Kick off summer with healthy, delicious make-ahead salads

Memorial Day is the official start to summer when salads make perfect meals or refreshing side dishes. Try making a mango-curried chicken salad, an Israeli chopped salad or a Salade Niçoise on crusty bread.
May 14, 2024
A tomato and watermelon salad is delicious and summery. Enjoy warmer weather with summer salad recipes from a chopped salad to a Niçoise to a mango, curried chicken salad. Photo: Getty Images.
Enjoy warmer weather with summer salad recipes from a chopped salad to a Niçoise to a mango, curried chicken salad. Photo: Getty Images.

We all kick off the summer’s cooking — outdoors or indoors — on Memorial Day weekend. Some will break in the grill; others will construct a meal in the kitchen to eat en plein air, outside under the tree or in the park.

Whatever the centerpiece of the meal, that steak, say, or cooled fried chicken, you’ll want to surround it with side dishes of various sorts. I have three recipes for trio of side dishes that will add character and deliciousness to any Memorial Day meal.

All three may be prepared well ahead of meal service, refrigerated (or kept in a cooler) and brought out at meal time, better-tasting for the keeping time.

The first is my melding of two well-known chicken salad recipes. A second, the only way to serve bread come summertime. And the third, a terrific chopped salad from an old friend, Gerard Rudofsky, from his time as chef-owner at his Cherry Creek iteration of Zaidy’s Deli.

BSJ’s Yellow Chicken Salad recipe

I adapted this chicken salad recipe by combining elements from the well-known and widely published recipe for “Coronation Chicken”—essentially a curried chicken salad—served at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation luncheon in 1953 and from Whole Food Market’s very popular “Sonoma Chicken Salad,” a long-time personal favorite. Adjust to your liking: Wetter? More mayonnaise. A bit sweeter? More mango chutney. Tarter? More lime juice. And so on.

Bill St. John’s own mélange of the curried chicken salad known as Coronation Chicken and the best elements of Whole Foods’ popular Sonoma Chicken Salad. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
Bill St. John’s own mélange of the curried chicken salad known as Coronation Chicken and the best elements of Whole Foods’ popular Sonoma Chicken Salad. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.


The meat, both dark and light, from a 4-pound chicken, cooked, skinned and removed from the bones, chopped or shredded, set aside

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup plain Greek-style whole milk yogurt

3 tablespoons mango chutney (any large pieces of mango chopped fine)

3 tablespoons lime juice

Scant 1 tablespoon curry powder

3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/3 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds

2 stalks celery, diced

2-3 scallions, white and light green sections only, chopped fine, or 1/4 cup small-diced Vidalia sweet onion

1 and 1/2 cups seedless red grapes, cut in half if very large

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro leaves, chopped, as garnish


In a bowl, make a dressing of the mayonnaise, yogurt, chutney, lime juice and the two powders. Mix well to homogenize; set aside.

To a large bowl, add the pieces of chicken and the remaining ingredients, except the salt, pepper and garnish, and toss well so everything is distributed evenly.

Add the dressing, mix and fold well, and allow the salad to rest for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve atop lettuce leaves or inside avocado halves, garnished with the cilantro or parsley.

A classic summer French salad: Pan Bagnat

Pan Bagnat is a classic of southern France and you’ll find it there, especially in Provence, come summertime.

It’s also prototypical outdoor or picnic food. It has to be because it must be prepared ahead of time by many hours (even if you were to enjoy it at your dining room table).

The recipe has evolved over many years, with input or emendation from several sources: my Belgian-born mother; at a presentation by Patricia Wells, a favorite writer on both Paris and Provence (the region of France where this recipe originated); from longtime Denver chef Sean Kelly; and from Julia Child during a lunch break at a meeting of a board on which we both had served in the 1990s. She was bored; I was bored; we talked food of southern France.

“Pan bagnat” is a name in Occitan, the ancient language of southern France, including those regions that we know as Provence and Languedoc. Indeed, in English, Languedoc itself means “the Language of Oc,” where the word “oc” signifies “yes,” as distinct from “oui” for “yes” in northern France. In Occitan, pan bagnat roughly translates as “bathed (or soaked, or wet) bread.”

It essentially is a Salade Niçoise in a loaf of bread. The “wet” part comes from holding the loaf overnight, wrapped tightly and weighted down, so that the liquid from the dressing and ingredients soak partially through it.

The loaf is then sliced on the angle and served, as individual sandwiches. It’s the perfect example of the best of summer or picnic food—prepared indoors in the cool of the day and ahead of time. Perfect for a side for Memorial Day dinner.

Essentially a Salade Niçoise between thick slices of crusty bread. In Provençal French, it means “Bathed Bread” for its dressing of oil and vinegar. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
Essentially a Salade Niçoise between thick slices of crusty bread. In Provençal French, it means “Bathed Bread” for its dressing of oil and vinegar. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

BSJ’s Pan Bagnat recipe

Makes 6-8 sandwiches.


1 large loaf well-crusted, firm-crumbed bread

Arugula, small, mild-flavored leaves only

Several leaves fresh basil

2 large ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded, sliced

Several slices roasted or grilled red peppers, jarred or home-grilled, to taste

2-3 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced thinly

4 ounces green beans (haricots verts preferably), cooked to just under-crisp

Red onion, several very thin slices, to taste

4 teaspoons large-berried, salt-preserved capers (not “caperberries”), well rinsed, drained, and squeezed

Scattering of black olives, pitted; if large, also sliced (use only cured, such as “Moroccan,” or nicoise or the like, not the mealy, canned, “California” sort)

1 can good quality tuna, packed in oil, not water

Oil-cured “silver” anchovies, drained (optional and to taste)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Hot sauce, to taste (I am partial to the South African brand, Nando’s PERI-PERI, alert-level: “hot”)

Red wine vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil, your best


Slice the loaf of bread in half horizontally and remove some of the interior crumb in order to slightly hollow it out. Now build the sandwich, layer by layer: enough arugula to cover one half, then a few leaves of basil; the tomatoes, red peppers, eggs, beans, onion, capers and olives sprinkled about; the tuna, crumbled and evenly distributed, and the anchovies if chosen. Depending on the level of salt in the ingredients (for example, in how the olives were cured or in the anchovies), sprinkle salt and then a good amount of pepper over the filling. Sprinkle with hot sauce.

Douse or drizzle both halves of the loaf with both vinegar and olive oil to taste, although not overly so as not to drown the sandwich. Close up the sandwich and wrap it tightly in foil or plastic wrap—make it a mummy—and place it on a baking sheet or large plate. Weigh it down with a large, heavy object, balanced over it, such as a cast iron skillet or two bricks or a platter and several large cans of tomatoes, or the like.

Refrigerate the pan bagnat overnight. To serve, bring to room temperature, unwrap and slice crosswise and at an angle.

What is a chopped salad? Try several variations of this refreshing summer dish.

The chopped salad — typically, but not exclusively, a mix of vegetables chopped up into uniform size and mixed together — is close to perfect summer fare.

The preparations of few, if any, chopped salads call for the heat of the stove or oven; they’re easily assembled ahead of time, are best at room or “patio” temperature (or even cooler), and allow cooks to select the best and ripest from their summer’s garden. This latter is a bit early to do for Memorial Day, but the recipe is good all season long and into the Fall.

Chopped salads also let us hone our kitchen knife skills. What makes a chopped salad not only delicious, but also—and perhaps more important—esthetically attractive is the evenness of the dice or chop of its ingredients.

Variations on chopped salad are close to infinite. In addition to today’s recipe from Gerard Rudofsky, a great Denver “zayde” (grandfather in Yiddish), try these chopped salads:

– Greek: tomato, cucumber, red onion, feta cheese, romaine lettuce, kalamata olive, dressed in olive oil, oregano and lemon juice

– Indian: leftover cooked tandoori chicken, tomato, cilantro, romaine lettuce, English cucumber, cooked chickpea, dressed in olive oil and red wine vinegar with minced cilantro

– French: cooked Yukon Gold potato, well-blanched green bean, romaine lettuce, hard-cooked egg, English cucumber, nicoise olive, radish, tuna canned in olive oil, dressed in French-style vinaigrette

– “Chef’s”: iceberg lettuce, hard-cooked egg, cooked turkey breast, cooked chickpea, Swiss cheese, with Thousand Island dressing

– “Cobb”: romaine lettuce, cooked bacon, cooked chicken breast, hard-cooked egg, tomato, avocado, blue cheese, with various dressings possible

– Chicago-style “garbage”: romaine and iceberg lettuces, cucumber, radish, red bell pepper (fire-roasted or raw), celery, cherry tomato, red onion, provolone cheese, salami, cooked chickpeas, kalamata olive, garlic crouton, grated parmesan cheese, with various dressings possible

– Jicama, pepperoncini, sun-dried tomato, basil, with various dressings possible

– Carrot, red cabbage, red apple (all shredded), dressed in light vegetable oil, cider vinegar and sunflower seeds

Zaidy’s Israeli Chopped Salad recipe

From Gerard Rudofsky, Zaidy’s Deli, Denver. Serves 4.


For the dressing:

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice

For the hummus:

16 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained

1/8 cup olive oil

1/8 cup water

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)

For the salad:

2 ripe tomatoes, diced

4 radishes, diced

1/2 cucumber, peeled but with small amount of peel remaining, diced

1/2 bunch scallions (green onions), diced

Make the dressing: blend all ingredients; set aside. Make the hummus: in a food processor, grind all ingredients into a stiff paste. Make the salad: Toss all the ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix the dressing with the salad and serve on plates or in large open bowls. Place a dollop or scoop of the hummus to the side of each serving.

Reach Bill St. John at [email protected]

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.