I've always loved salads. But never in that dainty "I'll just have a side salad" kind of way. I like big salads. Huge salads actually. Main dish salads. Hearty, filling, salads. Many people love their sandwiches, and I do like them too, but they just don't excite me like salads do. Salads can be so much bigger. A whole meal in a bowl. So many ingredients. Such options! I think, perhaps, the seed for salads-as-a-meal was planted when I was rather young. When my mom was out and my dad was left to fend for himself, he’d often make what he called “Boring Bob Salad.” It was always more or less the same thing – romaine or leaf lettuce, deli ham, tomatoes, and olives, topped with Italian dressing. I didn’t partake too often (I hated olives and ham wasn’t my favorite) but once in awhile he’d make me my own, slightly altered, salad.
As a college student, I had to learn to feed myself using the available items in the dining halls. My favorite dining hall, Proctor, had tons of ingredients to work with – I always felt like it was the best dining hall for “cooking.” I began making what I called “hot salads.” My general approcah was to select one or two hearty items from hot food line, mix in an array of vegetables from the salad bar, and top the whole thing with seasonings and oil from the spice rack. I remember eating hot salads almost every night, but no two salads were ever the same.
After undergrad, I worked at a boarding school with a less elaborate but still solid dining hall. Many more salads were eaten. But now, I no longer have a dining hall to lean on, and instead fend for myself in the salad-making department. The cooking style I've devloped has been profoundly influence by the cooking blog, 101 Cookbooks. Learning from Heidi Swanson, I've refined my salad-making skills. Her approach to cooking coincides almost exactly with the food I like to eat. All her recipes are great, but I favorite are obviously her inspiring and delicious salad creations.
Most recently, I’ve gained a reputation at work for being a consistent salad eater. Making a salad again today, Melissa? What’s in your salad today? My daily salads don’t really count as those Middlebury hot salads, and they're not usually as fancy as the ones from 101 Cookbooks, but I do try to make them delicious and satisfying. My colleagues often comment that it’s a lot of work for the lunch hour, but I would beg to differ. Salads are super easy to make. I bring in plastic tubs of greens, whole cucumbers, and any other ingredient that strikes my fancy. I keep seasonings and oil in my desk drawer, right alongside the pens and paper clips, and stash some nuts in there as well. I think you get the point. I like salads. And I think you should too.
STRATEGY I always pick a genre for my salads. I think to myself, “Italian,” “Sweet,” “Mexican,” “Asian,” etc. It keeps the ingredients cohesive so things taste good. (For example, don’t eat arugula in a Mexican salad. It’s not good.)
COMPONENTSGreens.My greens of choice are arugula. It’s delicious, and also keeps in the fridge much longer than other lettuce greens. Spinach is a good second choice. Sliced napa cabbage is good for an Asian salad.
Veggies or fruit. I like cucumber in almost all my salads. It goes with everything. I buy English cukes, and a big one will last me almost a week. I also often add tomatoes. But sometimes slicing them is more trouble than it’s worth since our office doesn’t specialize in top of the line knives.I often include avocado in my salad because it’s a great, somewhat filling, addition. Adds a nice creamy texture too. Once in awhile I’ll make sweet salad, and add apple or pear.
Nuts. Almonds, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts…
Cheese. I usually buy a tub of crumbled feta and sprinkle it on top. Shaved manchego and parmesan are also delicious. Mozzarella too. I like the little pearled mozzarella balls you can buy in the deli department .
Tofu or legumes. Black beans are good with avocado and tomato, while white beans and chickpeas are delicious with tuna and arugula. I like adding puy lentils cooked in red wine too.
Grains. Farro, pasta, and bread crumbs are delicious additions to Italian salads, while tortillas are great with a more Mexican themed one, and soba noodles are delicious in an Asian salad.
Tuna. This is my back up when I’m out of other hearty options. If I only have arugula and cucumber, I’ll add tuna for some substance. It’s easy since I usually have cans hiding in my cupboard. The best kind is olive oil packed tuna (cheap at Whole Foods) because then you get your dressing as well!
MY FAVORITE FANCIER SALAD RECIPES
Orzo Super Salad
Cucumber, Buffalo Mozzarella, and Farro Salad
Spicy Squash Salad with Lentils and Goat Cheese
Grilled Tuna Niçoise Salad