It’s bound to happen. And when it does, I’ll need a plan.  I’m talking about the first, perfect summer day.  Every year, it happens the same way, unexpectedly, on the heels of a long run of crummy spring weather.  A cloudless, peacock blue sky lures me outside into the morning air where a warm breeze makes my entire body feel suddenly limber.  The brittle cuticles that framed my fingernails the night before soften and recede.  For the first time in a long time, my feet are not cold.  That first, perfect summer day arrives, and abruptly, the harsh winter and fickle, soggy spring become irrelevant memories – replaced with thoughts of beaches, sunscreen, and an interesting question:  What will I make for dinner?

It’s a relevant question because the startling change in seasons requires a total rebooting of menu planning.  Yesterday, meatloaf and cornbread might have been perfectly appropriate.  But the first, perfect summer day deserves a very different ending: Something light, refreshing, and super simple to make.

And this year, I’m going to be ready with a plan.  My strategy? Beach season salads and dressings.

With the dawning of beach season, salad is on the minds of many.  It’s easy, delicious, nutritious, and low-cal, right?  Actually, it’s more complicated than that.  Getting fresh, healthy ingredients into a salad bowl is easy enough, especially given all the ready-to-eat produce available at grocery stores. But dressings – especially healthy, low-cal ones – can be tricky.  Are they worth the effort? Absolutely.  In fact, there’s no easier way to make a good salad spectacular than by tossing it with an amazing dressing.  Imagine biting into a salad topped with creamy avocado, succulent strawberries, crunchy quinoa, and spicy pecans. It’s cloaked in a dreamy dressing laced with spices you can’t quite identify. Unless, you made the dressing yourself.  With home made dressings you’re in charge of the ingredients, which makes you the master of flavor, texture and nutrition.

This last point – nutrition – is especially important with the advent of summer.  It’s all too easy to tip the nutritional content of a salad into the negative zone by tossing it with a bottled dressing that’s high in fat, salt, sugar and calories, and low in nutritional value.  As you’ll see from these recipes, that doesn’t have to happen.  By investing a few minutes in making your dressing, you can have both luscious flavor and excellent nutritional quality.  An added bonus:  You can make double batches, thus reducing prep time for tomorrow’s meals.

My approach toward beach season salad dressings is unorthodox.  For one thing, I often use plant-based milks as part of the base.  These include almond milk, coconut milk, and one you might not have heard of, pea milk.  Pea milk?  Yep, I know what you’re thinking.  It doesn’t sound exactly appetizing.  But pea milk, which, as of this writing, is dominated by a single brand, Ripple, has far more protein than most plant-based milks – about on par with cow’s milk.  It has a neutral flavor, which makes it a versatile addition to dressings.  Plus, its creamy consistency actually thickens when whisked on high speed in a blender. The result:  Rich flavor and texture, with a fraction of the calories of typical creamy dressings.

As you might imagine, the idea of mixing anything labeled “milk” with vinegar or lemon juice was counter intuitive at first.  But one of the beauties of plant-based milks is that most don’t curdle the way cow’s milk does when combined with acidic ingredients.  This is one of the advantages of using almond milk, for example, in smoothies.  You can blend it with orange juice and fruit without worrying about a sour flavor or lumpy consistency.   To me, this characteristic – stability of flavor and consistency – is a huge blessing when it comes to developing salad dressing recipes for my food blog, Salad Every Day.

Another example of my unorthodox approach is the use of exotic spices that aren’t typically found in salad dressings.  These spices are a quick, easy method to boost flavor.  They also offer important nutritional benefits, and have almost no fat or calories.

It’s hard to know exactly when that first, perfect summer day is going to land.  But I do know that it will show up, eventually.  In the meantime, if you want to be ready with a plan, like I do, now is the time to try these recipes. Enjoy!

Chicken & Cherries Salad – Cherry-Luscious Almond Dressing

The almond theme that rings throughout this recipe means rich, nutty flavor and a big does of healthy fiber.  Cherries give both the salad and dressing a sweet/tart punch along with a nice shot of vitamin C.

See the how-to video HERE

Makes:  4 main course salads; 1/2 cup dressing

Calories dressing, per tablespoon: 30

Calories salad, per serving: 225, plus dressing



  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened almond butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped shallots
  • 1/4 cup cherries, pits removed and cut into halves, plus additional for salad
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt


  • 7 ounces salad greens such as mesclun or spring mix
  • 12 ounces roasted chicken breast, cut into salad size pieces
  • 16 cherries, pitted and halved
  • 1/4 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


Transfer all of the dressing ingredients – except the cherries – to a blender and mix until smooth.  Add the cherries and pulse until the fruit is broken down to rice-size bits.

Toss the salad greens in a serving bowl with a light but thorough coating of the dressing.  Add salt and pepper to taste and toss again.  Arrange the chicken, cherries and almonds over the greens.  Drizzle with additional dressing, if desired.  Serve, and enjoy!

Dressing keeps, refrigerated, for about one week.


Eggplant Quinoa Salad – Creamy Moroccan Dressing

This salad boasts tons of healthy fiber, thanks to quinoa and eggplant.  The quinoa, along with the pea milk in the dressing, also ensures a nice serving of protein, while turmeric and cinnamon offer savory flavor plus anti-inflammatory benefits.

Makes:   2 main course salads; 1/3 cup dressing

Calories dressing, per tablespoon: 30

Calories salad, per serving:  247, plus dressing



  • 1/3 cup pea milk* (if unavailable, substitute unsweetened coconut milk)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, or to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

*Ripple original pea milk is available at some Whole Foods and natural foods stores.  For store locator:


  • 3 ounces spinach, baby kale, or a mix
  • 12 ounces grilled eggplant, cut into large   salad size pieces
  • 1 cup prepared quinoa
  • 6 small cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


In a blender, combine all of the dressing ingredients until smooth and thoroughly emulsified.  Transfer the salad greens to a serving bowl.  Toss with a generous coating of the dressing.  Adjust the salt and pepper to taste and toss again.  Arrange the remaining ingredients over the salad.  Drizzle with additional dressing, if desired.  Serve, and enjoy!

Dressing keeps, refrigerated, for about one week.


More Beets Please Salad – Ginger Loves Beets Dressing

The classic combo of beets and kale take on a whole new personality in this zesty salad. Fresh ginger and beets, blended right into the dressing, play the star roles; kefir (a liquidy form of yogurt available in the dairy section) plays a strong supporting actress.  The nutrition profile:  Beets contain lots of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.  I opted for aged goat cheese here, as hard, aged cheeses contain more protein than fresh cheese.  Thanks to the kefir and goat cheese, this salad provides a nice dose of calcium.

Makes:  4 side salads; 1/2 cup dressing

Calories dressing, per tablespoon:  22

Calories salad, per serving: 152, plus dressing



  • 1/4 cup cooked, roughly chopped beets
  • 1/3 cup kefir
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt


  • 5 ounces baby kale
  • 1 cup cooked beets, sliced into salad size pieces
  • 1 1/2 ounces aged goat cheese
  • 3 tablespoons roasted pumpkin seeds
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


Mix the all of the dressing ingredients in a blender on high speed until smooth.  The dressing will be fairly thick.  Thin, if necessary, to desired consistency with additional drops of vinegar and kefir.

Toss the kale with a light but thorough coating of the dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss again.  Assemble the remaining ingredients on top of the kale.  Drizzle additional dressing over the salad, if desired.  Serve, and enjoy!

Dressing keeps, refrigerated, for about one week.

Kate Mann writes the food blog, Salad Every Day, which focuses on a single objective:  How to make delicious salads a daily habit, using in-season produce and healthy, addicting, homemade dressings.  Salad Every Day includes over 250 original salad and dressing recipes, along with how-to videos and step-by-step photos. Kate divides her time between Miami, Florida, where she loves experimenting with exotic fruits and veggies, and New York City, where she enjoys exploring the diverse food scene with friends and family. Kate is currently working on a cookbook, Toss Well & Enjoy: An Unorthodox Approach To Healthy Salads & Dressings.  Leave a comment for Kate on her blog,  You can also follow her on:


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Twitter: @KateMannSED

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