More people seem to be cooking these days, either for the pleasure of making real food or out of economic necessity. But when hot weather settles in, no one wants to spend time in the kitchen. Luckily, people crave salads in summer, particularly those that can be served as a one-dish meal.

One-dish salads can easily be created from ingredients found at a salad bar or the prepared-food counters of supermarkets. Mixing them into salad bowls means you can be out of the kitchen in a blink. Just fill a big bowl with three cups of dark, leafy greens like romaine lettuce, baby spinach, or arugula. Add fresh basil or mint leaves for added flavor and zing. Mix in slices of cucumber, red pepper, tomato and sweet onion. Top this with a piece of cooked chicken breast, salmon, or a small can of drained white-meat tuna. For the dressing, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice does the trick, plus salt and freshly ground pepper.

There are many other simple ways to assemble a one-dish salad with a balanced and colorful combination of protein and vegetables or fruit, plus the complex carbohydrates of whole grains and beans. Canned beans are a good starting place (rinse before using), along with frozen corn, peas and green beans. These vegetables can simply be defrosted, no cooking needed.

Try quinoa or bulgur for the whole-grain ingredient. Quinoa is light and cooks in 20 minutes. Bulgur only needs soaking in boiling water, and the same applies to Asian rice noodles or pasta. I get the grains cooking or soaking while cutting up the rest of the salad ingredients. I might also do a quick stir-fry, as for this aromatic, colorful noodle salad.

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Asian Beef and Noodle Salad

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Makes 4 servings.

  • 2 Tbsp. black or white sesame seeds
  • 3 tsp. roasted sesame oil, divided
  • 1/2 lb. lean beef, cut in thin strips for stir-fry
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large carrot, halved lengthwise and cut diagonally into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1-2 Tbsp. minced garlic, or to taste
  • 1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise, and cut diagonally into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup canned sliced mushrooms, drained
  • 1/4 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 1/2 pkg. (3 1/2 oz.) rice noodles
  • 5 cups boiling water
  • 1-2 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce, or to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. In a non-stick skillet, toast sesame seeds over medium heat until fragrant. Transfer seeds to a bowl. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in the skillet over high heat. Sear meat until browned on one side, about 1 minute. Turn and cook until meat is pink in the center, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl along with any juices.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Saut� the onion until browned, about 5 minutes. Add to the bowl of meat. Reheat the pan. Stir in carrots and garlic. Add 2 tablespoons broth. Stir-fry 1 minute. Mix in squash and remaining broth. Stir-fry until squash is bright green but still al dente. Add mushrooms and heat through. Add vegetables to the meat.
  3. Use hands to break up dry rice noodles into short lengths. Place noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit until just tender but not mushy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Drain. Add to meat and vegetables.
  4. Combine soy sauce, juice, black pepper and remaining oil. Pour over salad. Add sesame seeds. Toss to mix well. Season salad to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
306 calories
9 g. total fat (2 g. saturated fat)
30 g. carbohydrate
24 g. protein
2 g. dietary fiber
310 mg. sodium