Elevate Your Next Dinner With A Tangy, Flavorful Floating Salad

Sometimes a heavy dinner needs a little lightening up. By serving your warm, savory entrée alongside a bright, acidic side item, you'll create an intriguing juxtaposition of dark and light, like a culinary yin-yang.

Here's an idea for that bright spot in your meal. Call it marinated salad, cold cucumber-and-onion salad, or floating salad — the premise of this refreshing dish rests on raw veggies "floating" in a vinegar-based medium. Think of it like a cross between a fresh, raw salad and pickled vegetables — the best of both worlds.

The veggies and vinegar components vary a bit depending on your region, but the traditional version involves sliced cucumber and onion in vinegar only subtly softened by a dash of sugar and oil. It's meant to be strong and loud from a taste standpoint. As far as texture goes, you can expect a crisp bite that will soften over time as it soaks in its acidic bath.

A make-ahead hit

Floating salad can become a low-effort staple for your healthy make-ahead dinners this summer, as well as for last-minute gatherings when you don't have time to cook a side dish. You can increase the sugar ratio to dampen the acidic factor for sensitive palates, or you can include some diced jalapeño peppers to enhance the astringency. Be sure to save some extra fridge space for a wide bowl, though, since you'll want every piece of produce to have plenty of contact with the liquid medium. Speaking of which, try to scoop some of it into each serving dish so every bite is dripping with flavor.

You're probably wondering how long this salad can sit before it spoils. Most recipes suggest three to five days in the fridge at most (if it lasts that long). You could also consider making the vinegar brine ahead of time, keeping it in a tightly sealed jar, and adding it to a fresh batch of sliced veggies as needed. And by the way, the Centers for Disease Control recommends always marinating food in the fridge, never at room temperature, to minimize bacterial growth. So keep those cukes cold and happy before consuming.

Variations on floating salad

Floating salads don't play the exclusivity card; other produce contenders beyond the cucumber-and-onion variety are welcome, too. Bell peppers and tomatoes often accompany the cuke. Or you can go tomato-happy with this marinated tomato basil salad that bypasses cucumbers altogether. The trick lies in choosing crisp, raw veggies that already boast a fairly high water content. That's because their intrinsic water volume will prevent the excess absorption of vinegar, so you have some zip on the outside without absolutely overwhelming your taste buds. Veggies like potatoes or corn are a bit drier, so they might take up too much tang to be tasty.

Want to make your salad a bit more filling? Try adding legumes into the mix. This simple white bean salad ups the protein and soluble fiber content of the veggie mix with a hearty dose of navy beans. Any cooked bean variety would work here, but you'll probably be most satisfied with options that don't mush as easily, like kidney beans or chickpeas. (Lentils, your time will come.) Now, that's a satiating salad worth salivating over.