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story.lead_photo.caption Chopped Salad With Za'atar Vinaigrette (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Shakespeare may have been referring to the fresh, inexperienced (and often foolish) vibrancy of youth when he had Cleopatra speak to her salad days in "Antony and Cleopatra," but here in the world of food writing, the phrase takes on a different meaning come midsummer when the season's bounty is at its finest and it feels like walking into a sauna wrapped in a wet blanket when you step outside.

The phrase is a predictable headline for stories like this one. But there's truth to many cliches. Short of eating a cold sandwich or having someone else do the cooking, there's no better nourishment come late July and August when it's just too hot to cook.

These days are made for salads.

We skipped the lettuce (and spinach and baby kale and arugula) and all the leafy greens for that matter in the following recipes. These salads let their main ingredients shine. That being said, it wouldn't hurt to add your favorite salad greens, if you must.

To increase the protein in this Middle Eastern-inspired salad so it's a meal, consider adding a can of chickpeas or mound of hummus.

Chopped Salad With Za'atar Vinaigrette

1 ½ cups diced cucumber, finely diced

1 ½ cups diced tomato

¼ cup red onion, minced

1 cup diced red, yellow or green bell pepper

¼ cup chopped parsley

¼ cup chopped mint leaves

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon za'atar (see note)

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Crumbed feta cheese, optional

Warm flatbread, for serving

In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, tomato, onion, bell peppers, parsley and mint.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and za'atar, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle with feta, if desired.

Serve with warm flatbread.

Makes about 4 servings.

Note: Za'atar is a spice blend common throughout the Middle East. It is available at specialty stores and some supermarkets. To make your own, combine 1 tablespoon sumac, 1 tablespoon dried thyme, 1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds, ¼ teaspoon dried oregano. Salt to taste and mix well. Store mixture in an airtight container.

This is essentially our favorite watermelon gazpacho recipe, but without the buzz in the blender.

Watermelon Gazpacho Deconstructed

5 cups cubed watermelon

1 cup diced seedless cucumber

¼ red onion, diced

½ to 1 jalapeno or Fresno chile, seeded, if desired

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar OR lime juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Handful or two fresh herbs such as basil, cilantro and/or mint

¼ cup crumbled queso fresco, mild feta or goat cheese

In a large bowl, combine watermelon, cucumber, onion and chile and toss to mix. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, olive oil and salt. Drizzle over watermelon mixture. Sprinkle with herbs and cheese. Serve.

Makes about 4 servings.

Southwestern Tomato and Corn Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Southwestern Tomato and Corn Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

You could easily turn this salad into an entree by adding some romaine lettuce and shredded rotisserie chicken. If you have an avocado, it would make an excellent addition.

Southwestern Tomato and Corn Salad

1 ½ pounds mixed ripe tomatoes, cored

Salt and ground black pepper

¾ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (from 1 ear corn)

¼ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon minced red onion or shallot

1 tablespoon minced jalapeno

Juice of ½ lime

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco or mild feta

Cut tomatoes into ½-inch pieces, if using cherry or grape tomatoes, halve or quarter them. Arrange cut tomatoes on large shallow platter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the corn kernels over the tomatoes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, onion, jalapeno, lime juice, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Drizzle evenly over the tomatoes and corn. Sprinkle with cilantro and cheese. Serve immediately.

Makes about 4 servings.

Recipe adapted from "The Complete Summer Cookbook: Beat the Heat With 500 Recipes That Make the Most of Summer's Bounty" from America's Test Kitchen

Chickpea and Cucumber Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Chickpea and Cucumber Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

This simple vegan salad from "Forks Over Knives Family: Every Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy Kids on a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet" by Alona Pulde, MD, and Matthew Lederman, MD, with recipes by Darshana Thacker ($22.99, Atria) can be embellished as desired, but even as written it's cooling and satisfying. We added lemon zest and red chile flakes to give it just a little more oomph. Next time we think we'll throw in a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes. A little crumbled feta (dairy or vegan) would also be delicious.

Chickpea and Cucumber Salad

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and well drained

1 medium cucumber, diced (1 ½ to 2 cups)

2 or 3 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

Juice from 1 lemon

Pinch sweet or mild paprika (we used smoked)

Salt, to taste

In a medium bowl, combine the chickpeas, cucumber, chopped mint, lemon juice, paprika and salt. Mix well. Serve immediately or chill before serving. Leftovers will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Makes about 3 cups.

Chile-Lime Melon Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Chile-Lime Melon Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Sweet melon, tart lime, piquant pepper and cooling cilantro team up in this savory melon melange. If you have a cucumber, feel free to toss it in too. We liked this on its own and as an accompaniment to pork chops.

Chile-Lime Melon Salad

3 cups diced melon, such as cantaloupe, honeydew or watermelon (or a mix)

Juice of 1 lime

¼ to ½ teaspoon ancho chile powder

Dash ground red pepper (cayenne) or crushed red pepper flakes, optional

¼ cup chopped cilantro or mint, optional

Salt, to taste

In a medium bowl, combine the diced melon, lime juice, ancho chile, cayenne (if using), cilantro (if using), and season with salt to taste. Serve immediately or serve chilled.

Makes about 3 cups.

Recipe adapted from California Cantaloupe

Print Headline: Sensational Salads

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