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Summer greens bring lighter fare options

If Kerrianne Trickey has a list of favorite summer colors, green is likely near the top.

The greens Trickey favors most for summer are the fresh greens from the garden she uses to create the salads on the menu at Café Nutrition, a Neenah café and vitamin shop. The offerings seem to radiate summer as you read them, even more so when one is sitting on the table in front of you, and especially when the weather warms up.

“Green is always in for summer time,” says Trickey, owner of Café Nutrition. “It’s easier to be healthy when it’s warm out.”

As summer finally gains a hold in the Fox Cities, and the temperature begins to rise, our tastes turn green and salads become one of the most popular dishes on the menu. Whether it’s a small mix on the side to complement a dish, or a full plate combining meats, cheeses and fruits that eats like a meal, we love the greens of summer.

At Café Nutrition, the chicken, cranberry and pecan salad is one such dish. When temperatures rise, so does demand for the summery combination of tastes and textures.

“I sold more salads today than I have in a month,” Trickey says during an interview on one of the few warm, sunny April days the Fox Cities enjoyed earlier this spring. “Once one person orders it, everyone else says ‘that sounds great’ and starts to order one.”

Seth Lenz knows all about the shift in diner demands as the weather warms up. He changes over his menu from soups to salads as the days get longer and the mercury rises.

“In the winter, soup is the comfort food you want,” says Lenz, owner of Seth’s Coffee & Bake Shop in Little Chute. “In summer, you want fresh, not hot. You associate salads with cooling off, sitting outside and enjoying the weather.”

This summer, Lenz is working to expand the salad offerings at Seth’s, both as a complement to other meals or as an entree on their own. There will be several varieties of garden salads featuring fresh vegetables and mixed greens, as well as a spinach salad with feta cheese and strawberries.

So, what makes a great summer salad? It depends on who you ask. Chefs and café owners in the Fox Cities all have definitive thoughts on the right combination of crunch, sweetness and savory flavors.

For Sue Bogenschutz, it’s all about the sweet and crunchy. That’s where she starts when she’s thinking about new salads for the menu at Atlas Coffee Mill & Café.

“I particularly like spinach, though I do like the crunch of a good lettuce leaf,” says Bogenschutz. “I’m also a big fan of sweet onions. You see red onions a lot, but not the sweet ones. I love a Vidalia.”

Take a quick peak at the menu for Atlas Coffee Mill & Cafe and you will find Bogenschutz’s influence in the Strawberry & Mandarin Orange Spinach Salad, which includes sliced almonds and a sweet Vidalia onion dressing.

Veda Beyer also is a fan of all things sweet, but when she is working on new salads for All Seasons Coffee House in Grand Chute, she also likes to find new ways to combine those tastes with the savory flavors she loves.

A Teriyaki Citrus Salad, which combines the savory taste of teriyaki with the refreshing tang of an orange was previously offered. Each month, the salad selection is switched.

Another important element to creating a great summer salad is finding the freshest ingredients possible. Beyer recently completed construction of her own green house, which will allow her to grow, and experiment with, the freshest greens and herbs possible.

“I’ll be starting with what’s seasonal and going from there,” Beyer says. “I’m sure the green house will provide some inspirations.”

Of course, a salad would not be complete for many without dressing, and the general consensus seems to be that vinaigrettes and balsamic dressings are best to enhance the flavors of a favorite salad.

“Vinaigrettes, especially the raspberry, really mix well with the other flavors,” says Trickey. “You want something that complements the mixture.”

It’s not that heavier dressings aren’t good, but local chefs suggest they may hide the fresh vegetable tastes that make salads such a good summer choice. If we have to wait for months for fresh greens, why cover them up?

“With the vinaigrettes and balsamics, they are just fresher, lighter and better for you,” says Lenz.

For Ali Zimmerman, owner of Kaukauna Coffee & Tea, the increased demand for salads is a sure sign the seasons have finally turned — even in a year when winter seemed like it would never release it’s grip.

She, too, is a fan of combining sweet and crunchy in her creations, often looking to mix items such as dried cranberries with almonds in her salads. A popular choice on her menu is the Almond Mandarin Salad, which combines mandarin oranges, almonds and bacon bits in a salad topped with a raspberry vinaigrette.

It helps, she says, that diners crave salads most at the very time when the ingredients are most abundant and the prices are down. Which, she points out, is not just a random coincidence.

‘“It’s all seasonal,” Zimmerman says. “I think we just instinctively know that it’s time to clean out our bodies and clear our minds to enjoy the summer.”

— By Sean P. Johnson

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