A salad can be anything you want it to be, including flavorful and filling. Enlarge your view of what makes a good salad. Lettuce is the first thing you think of, but the salad police will not come after you if you decide to kick the lettuce out.
Let Us Start With Lettuce
Spinach, romaine, radicchio, leaf lettuce, endive, chard and yes, the star of the moment, kale, are among the greens you’re likely to want to toss around. You will probably want to chop your greens so the other ingredients can mix nicely.
More Veggies Please!
Chopped broccoli and cauliflower. Red or green or yellow sweet peppers. Radishes. Even roasted and cooled brussel sprouts. If you have little bits of leftover cooked veggies, go ahead and throw them in. Even a leftover baked potato can be diced up and added. Be adventurous. Break some rules.
Intensify the Flavor
Most of us will want some onions in our salad. Green onions are fantastic, as are red onions, but you can also use any other kind of onion. True story: When my son was very small, he insisted he wanted nothing added to his plain spinach salad, not realizing I had always added some chopped green onions to the salad bowl. He took a couple of bites and very sheepishly admitted he wanted the green onions after all. They really do add a lot of flavor.
Say Yes to Fruits and Seeds
You might be surprised how well chopped apples or dried cranberries complement a salad. Sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, walnuts or just about any other nuts can make an ordinary salad seem a little more special.
Dress It All Up
Sure, you can purchase any kind of salad dressing imaginable, but don’t be afraid to make your own, too. Red wine vinegar and olive oil are a fast combination. In South America, I sometimes had salads served with a bowl of lime wedges and a bottle of olive oil, with the expectation that those two ingredients would be enough to perfectly dress the salad. More indulgent dressings can start with mayo or yogurt or mashed avocado. Hint: If your salad has a good amount of chopped avocado and tomato, it may not even need a dressing at all.
Make It Filling
Plain veggies aren’t very satisfying, but adding in some cooked chicken strips, shredded cheese, black beans or garbanzos, tuna, salmon or boiled eggs can make your salad a very filling meal. Cooked grains, like couscous, or even leftover lentils can work.
Hot Summers Call for Cool Summer Salads — Some Combinations I Love
There is no point in giving exact recipes for casual salads, because they’re often best when they have a little of this and a little of that. But here are some ideas to get you started:
Southwestern Style: Start with the greens of your choice, and add drained canned black beans, chopped red onion, cooked chicken strips, fresh or frozen corn, sliced cherry tomatoes and chopped avocado. Serve with salsa, sour cream and lime wedges. Feeling super indulgent? Bring on the tortilla chips!
Broccoli Salad Pockets: Chop up a few handfuls of broccoli. Add chopped green onions, cooked chicken breast cut into small pieces, dried cranberries and sliced almonds. Dress with sweetened mayo — just add a small amount of sugar to the mayo. Don’t overdo it. Mix well and use the salad to stuff pita bread. I adapted (well, OK, stole) this idea from a local cafe and I’m not sorry.
Salad Tacos: No, not taco salad. That’s another delicious option, but I’m talking about salad tacos here. Make a big bowl of salad — a southwestern style works well, as does a mixture of lettuce, green or red onions, leftover taco meat, cheese, Western dressing, black beans, tomatoes, salsa, avocado and sour cream — and roll the salad into a warm flour tortilla. You can go healthy or you can go indulgent. A certain picky person I know proclaims this “the only good way to eat salad.”
Chicken Strip Salad: If you buy pre-cooked breaded chicken fillets, you have only to warm them and chop them into strips. Use them to top almost any salad. My favorite one is a mixture of finely chopped spinach (I use a whole bag!) and a whole head of finely chopped cauliflower, plus lots of green onions, sliced almonds and dried cranberries dressed with sweetened mayo. Oh, my goodness. I even make a vegetarian version of this for my husband, using faux chicken. I make a huge bowl of the salad and top individual servings with real or not-real chicken. It’s a favorite at my house.
Picky Kids Salad: OK, this one isn’t just for picky kids. It’s for anytime you have a big group of people to please and you know they all have different preferences and follow different diets. Set up your own salad bar. No need to be fancy; if it’s not a special occasion, serve in individual storage containers to make it easy on yourself. Start with a variety of greens. Have lots of toppings available so it’s just like a salad bar in a restaurant. Have a few different dressing options. Let everyone make any kind of salad they want, from low-calorie to indulgent, from vegan to meaty, from paleo to starchy. Keeping a miniature salad bar in the fridge all summer is a great way to have quick, no-fuss salad every day.
Good Salad: This is another recipe I stole from a restaurant. I worked at an Italian restaurant in high school, and I made all the dressings, croutons, garlic toast and more from scratch. This was one of our more popular dishes and I’ve made it at home ever since. The restaurant used iceberg, but I generally use leaf lettuce instead. A mixture of the two will also work. Start by making the croutons, ideally from leftover french or italian bread cut into cubes, dabbed with melted butter, sprinkled with paprika and garlic salt, and baked until just toasted but not crispy. Trust me, it is well worth the trouble. If you have enough leftover bread, slice some very thinly and turn it into crispy garlic toast using the same method. That is also well worth the trouble.
For an individual dinner-sized salad, use several handfuls of lettuce. Add a handful of finely shredded provolone, a small handful of croutons, a shake of garlic salt, a few shreds of canned pimientos (I often skip these and don’t really miss them), and some grated parmesan. Dress with a simple red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing. Use your hands to mix thoroughly. The croutons and parmesan will soak up some of the dressing. One of the first people I served this to was initially disappointed to learn I was serving salad for dinner, until he tasted it. He called it Good Salad forever after, and indeed it is.
These ideas barely scratch the surface! Now, get into the kitchen and whip up your own creation.
Do you have a favorite salad? Share it in the comments below!