, salads can be almost anything. Sometimes it’s just a side, our vegetable for the evening, and other times we have some leftover protein and add it to the bowl for a filling main course salad, and perhaps, if I remember in time, with a sous vide egg on top. But what really makes a salad sing are the garnishes and the dressing.

Among our favorite toppings are croutons. Every time we get to the end of a loaf of good bread (and usually by then it’s a bit stale anyway), I cut the rest into crouton-sized cubed and add to my “crouton bag” in the freezer. Then, when we need croutons, I just take out a few handfuls and make some. The crouton recipe makes enough for 8 to 10 salads, although when I have a container on the counter, some of my family likes to snack on them and some never make it onto a salad!

I prefer to make my own dressing to cut down on added sugar. My go-to everyday dressing can be made in less than 5 minutes. My kids like to gift me flavored balsamic vinegars, so it’s a fun way to have some variety. If I plan ahead or happen to have blue cheese in the house, I make my dad’s blue cheese dressing. I still have the piece of paper where I scribbled this combination as he rattled off his ingredients.

Of course salad ingredients are accessible year-round, and these recipes are not seasonal. But the new, fresh greens are, so stop by your local farmers market and make a nice salad!

CROUTONS

Makes enough for 8 to 10 salads, can be multiplied or divided

INGREDIENTS

2-3 cups stale bread cubes (right from the freezer is fine if you’re storing bread cubes there)

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence, or other favorite dried herbs

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder (sometimes called granulated garlic)

1/8 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or other pepper or paprika (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 300 F. 

Line a pan with foil for easier clean-up, although this is not necessary. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer. Drizzle the olive oil over all. Sprinkle with the herbs, garlic powder, and pepper (if using).

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until dry and golden. Allow to cool before storing in a container so they stay crunchy.


Salad on white plate

Fresh greens are in season right now and are the perfect side dish or part of the main meal when protein is added. 

EVERYDAY VINAIGRETTE

Enough for 2 to 4 individual salads, depending on size; can be multiplied.

INGREDIENTS

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch fresh pepper (a few grinds)

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon good balsamic vinegar (flavored is fine, and fun for variety)

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Place salt and pepper in a small glass measuring cup. (This makes it easy to pour over the salads.) Add the two vinegars and whisk to dissolve the salt. Add the Dijon and whisk again. Pour in the olive oil while whisking. If it separates, whisk again right before dressing the salad.

DAD’S BLUE CHEESE DRESSING

Makes about a cup, enough for 4 large individual salads; can be multiplied or divided

INGREDIENTS

4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons white balsamic or red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon ketchup (or chili sauce – the kind that’s similar to ketchup, not spicy)

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

Place the blue cheese and mayonnaise into a medium bowl. Break up the blue cheese chunks and mix with the mayonnaise. If you have bought blue cheese that is already crumbled, you will only need to break up the big pieces. If you are working from a wedge of cheese, you may need to use two forks to break up the cheese.

Add the remining ingredients and mix well.

Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.