Salad photo 2 from pexels pxmgjg

Image: Pexels

This time of the year is always nice in Houston. The days are still warm but not as stiflingly hot as before and we have Halloween and Thanksgiving to look forward to. I like to make warm salads at this time of year.

Salads don't have to be light and summery. In fact, some of the best ones are hearty combinations of ingredients, with contrasting flavors, textures and colors. You can get as creative as you want with salads, switching any ingredients you don't like with ones you do. I will often make a warm pasta or rice salad as a side dish.

A little mayonnaise and curry powder stirred into pasta with chopped cooked chicken and pineapple chunks makes an exotic salad and is great served warm on a bed of mixed baby leaves, while your favorite lettuce can be topped with any kind of meat or poultry warm from the grill or oven.

In a city renowned for barbecue and steak-loving carnivores, salads often get overlooked, but you can combine ingredients with your favorite protein to make the perfect meal. Choose locally grown, seasonal ingredients for added freshness.

Chicken, Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

This simple recipe makes a great lunch or dinner, and you can use any kind leafy greens you like. Swap the chicken for turkey, the goat cheese for another kind, or the beets for another vegetable if you want. This recipe serves two but can easily be doubled.

Ingredients:

  • 2 small chicken breasts
  • 6-inch baguette loaf
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 6 ounces mixed salad leaves
  • 4 ounces sliced goat cheese
  • 1/2 pound chopped cooked beets

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the chicken and baguette into cubes, then arrange them in a roasting dish. Drizzle half the olive oil over the chicken and bread and toss to coat. Grind over some salt and black pepper. Bake for 15 minutes or until the bread is crisp and the chicken is cooked through. Whisk the rest of the oil with the vinegar. Divide the leaves between two serving plates, then top with the goat cheese and beets. Add the chicken and baguette and drizzle the dressing on top just before serving.

Salad photo 1 from pexels suqqrg

Go ahead, throw some scallops on your salad.

Image: Pexels

Butternut Squash Salad with Cherries and Blue Cheese

The combination of sweet and salty flavors in this salad works really well. Use pumpkin instead of butternut squash if you prefer, and maybe switch the dried cherries for raisins or another type of dried fruit depending on what you have in the cupboard. The pumpkin seeds can also be swapped for nuts so you still get the crunch but a different flavor. This recipe serves four and is vegetarian.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds butternut squash
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 5 oz baby spinach
  • 3 tablespoons dried cherries
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the squash and cut it into 3/4-inch pieces. Toss them with half the honey, 1 tablespoon of the oil and some salt and black pepper. Now arrange the pieces on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, turning halfway through, or until tender. Remove the tray from the oven and let the butternut squash cool down a bit. Whisk the shallots, mustard and vinegar with the rest of the oil and honey, and some salt and black pepper. Divide the spinach between 4 serving plates and top with the butternut squash, cherries, pumpkin seeds and crumbed cheese. Drizzle over the dressing and serve right away.

If you'd rather skip the cooking and eat out, you might like to try Dish Society at 5740 San Felipe St., where you can build your own salad, choosing your greens, toppings and dressing. There are different kinds of greens and a range of tempting toppings to choose from, including bacon, golden raisins, cotija cheese, candied pecans and avocado, and then there are some tasty dressing options as well. The well-distributed Salata chain is another enticing option, where you can top your chosen greens with any of their 50 toppings and 10 homemade dressings. Add some chicken, shrimp or salmon on top, and enjoy. If you're especially hungry, you can add a bowl of soup and make your meal a combo.

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