Drink & Dine: Perfect Wine and Food Pairings for Summer Salads
When finding the perfect wine pairing for a salad, white is the way to go. Photo: Maskot/Getty Images
During these dog days of summer, salad may be your best friend. Light, energizing, quick to prepare and easy to modify depending on what’s available and affordable amid the season’s bounty, salad is the perfect seasonal main or side.
A recent article in the New York Times, 20 Easy Salads for Every Summer Table, made that point supremely well, splitting recipes into four buckets — Leafy Salads, Sturdy Salads, Pasta, Grain and Bean Salads ands Sweet & Savoury Fruit Salads — reminding us, among other things, that buying bottled salad dressing is unnecessarily costly and sort of pointless.
Even the most elaborate salads are beautifully elevated with the simple addition of lemon juice, olive oil, vinegars, mustards, fresh herbs and salt and pepper. (On the subject of saving, it’s also worth noting that the New York Times is accessible free online with many library cards, including the Toronto Public Library.)
The Times article got us thinking about what salads can be, and what wines pair best with these colourful, crunchy, cool additions to the mid-July or August table. Our suggestions — all whites because … summer — frame a central ingredient, offering light, delightful accompaniment to the star attraction.
Avocado With Chablis
While the negative environmental impact of avocado’s skyrocketing popularity is hard to ignore, it’s also hardly surprising that the versatile fruit (and yes, it’s a fruit) has become a go-to in households everywhere, containing as it does healthy unsaturated fats, which help maintain desired cholesterol levels. But that’s probably not the main reason people love avocado.
The fruit’s creaminess and subtle nuttiness add perfect texture and flavour to all sorts of dishes, including salads. The Times offers a recipe for Toasted Millet Salad With Cucumber, Avocado and Lemon. Even simpler is cubes of avocado on top of romaine or bibb lettuce simply tossed with olive oil, lemon and salt and pepper. Add fresh chopped dill and cucumber if you have some around.
Fatty, rich avocado dishes pair beautifully with acidic Chablis from Burgundy. Aged in stainless-steel tanks, Chablis thus lacks the buttery, oaky, vanilla notes people often associate with Chardonnay grapes, instead offering crisp, bright fruit flavours. Nothing drinks like Chablis, so it’s worth splurging for the real thing — which can be had for about $25 or $30 — rather than substituting unoaked Chardonnay from another region.
Beans With Gewürztraminer
A classic bean salad using dried or canned chickpeas and red and white kidney beans tossed with chopped red onion, chopped celery and parsley is as easy as it comes, and makes an ideal side for just about anything from veggie burgers to baked fish. Sure, you can up your game by adding extras like shallots, feta cheese, olives, bell peppers or cherry tomatoes, but something about plain mixed bean salad tossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper is classic and healthy, delivering dietary fibre and protein.
The umami flavour of mixed beans provides a nice showcase for the highly floral notes of Gewürztraminer, which typically has a distinct minerality and is wonderful served really cold, losing none of its flavour nuances the way other too-chilled whites can. Many countries produce excellent Gewürztraminer, from Canada to Argentina to Germany, meaning it’s an affordable choice and a fun varietal to explore across various growing regions.
Arugula With Sauvignon Blanc
With its prevailing grassy, gooseberry notes, Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with most salads, save for ones heavy on tomato which, like the wine, are highly acidic. Indeed, Sauvignon Blanc “tastes green,” so to speak, and can hold its own against anything from garlicky Caesar salad to busy cobb salad.
But simplicity is key to summer food prep, and by that metric, arugula is something of a secret weapon, its peppery flavour slyly elevating other salads, its slender leaves adding an attractive visual touch. It’s also superb on its own. Toss with chopped radicchio and top with shaved Parmesan, lemon and olive oil for a dish that offers panoramic flavour disproportionate to its minimalism. Or go all-out by adding oyster mushroom tossed with olive oil, breadcrumbs, and grated Parmesan and then baked for homemade funghi assoluti, which is as crazy delicious as it is weird-looking on the plate.