I could write this blog at almost any time of the year since I eat a GIANT salad almost everyday and LOVE them. But since summer is when most people appreciate a really light meal the most, I thought now would be the perfect time to present The Ultimate Guide to Awesome Salads.
What Is The Ultimate Guide to Awesome Salads?
Twenty years ago, I dieted all the time and hated salads because all you could have on traditional weightloss diets were lemon juice or fat-free dressings. Once I learned that fat is our friend and that I NEED 2-3 tablespoons of EVOO or other healthy fats per meal, I learned that I actually love salads. Plus, they are an awesome way to clean out your fridge or use your latest farmers’ market haul. So this guide is simply the sort of formula I use to make really awesome salads that don’t get overlooked at picnics and barbecues. Now, if you are a recipe person and want it spelled out for you, hang on or skip down to the bottom. I will include a list of my favorite salads with full recipes.
The Ultimate Guide to Awesome Salads | Formula
I will outline the formula here then break down each element so you can have lots of choices when you go shopping (or place your order with your favorite store or farm.)
3 or 4 greens or veggies from “The Green Stuff” and “The Veggies below
2 or 3 Textural elements from “The interesting Stuff
Vinaigrette or Dressing
The Ultimate Guide to Awesome Salads | Greens
There are so many different types of green things to start an interesting salad.
A couple of caveats, 1) Lettuce is one of the most pesticide laden vegetables you can buy so try to buy organic (and preferably local if possible) and clean well – BUGS are fine and simply mean you are free from pesticide residue. 2) I’m over the Spring Mix sold in bags and boxes. They always get funky before you can use them and they really don’t taste that great. There are lots of other options that are usually way cheaper so I’m presenting you with those.
- Radicchio – Though a little more expensive, this is a colorful lettuce and plays well with just about any other lettuce, so you don’t have to use much, just enough for color variety. It is about the size of a softball (buy the smallest you can find.) It’s slightly bitter which aids in digestion and very sturdy. Can be grilled in wedges for an interesting warm salad.
- Romaine – The ubiquitous Caesar salad green. It’s great for lettuce wraps as well as torn into salads along with Radicchio. Will stand up for awhile after being dressed. The outer leaves are less crunchy and more bitter than the inner leaves. The inner leaves are sweet, crunchy and very refreshing used on a veggie platter as a dipper.
- Red or Leaf lettuce – This is slightly more tender lettuce and has to be dressed at the last minute. The red is very pretty since it varies in shades of dark red to purple at the top of the leaf down to greenish white at the base.
- Belgian Endive – Though slightly expensive, the creamy white and very crunchy leaves of this lettuce are great cut into strips and blended with other greens. It is also great mixed nuts, fruit and cheese. It can be used to hold other salads or as dippers for veggie trays. The whole heads can also be split lengthwise and grilled or braised for a warm side-dish.
- Little Gem – Very small Romaine heads that are popping up in farmer’s markets, farm-delivered Veggie boxes. They can be used just like Romaine and are awesome for making wedge salads in place of wedges of Iceberg.
- Butter Lettuce – This very tender but sweet lettuce is sold many times with roots attached since it tends to go bad quickly after being cut away from roots. It’s a great balance to the bitter lettuces if you’re making a blend
- Petite Lettuces – I’ve seen these whole, mini heads at Costco and they are beautiful, tasty and most of the time organic since they are rarely cultivated on the giant commercial farms. Packaged in a set of 6, only wash what you will use within 2 days then tear and mix 2 or 3 of the varieties together.
- Spinach and Arugula – These both are used either raw or slightly wilted.
- Other greens – You can use the smaller leaves of chard or kale, or even the tender, inner baby greens attached to a bunch of beets. I’ve even used radish greens.
To prep the lettuces for use, cut off the core if it’s present and plunge the leaves into a cold bath of This combined water and veggie cleaning solution (I use ¼ cup white vinegar in a giant bowl or clean sinkful of water). Drain well in a colander, shake the colander a bit then wrap them in a clean kitchen Towel. Alternatively you can use a salad spinner then wrap in a towel to store. When ready to use, pull out what you need and tear into bite sized pieces.
The Ultimate Guide to Awesome Salads | Veggies
Besides greens and lettuce, you can begin a salad with a variety of chopped or shredded veggies all blended together in the spirit of a slaw or chopped salad. Use what’s in season for the best nutrients, flavor and price.
What’s in Season – Late Winter/Spring
- Carrots, shredded
- Celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- Snow and Snap Peas, thinly sliced
- Fennel – slight licorice flavor and very refreshing, thinly sliced or shredded
- Cabbage – sweet and adds crunch to other greens or on its own as slaw
- Radishes – look for interesting ones at your farmers market. I’ve even had a watermelon radish that literally looks like a watermelon when sliced. Sliced or shredded
- Herbs – basil, cilantro, mint especially in Asian salads – shredded or torn
- English Peas and Fava Beans – pop out of their shells (for fava there’s also an inner shell) and use raw and whole
- Beets – Use raw or cooked. The best way to cook is to roast them. Roast in foil at 375 degrees until soft. Peel and slice or quarter to add an earthy element. Try these and you will become a beet lover. Sub canned beets, but they are not as tasty
- New Potatoes (Red, purple or gold) – Steamed they add a soft element to main-dish salads. Roasted they can stand on their own as a new version of potato salad.
- Tokyo Turnips – These little turnips work just like radishes and can be thinly sliced to add crunch and a milder peppery flavor to salads.
What’s in Season – Summer to Early Fall
- Beans – whether pole beans like green or wax or dry beans like chickpeas or black beans they add different textures and some protein depending on type.
- Summer Squash – sliced, cubed or shredded
- Tomatoes – of course, this is a salad veg, but really at best only in deep summer.
- Peppers – all colors; strips or dices; raw, roasted or grilled. They’re all good.
- Cucumbers – look for pickling cukes and Armenian at farmers’ markets for extra crunch and fewer seeds. Lemon Cucumbers are interesting, but have lots of seeds
- Herbs – basil, cilantro, mint especially in Asian salads – shredded or torn
What’s in Season – Fall/Early Winter
- Russet and Sweet Potatoes – Steamed they add a soft element to main-dish salads. Roasted they can stand on their own as a new version of potato salad. Sweet potatoes are great for a sweet and soft element.
- Winter Squash – Cubed and roasted it adds an interesting texture to fall salads.
- Jicama – Looks like a potato and has the texture of a raw potato and the flavor of a mix of apple and water chestnut. Adds crunch to any salad, is great with mango, lime and chile powder for a simple Mexican dinner salad or starter. Cut into matchsticks or shred.
The Ultimate Guide to Awesome Salads | The Rest
Sometimes a really great salad needs to be nothing more than several interesting greens (or one really great one) tossed together with a flavorful vinaigrette. But when you want something more, it’s always great to accent the greens and other veggies with some other textures.
- Eggs – Whether poached for a creamy, oozy center or hard-boiled, eggs add a creamy element when mixed into a salad and they are a vegetarian option for protein
- Avocado – Probably my favorite addition to any salad. Besides being a dairy and egg-free creamy component, avocados are nutrient powerhouses with fiber, potassium (more than a banana), and vitamin C among others
- Cheese – While dairy is a no-go if you’re strict Paleo or on a Whole30, it’s a delicious addition if you’re a relaxed Paleo dieter or know you can tolerate dairy. My favorites for salad are raw blue cheese, parmesan – grated for Caesar or shaved with a veggie peeler for other salads, shredded raw cheddar for Mexican inspired salads. Why raw? Because they have enzymes intact that allow many people, including myself, to be able to digest them better than pasteurized versions. Raw cheeses are aged over 60 days so they are safe to eat (unless you’re pregnant then check with your doc.)
- Roasted and/or Spiced Nuts and Seeds
- Lardons – cubes of bacon cooked well
- Plantain or Tortilla Chips – Use grain-free tortilla chips if you’re doing Paleo
Chewy/Soft – Savory
- Roasted Peppers
- Cooked Meats (poached, grilled, smoked, roasted or baked) – salmon, chicken, shrimp, steak
Chewy/Soft – Sweet
- Dried Fruit – raisins, dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots
- Fresh Fruit – grapes, chopped apples, and pears, figs – really any seasonal fresh fruit
- Grilled Fruit – Brush firm fruit with a little light oil and sprinkle with a little sugar. Grill either on a stovetop grill or on the BBQ outside for just long enough to get grill marks.
The Ultimate Guide to Awesome Salads | Dressings
The #1 way to up your salad game and actually begin to really enjoy eating them is to Make Your Own Dressing. I promise, it is a game changer! In a pinch, a big squeeze of lemon juice, a liberal pour of EVOO and plenty of sea salt and pepper is the simplest dressing you can make, but I have written an entire post on salad dressings so you can have more variety in your Summer Salad adventures. Here are the ones I keep around the most:
- Dairy-Free Ranch Dressing – I use this for more steakhouse or American style salads that include bacon and cheese (for the dairy eaters in the house) or those that include a lot of fresh veggies like carrots or cucumbers. If you eat dairy, make the regular version and add blue cheese for a creamy blue cheese.
- Basic Vinaigrette – I use this almost everyday for our giant lunch salad so it is ALWAYS in my fridge. Add herbs to it to give it different flavors – oregano for Italian or Greek, tarragon for French, etc.
- Sesame Ginger – I don’t keep this one made up all the time, but when I do I find lots of ways to use it. If you like Japanese steakhouse dipping sauce, use this on a salad with steak and you will feel like you are there.
- The other ones you will find in that post are Honey Mustard, Sweet Balsamic and Lemon Vinaigrette
The Ultimate Guide to Awesome Salads | Recipes
For those who just want to have go-to recipes, I’ve got you covered:
- Roasted Beet Salad with Pistachios – Add a bed of greens to this to make it more substantial. Chopping up all the ingredients and tossing with spinach or arugula and topping with steak or chicken would be delicious, too.
- Winter Salade Niçoise – This was my winter version of the classic French Riviera salad. To make the classic, use green beans and tomatoes in place of the beets. I also wasn’t eating eggs when I created this salad, but boiled eggs are a typical ingredient, too.
- Vietnamese Table Salad – Follow the lazy version that I mention in the post and rather than wrapping spring rolls, serve all the elements on a big platter and let everyone assemble their own. Cold, poached shrimp or shredded cooked chicken give you extra protein if you want to add them.
- Korean Shrimp and Noodle Salad – Use Shirataki noodles or veggie spirals for paleo or low-carb.
- Grain-Free Crispy Chicken Salad – When the fried chicken urge strikes, this grain-free version will do the trick and it’s balanced out with a ton of veggies
- Asian Chicken Salad – Make a double recipe of this and eat it all week! It’s so good.
- The Best Tomato Salad – Look for different colored heirlooms when it’s the height of tomato season to make the most striking version of this salad. If you want a simple Caprese Salad, sub fresh mozzarella for the blue cheese and omit the mayo.
- Roasted Shrimp and Shaved Veggie Salad – Buy spiralized veggies to make this recipe a snap. Shrimp cooks super fast so this can be a very quick but light and healthy dinner.
- Thai Beef Salad – I love any salad with lots of fresh herbs and this makes the perfect summer salad when you have leftover grilled steak.
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