The Basic Salad Formula:
In my mind, a good salad has at least three components to make it nutritious and delicious.
1. At least one green of your choice (or better yet, mix and match). Choose from greens high in vitamins and minerals, such as a spring mix, arugula, darker lettuces like red leaf, spinach, shredded cabbage, and kale. If you are using kale, tear the leafy parts off the stem into bite-sized pieces, wash, and then (this is the part that makes it great!), put a small amount of olive oil in your hands and massage the kale. You’ll notice the leaves become smaller, and they will be much easier to eat.
2. At least two vegetables and or/fruits. I like to have at least two vegetables for variety, color, and of course, nutrition. Many of these vegetables are best only in certain seasons, which is fun because then your salads will vary throughout the year. You’ll notice there’s some overlap between my two lists.
Good spring and summer choices: sliced strawberries, fresh raspberries or blackberries, diced bell peppers, diced tomatoes, steamed green beans or asparagus, peeled and chopped cucumber, raw sweet peas, sliced onions (green, red, or yellow), shredded carrots, shredded beets, shredded or sliced radishes, shredded zucchini, chopped broccoli or cauliflower, marinated artichoke hearts or hearts of palm, olives, fresh herbs, and diced avocado.
Good winter and fall choices: sliced onions (green, red, or yellow), shredded carrots, shredded beets, shredded or sliced radishes, diced avocado, steamed sweet potato or butternut squash, dried gogi berries, dried cranberries, sliced apples (soaked in a little lemon juice), sliced pears, thawed frozen corn or peas, chopped broccoli or cauliflower, marinated artichoke hearts or hearts of palm, sundried tomatoes, olives, and sliced mushrooms.
3. At least one nut and/or seed. Nuts and seeds provide protein, healthy fats, and in many cases, additional nutrients. See my post on toppings for more information. Choose from pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and slivered almonds.
4. Optional salad ingredients: If you need a heartier salad to serve as a main course, or if your main course doesn’t contain much protein, make sure you add more protein to your salad. Ideas include cooked quinoa, baked tofu, and rinsed and drained canned black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, kidney beans, and garbanzo beans.
I haven’t bought dressing from the store in over a year. Homemade salad dressing tastes so much easier, and once you know how to, it’s really easy to whip up. I’ve experimented with dressings from many cookbooks, and chosen a few favorites, so that I have them practically memorized when it’s time to pull some out for dinner. My go-to salad dressing is a balsamic vinaigrette my husband and I came up with. This takes almost no time to make, and serves two. Double the recipe if you’re preparing dinner for four.
Easy Balsamic Vinaigrette:
- 1/2 teaspoon sweetener – agave nectar or maple syrup
- 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon mustard – Dijon, spicy, or favorite of your choice
- A few liberal dashes of salt and pepper
In a small bowl (or old jam jar) whisk together the ingredients, adding them in order. If you make this in the order listed, the mustard slides right off the olive-oil coated tablespoon!
Putting it all together – seven salads:
Mexican Salad: start with greens of your choice, and add Mexican-inspired ingredients such as diced bell pepper, tomatoes, green onions, olives, avocado, thawed frozen corn, and black/pinto beans. Top with pumpkin and chia seeds. Cooked quinoa would also be good with this. To make a dressing, find some leftover salsa in your refrigerator, and thin it with a little olive oil and lime juice. Add a few dashes of salt and cumin for more flavor.
Italian Salad: start with greens of your choice, and add tomatoes (fresh or sun-dried, depending on the season), olives, and marinated artichoke hearts. Top with cannellini beans, walnuts, any other additional seeds, and balsamic vinaigrette.
Harvest Salad #1: start with greens of your choice, add steamed and diced butternut squash, dried cranberries, nuts and seeds of your choice (walnuts and sliced almonds are good options), and serve with balsamic vinaigrette.
Harvest Salad #2: start with greens of your choice, add green apples sliced and soaked in lemon juice, sliced red onions, and dried cranberries. Top with lightly toasted pecans, and serve with balsamic vinaigrette.
Fresh Green Bean Salad: use a spring mix, then add steamed green beans, chopped marinated artichoke hearts, and walnuts. Serve with balsamic vinaigrette. Add a little fresh tarragon or thyme to the mix if you have access to it.
Easy Weekday Salad: start with greens of your choice, add shredded carrots, diced green onions, and avocadoes. Top with lots of nuts and seeds to keep you going throughout the workweek. Use the balsamic vinaigrette or a dressing of your choice. If you know you’re going to be in a hurry, shred the carrots and dice the green onions on Sunday, and keep them in containers in your refrigerator to pull out whenever you need a salad. This makes a good lunch or dinner salad, and you can add protein or other vegetables to it if you need it to be more of a meal.
Cheater Salad: this one doesn’t follow the two vegetable rule, but is good when your refrigerator is almost cleaned out at the end of the week, and you still want a salad. Start with a spring mix or spinach (or a mix of the two), and add dried cranberries and walnuts (or pecans or sliced almonds). Top with additional seeds, such as pumpkin seeds and of course, serve it topped with the super easy balsamic vinaigrette.