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Summertime in a bowl: Get salad inspiration from Atlanta chef Savannah Sasser

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Hampton + Hudson

Melon Gia salad from Atlanta's Hampton + Hudson


Summertime in a bowl: Get salad inspiration from Atlanta chef Savannah Sasser

Short of a smoothie, eating a salad is probably the easiest way to make sure you get the recommended daily allowance of fruits and veggies in your diet, something experts estimate only one in 10 Americans achieve. Not only are the South's summer’s fruits and vegetables exquisitely fresh and plentiful, they’re fiber-rich and nutrient dense so they'll fill you up without weighing you down — something every Southerner can appreciate during the dog days of the season.

That said, salads don't often get the love they sorely deserve.

Far from the paltry bowls of limp, insipid greens drowning under a sea of bottled salad dressing, today’s salads are vibrantly delicious, endlessly customizable and — essentially — summertime in a bowl.

Summer in the South means a slew of fruits, veggies and herbs that grow here with ease and make your salads bigger and better. Toss in some carbs or grains, plus proteins, fats and a drizzle of delicious salad dressing, and you've got a dish that's not just bliss in a bowl, but a bona fide meal. 

If you’re a true salad fanatic like myself, you will enjoy checking out this definitive history of salads before diving into your week's meal-planning. Otherwise, you may need proper inspiration for that luscious bounty coming from your garden, farmers market or local CSA, which is totally OK.

For tips, I turned to Savannah Sasser, executive chef at Atlanta's Hampton + Hudson and the person responsible for the restaurant's wildly popular Vegan Sunday Supper recurring event. Sasser shared three of her most beloved salad combinations, plus a tangy, earthy vinaigrette that you can (and should) drizzle on everything. What more could you ask for?

Grilled watermelon with arugula, goat cheese, sunflower sprouts and citrus honey vinaigrette

Take advantage of summer’s abundant watermelon supply by slicing it into generous slices and throwing them on to the grill. Once it is charred, bring piquant, peppery baby arugula and luscious, ultra-creamy goat cheese to the plate to offset the fruit's natural sweetness. At this point, you might think this dish can’t get any better, but add a generous handful of sweet and nutty sunflower sprouts, and a drizzle of tart and tangy vinaigrette made with citrus juice and a bit of honey, and you'll be in salad heaven.

Heirloom tomatoes, fennel, mixed greens and boiled peanut vinaigrette

In the South, we take our heirloom tomatoes very seriously, with good reason. They’re not only a thing of beauty (even if and when they look funny) — they’re a thing of unparalleled deliciousness. And while a tomato sandwich is always delicious, save it for another occasion and let your heirloom tomatoes shine in a salad. Pair sweet, explosively juicy heirloom tomatoes with crunchy, bright fennel and vibrant, buttery-soft mixed field greens. For an only-in-the-South dressing, shell a few boiled peanuts and pop them into a blender with oil and vinegar. We promise this salad will be unlike anything you’ve ever enjoyed before; you’ll wonder how you made it this long without it in your life.

Brussels sprouts, kale and blue cheese with mustard beer vinaigrette and grilled red onions

The next time you feel a nip of autumn in the air, plan to make use of season-bridging veggies. Hearty Brussels sprouts and kale mix beautifully with rich blue cheese crumbles, especially when the sprouts are shaved and the kale is torn into bite-sized nibbles that perfectly hug the blue cheese.  But what really makes these ingredients sing is when they're mixed with mustard beer vinaigrette. Tangy mustard and full-bodied beer blend effortlessly, while sophisticated shallots and thyme add a touch of earthy richness for a dressing that will please even the pickiest palette. Top it all off with grilled red onions and be forewarned: you will want to lick everything this dressing touches.

Chef Sasser's mustard beer vinaigrette recipe is below. Keep enjoying the salads of summer!

Mustard Beer Vinaigrette
Makes about 2 cups

Note: To get the most out of this dressing, do it up right and use a local beer.

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 cup ale, preferably local
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft but not brown. Add the ale, vinegar and honey and bring to a simmer. Continue to cook until the mixture is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Transfer the cooled shallot mixture to a blender and add the mustard. Turn the blender on, and while it is running, add the thyme and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Continue to blend until smooth and emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve.

Photo Credit (tomatoes): Lufa Farms

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Appalachian born and bred, Brook Bolen is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Guardian, Salon, Reader's Digest, and Thrillist, among others. She lives in the beautiful mountains of Southwestern Virginia with her family.