Summer on the coast means an influx of visitors, including houseguests. While it’s fun to take guests out to our area’s wide variety of restaurants, having a few things on hand for impromptu meals can make for a smoother visit.
Having a few dishes ready to go comes in handy when guests are visiting on a busy weekend like the upcoming Fourth of July, when restaurants can be crowded. Instead of fighting the traffic and waiting in line, eating food prepped a day before allows everyone to relax and enjoy the holiday, even the cook.
Cold salads, either as a main dish or a side, are a refreshing antidote to hot weather. Using a sturdy vegetable such as corn or broccoli as the base of the salad adds a few days to its lifespan, so that a big batch will last through a long, busy weekend.
One of the easiest salads to assemble is a potluck favorite that gets its crunch from broccoli slaw and crushed, uncooked ramen noodles. The salad requires no cooking, little prep beyond opening packages and can also be customized with other crunchy vegetables. An alternate version adds cooked, shredded chicken to produce a main-dish salad similar to the “rainbow salad” popular at Asian restaurants.
Corn kernels pair well with a number of vegetables that are at their peak in the summer, , including tomatoes, zucchini and fresh herbs. Tossed with a tart dressing to balance the sweet corn, the corn salad can have either a minimal amount of seasoning or a pronounced spice profile. Whole cherry tomatoes are a better choice than chopped fresh tomatoes in make-ahead salads, because they won’t add more liquid to the mix and therefore keep the other ingredients crunchier.
Shrimp salad is one of the most versatile of the make-ahead salads. It can be served on greens or an avocado or form the filling of a sumptuous sandwich. A light hand with seasoning is better, to let the delicate fresh taste of the shrimp shine through, but that seasoning can take many forms: curry powder, Old Bay seasoning, or fresh herbs.
A shrimp salad won’t have the staying power of a vegetable-based salad; food-safety experts advise eating cooked shrimp within three days. Still, it can be made a day or two ahead, and can show up more than once either by itself or combined with cooled, cooked pasta in a main-dish salad. For an appetizer, it can be spooned into hard-boiled egg halves for a coastal spin on deviled eggs.
Make-ahead salads taste better when they’ve been stored in appropriate containers. Tight seals keep the freshness in, and using a container that’s not too big improves the texture and longevity by reducing the amount of air the salad is exposed to. Glass containers also have the advantage of making it easy to find the items, and increasing their appeal to guests surveying the contents of the refrigerator.