“To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist -- the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one's vinegar.” -- Oscar Wilde
Tired of eating the same old chopped romaine with a squirt of low-calorie ranch? Then don't. It’s time to re-think side-salads as dinner stars, not sad associates.
This post was inspired by Robin, who recently requested ideas for making side salads that inspire great eating, not sleeping. I am happy to oblige, because I love a good side salad. I owe it all to my mother, who made all varieties of accompanying salads for most every meal of my youth, for reasons of good taste and nutrition, sure, but also to stretch her budget.
I have one more reason for adding plenty of side salads to my regular menus: they make the rest of the meal a no-brainer. With an interesting and flavorful side salad, the main part of the meal can be basic. Simple chicken breasts, broiled fish, grilled tofu, or pan-fried pork chops; all are instantly elevated with the accompaniment of a fresh, intriguing salad that melds various flavors and textures.
The key is to forget specific recipes, and instead think of building blocks to make a variety of salads, anytime, in minutes: think leafy greens, beans and legumes, grains, pastas and noodles, shredded or chopped vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, and flavorful extras that add a lot of punch in small amounts, such as fresh herbs, strong cheeses, and toasted nuts. Be bold. Combine a few things that you like, but may never have teamed together, and go easy on the dressing (a little goes a long way). And for heaven sakes, don't forget the salt and freshly cracked pepper, essential elements for escaping the side salad blahs.
To get started, I’ve made a list of these side salad nuts-and-bolts, followed by some suggested combinations--please post other ideas, I know more exist! I’m going to hold off on dressings for now. The focus here is quick and easy, so use your tried & true favorites, or explore some of the new light bottled vinaigrettes on the market (Need a suggestion? I can’t get enough of the Newman’s Own Lighten Up Vinaigrettes; they add so much flavor with so little effort. I swear I don’t work for them, I just like their products and charitable cause).
BUILDING BLOCKS FOR DELICIOUS SIDE SALADS
Lettuce (butter, red leaf, green leaf, romaine)
Tatsoi (Japanese green, similar to spinach)
Mesclun (mixed baby lettuces) mix
Bulgur (cracked wheat)
Rice (brown is delicious in salads!)
Farro, Kamut or Spelt (harder to find, but worth mail-ordering)
Quick-cooking barley (love it! Quaker makes it)
Hominy (corn; buy it canned. Trust me it is right there with all the other canned corn. Cheap and delicious, so good in salads! Tastes like fresh corn tortillas)
Couscous (regular or whole wheat)
Whole grain pastas (any shape or variety)
Buckwheat soba noodles
Beans & Legumes:
White beans (cannelini, great northern, etc.)
Butter beans (yum! they are so creamy)
Chick peas (garbanzos)
Black eyed peas (I could—and sometimes do—eat these plain. Buy them frozen or canned)
Edamame (buy shelled, frozen)
Fresh vegetables (whole, thinly slice, julienne, shred):
Cherry or grape tomatoes
Peas (frozen or fresh; just thaw, don’t cook, if using frozen)
Sugar snap peas
Red or sweet onion
Red, green, yellow or orange bell peppers
Broccoli (I can’t stand it raw, but really like it blanched for 1 minute, then refreshed under cold water)
Cauliflower (same process as with broccoli above)
Some of my favorite salad fruits (delicious with greens, or make a salad or slaw of fruit with fresh herbs)
Oranges (peeled and sliced, or segmented with knife; or heck, use canned mandarin oranges, they’re good!)
Ruby red grapefruits (love them!)
Apples of every variety
Pears of every variety
Add some punch:
Fresh herbs (parsley, mint, cilantro, basil)
Sprinkle of toasted nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios, you name it; I like to use roasted and lightly salted nuts when I can, saving me the toasting step)
Sprinkle of toasted seeds (sesame, poppy, pepitas, cumin, fennel, anise)
Crumbled cooked bacon
Roasted red bell peppers
Chopped olives (preferably ones with a briny punch, as opposed to ripe olives)
Crumble of strong flavor cheeses (a little goes a long way): blue, feta, goat, Manchego, etc.
Dried fruits (of every variety)
Some of Camilla’s Combos:
(1) Spinach, mango, cilantro, avocado (vinaigrette with a touch of curry added or Newman’s’ Light Lime Dressing)
(2) Arugula, dried dates, goat cheese (balsamic vinaigrette)—believe me, it’s a heavenly combination.
(3) Mesclun, oranges or grapefruit, bit of fresh mint, thawed frozen edamame (homemade honey-lemon vinaigrette)
(4) Chickpeas, roasted red bell peppers, flat leaf parsley, diced cucumber (red wine vinaigrette, bit of cumin and/or smoked paprika added)
(5) Drained and rinsed black eye peas, diced red and green bell pepper, frozen corn, chopped scallions (slightly sweet vinaigrette with some hot sauce added)
(6) Cooked and cooled farro, spelt, barley or bulgur, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped fennel, feta, cucumber, dried or fresh dill (red wine vinaigrette).
(7) Cooked and cooled rice (preferably brown, but any variety), drained and rinsed black beans, cilantro, chunky salsa, cumin
VEGETABLES & FRUIT
(8) Mix of broccoli and cauliflower florets (blanched and cooled), crumbled bacon, parmesan cheese, (Caesar or red wine vinaigrette)
(9) Fresh waldorf (Diced Asian pears or apples, sliced celery, dried cherries, toasted walnuts or pecans, shredded basil, homemade orange vinaigrette)
(10) Radishes (trimmed and sliced), carrot (cut into thin julienne or shredded), Italian (flatleaf) parsley, raisins, bit of chopped mint, poppyseeds, goat cheese (homemade orange vinaigrette) (SEE PHOTO)
(11) Whole grain pasta (any shaped) cooked and rinsed in cold water to cool, asparagus, green beans or sugar snap peas, cut into 1-inch pieces (add to pasta cooking water for last minutes of cooking), fresh chopped herbs, diced red yellow or orange peppers
(12) Buckwheat soba noodles (or whole wheat fettuccine or spaghetti) cooked and rinsed under cold water, snow peas (added to pasta cooking water final minute of cooking), thinly sliced red bell pepper, toasted sesame seeds (light sesame dressing—e.g., Newman’s Own brand)
(13) Whole wheat couscous (prepared with broth and curry powder), fresh diced peaches or mangoes, chopped mint, chopped cilantro, chopped cashews (homemade or purchased lime vinaigrette, e.g., Newman’ Own)
Here are some additional ideas from past posts:
Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese, Pears and Candied Balsamic Pecans
Moroccan Carrot Salad with Honey, Lemon & Fresh Herbs
English Pea Salad with Goat Cheese, Citrus & Mint