By Chef Jill McCollum, CC

To me, spring and summer just begs for simple salads, as side dishes or as the main attraction. Most salads require little or no cooking. The wide range of fresh produce that is available is never better - and the prices are their lowest while the quality is usually at its highest. Here are a few favorite salad tips along with recipes for great salads.
When making a salad, check what is on sale and what looks best when you are out shopping. Almost all salad recipes can be modified to incorporate different ingredients so don't be afraid to mix and match ingredients.
Consider blanching raw vegetables for 30 seconds to a minute before adding to the salad. Everything from carrots to broccoli really benefits from this. The vegetables are still crisp, but have more color and moisture and seem to absorb the flavors of the dressing better when they have been blanched. Make sure to place the blanched vegetables immediately in ice water to stop the cooking process.
Even a simple garnish helps make a salad special. Consider sprinkling on some paprika, chopped parsley, chives, or other fresh herbs.
Add some crunch to your salad with sunflower seeds, toasted nuts, ramen noodles, crumbled tortilla or potato chips, or French fried onions. To make sure these ingredients stay crunchy, add them right before serving.
Fun ways to serve your salad - in a slice of melon, half of a pear or peach, in a decorative lettuce leaf, hollowed out pepper, or halved cucumber. Using any of these decorative touches will blend well with your salad.
Don't be afraid to substitute low fat ingredients in most salad recipes. Low fat sour cream and mayonnaise can be substituted for the full fat versions, and fat free plain yogurt can also be used in most recipes. For oil based dressings, consider using mild rice vinegar in place of all or part of the vinegar in the dressing and half of the oil. Chicken or vegetable broth also makes a great substitute for part or all of the oil in many dressings.
This month's recipes

Rice and Vegetable Salad
8 cups hot cooked rice
1 ½ cups vinaigrette
1 sweet red pepper, julienne
1 green pepper, julienne
1 medium purple onion
6 green onions, diced
1 10 oz package frozen peas, thawed and blanched
½ cup black olives, sliced
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
½ cup chopped fresh dill
Salt/pepper to taste

Transfer rice to a mixing bowl. Pour ½ cup of vinaigrette into rice, toss thoroughly; cool to room temperature. Add remaining ingredients and toss thoroughly. Add additional vinaigrette, if needed.
Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon peppers
½ cup olive oil

Marinated Black Eyed Pea Salad
3 16 ounce cans black eyed peas
1 cup salad oil
½ cup wine vinegar
1 garlic bud
½ cup onions, sliced
½ teaspoon salt
Cracked pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup stuffed green olives, sliced

Drain peas; add remaining ingredients. Refrigerate in covered container for at least 24 hours, remove garlic bud. Will keep for 2 weeks.

Carrot and Raisin Salad
1 pound carrots, grated
1 cup raisins
1 medium can pineapple tidbits, drained
½ cup shredded coconut
2 tablespoons light cream
1.4 cup mayonnaise

Mix all ingredients and add 2 tablespoons light cream with ¼ cup mayonnaise.

Strawberry Trifle
2 angle food cakes
2 10 ounce packages frozen or fresh strawberries
3 cups vanilla pudding
3 cups heavy cream, whipped

Break or tear cake in small pieces, use 1/3 cake for layers. Pour 1/3 strawberries over cake, next 1/3 pudding, then 1/3 cream. Repeat layers to desired quantity. Trifle bowls are preferred for containers to permit colorfulness of dish to be enjoyed to the fullest.