This post is more of a how-to than an ode, but if you listen to this while you read, we may be able to accomplish both!
As a take-my-own-lunch-to-work budgeter, I think often about delicious, portable foods. Salads are one of my go-tos: They are fresh, versatile, colorful, and an excellent way to pack in the veggies and fruits.
Salads hold a close place in my heart, but it’s taken some trial and error to figure out the best combinations of ingredients. Since we are entering the last solid month of salad weather, I’d love to share my approach.
If you’re a salad fan, please share your advice with me–I’d love to wrap up the season with new tips!
1. Choose your greens base.
I typically rotate between mixed greens, arugula, and spinach, but there are many options.
2. Choose your veggies and/or fruits.
This step is trickier than it sounds.
Choose by color, taste, and texture. Sometimes I mix reds with yellows with oranges with purples with more greens. Other times, I keep a simple color palette.
I choose complimentary tastes and textures to avoid clashing ingredients. Try to combine savory with sweet flavors, soft foods with crunchy foods, and juicy goods with dry ones.
The salad below was inspired by this delightful recipe, but I made too many substitutions trying to use what I had on hand. The potatoes, green beans, and Brazil nuts tasted delicious together, but the arugula felt out of place. (Perhaps it was too delicate for the heartier roasted sweet potatoes.) I’ll try to make this one again when I have the recommended ingredients.
3. Add a protein, or several.
This is the secret to a fulfilling salad. A salad without protein is a side. A salad with protein is delicious.
Protein can be nuts, beans, boiled eggs, hummus, cottage cheese, leftover steak, chicken, fish or tofu, canned sardines or anchovies, tuna fish or egg salad.
4. Throw in a treat.
There are lots of little salad extras that can create a taste sensation. Pickled things, like okra, beets and… pickles, or salt-cured things like olives, or oily jarred items, like artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, or tapenades can make something delicious extra delicious.
5. Top it off.
Like veggies, dressings can also make or break a salad. Unlike veggies, you can’t pick a dressing out of your salad if you make a mistake. (Yes, it’s that serious.)
You may sub a protein (like hummus, cottage cheese, tuna salad or saucy tofu) or a treat (like tapenade, oily artichokes, or spicy pickled okra brine) for a dressing.
I hear that it’s also delicious to make your own dressing. Unfortunately, I haven’t explored homemade dressings as much as I’d like, but I do have two brands I have never found disappointing. This garlic vinaigrette from Whole Foods or Kroger makes me crave salad. This Greek Feta Dressing from Naturally Fresh is equally delicious.
When in doubt, a mix of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper is a safe and fulfilling combo. If you’d like a little more adventure, add fresh herbs.
With all of these choices, it can be difficult to decide what to add and what to leave out.
Here are several of my go-to combinations:
Mixed greens or spinach + hummus +
- Raw bell peppers (green, orange, yellow, red)
- Raw cucumbers
- Steamed green beans
Arugula + goat cheese +
- pickled beets
- dried or fresh cherries and candied pecans
- dried cranberries and walnuts
Mixed greens + pickled beets + carrots
Mozzarella + tomato + basil
What are your favorite salad ingredients and combinations? Also, if you know of any delicious dressing recipes, I’d love to try them out!