Sensational salads for your summer table

LOS ANGELES Salad is often considered more of an afterthought, but Chef Leslie Bilderback wants you to liven yours up with bright colors, varied textures and fresh new ingredients.

"I think you can get people excited about eating a lot more fresh ingredients, more homemade ingredients, if you change it up a little bit," said Chef Bilderback. "And bring some different flavors into it."

Bilderback has written a stack of cookbooks. Her new one is called "The Idiot's Guide to Sensational Salads." It is dedicated toward making salad more like a meal.

Moving beyond the lettuce and ranch dressing, she suggests using nuts in lieu of croutons, and colorful, chewy dried fruit like cranberries or raisins for varied taste and texture.

How about salad that looks more like dessert? Beets and greens topped with nuts and berries are a nice summer selection.

"That fuchsia color is gorgeous, and then we mixed it with some nuts and some dried cranberries, and then some spinach, it's a real super-nutritious salad," said Chef Bilderback.

With so many pastas out there, why stop on macaroni?

Chef Bilderback chooses orzo pasta, which resembles oversized rice, to add to her Mediterranean salad -- bursting with vibrant cucumbers, tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, flavorful mint and oregano.

"It's really fresh, but it's just a little bit different than a regular Greek salad," said Chef Bilderback. "And it's a real filling salad, so you could just have it as your whole meal."

Plain old tuna and mayo salad sound a bit dull? Try a colorful salmon salad instead. Perk up traditional mayo dressing with mustard, sour cream and dill, while piling on the crunchy vegetables with grilled salmon. It's all easily mixed as a salad or stuffed in a pita sandwich.

"One of the things I like to encourage people to do when they're cooking is, there's a recipe and it's written in a book, but it's not gospel -- you can switch it up," said Chef Bilderback.

With all that summer has to offer in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables, think outside the box.

Pick a protein, some good healthy carbohydrates and a smattering of fat, and you've got yourself a meal in a bowl.

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