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Keeping Cool: Salads Stay Composed

Like Caribbean tourism and ski shops, cooking slows down in summer. For many of us, the only tolerable cooking heat comes from a barbecue grill, and we turn to meals that are light, healthful and easy to assemble. This is when composed salads save the day.

But before we progress, an etymological question: What's with the name "composed salad?" It could just as well refer to paintings of food as food itself. Why not call it "full meal salad" or "salad with stuff on top?"

The "stuff on top" is generally a protein of some sort, such as poultry, meat, seafood and/or cheese. Portions are generally smaller, while sauces and dressings are low in fat and often built upon vinaigrette.

Aside from their health benefits, composed salads carry another, if not quite obvious, dividend: Being relatively easy to digest, you can dive back into the swimming pool before the usual three-hour wait. (If anybody asks where you got this advice, it didn't come from me.)

The other day, a real tar-melter, I decided to prepare a simple dinner salad for my wife and 14-month-old son who, surprisingly for his age, cannot get enough salad greens into his little mouth… before throwing them at the cat.

I used a recipe from Cooking with The 60-Minute Gourmet, a cookbook that I co-authored seven years ago with late chef and New York Times food columnist Pierre Franey.

Another easy and arresting salad that I have prepared with great success this summer comes from a splendid Spanish cookbook called The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen.

I was surprised to find green salads in a Spanish cookbook, for in the regions of Iberia I have visited, lettuce is not considered real food.

In fact, the Spanish notion of a salubrious, fiber-rich salad is something called Ensalada Rusa, which is a glutinous igloo of frozen peas, potatoes, bell peppers, canned tuna and other ingredients, all asphyxiated in a viscous, yellow mayonnaise. A staple at tapas bars, you usually find it set out on the counter, unrefrigerated.

When I prepared this dish, quality fresh cod wasn't available at the market, so I went with fillets of North Atlantic salmon. (Tuna is excellent as well.) The rich, buttery salmon and the sweetly acidic orange made for a sublime marriage that will never need a divorce lawyer.

Read last week's Kitchen Window.

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Bryan Miller