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Swap out the usual lettuce for crisp greens, herbs and melon
Melons are a staple of summer, but you can add a bit of heat with some spice to compliment the cool melon. At top is cured watermelon crudo with thyme, Vietnamese shrimp with green melon, at bottom, and at right is green melon with cubanelle peppers and ricotta. - photo by Mark DuFrene

Sad to say, but salads have gotten a bad rap. Many folks look down upon them as "rabbit food" or bland bowls of iceberg nothingness.

With their potential for high nutritional value and low calorie content, it’s time for the garden patch gang to hire a new public relations team.

While salads can be boring, revamping the components that you use can move them from tired to tasty.

For a minute, step outside of the traditional, lettuce heavy salad blend and instead consider building your base from summer melons.

According to the USDA, one serving of watermelon — about 2 cups — only has 80 calories, but 30 percent of your suggested daily intake of vitamin A and 25 percent of vitamin C.

Angelo Sosa, the two-time "Top Chef" competitor and author of the new "Flavor Exposed," says the key is blending flavor trios.

So when he works with melon, for example, he adds spicy and salty components to the sweetness of the fruit. Watermelon is cut in precise cubes, sprinkled with kosher salt and placed in the refrigerator to chill and cure for 30 minutes, before Sosa adds fresh thyme, a drizzle of good quality olive oil and a few grinds of cracked black pepper.

The result, he says is an appetizer or palate cleanser that looks "pristine, almost like tuna sashimi," but with flavors blending into a harmonious sweet, salty and herbaceous whole.

You’ll find that salty presence in dishes — such as the Vietnamese shrimp salad, from Sunset’s new "Sunset Edible Garden Cookbook" — that use fish sauce as a flavoring ingredient, too.

It provides the yin, the yang and the surprise. A simple wedge of melon is lovely, but adding chilies, salt and savory components takes it to new heights. If the thought of a slightly savory melon salad takes you too far out of your comfort zone, feel free to stick with your usual lettuce.

Just skip the iceberg and opt for a more healthful Romaine lettuce or even spinach. The darker the leafy green, the more vitamins and nutrients it will contain.

Speaking of colors, leave the monochromatic schemes for your wardrobe or living room, but build a rainbow on your salad plate.

It not only makes things more pleasing to the eye, it also makes your salad more beneficial health wise. For instance, red fruits and vegetables contain more lycopene — which helps reduce the risk of certain cancers — while the carotenoids found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables can help improve immune system functions.

If you’re tired of your usual lettuce, carrot and tomato blend, mix things up by replacing the carrots with Mandarin oranges and the tomatoes with craisins.

While you’re at it, throw in a sprinkling of pecans, which are said to reduce the risk of heart disease. Dress it with a little balsamic vinaigrette and you’ve got a party in your mouth.

If you want to get really radical, skip the lettuce all together and toss together cucumber and tomatoes.

Or throw in some strawberries and walnuts with your spinach, or go for a tropical flair and add pineapple and mango.

No matter how you chop it, mix it or toss it, salads can be something to look forward to, not a last resort meal option.

MCT Information Services contributed to this story.

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