Salad is almost always on the menu at my house. Whether it’s a side dish or the centerpiece of the meal, salad always works. When I need inspiration, I inventory what’s on hand, close my eyes, and imagine how a couple of the ingredients I’ve found might fit together in a salad.
Here is a chronicle of some of my salad-making adventures and what I’ve learned from several decades of salad trial-and-error. I’ll consider this post successful if you come away with just one idea for an ingredient you’ve never used in salad before, one new idea for a salad combination, or one tip for how to make a better salad. Enjoy getting inspired and the results!
- Lettuce – romaine, leaf, Boston
- Endive – sliced
- Radicchio – torn into pieces
- Nuts – Roasted or plain, I like pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts and pecans.
- Cheese – My favorites are feta, blue, goat, and sharp cheddar. I also enjoy gouda and fresh mozzarella. I’ve even tried homemade ricotta, which was delicious in a small scoop, placed in the middle of a plate of lettuce, surrounded by vegetables.
- Fruit (fresh or dried – or both)
- Cut-up vegetables – carrots, celery cucumbers, peppers (red, yellow or orange)
- Homemade croutons
- Roasted vegetables
- Potatoes – parboiled or roasted
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Mushrooms, sliced or chopped fresh white “button” or small Portobella
- Olives – green or black
- Canned tuna or salmon (I use it drained & straight from the can)
- Beans – garbanzos, kidney, cannellini or other (marinated in oil and vinegar or plain)
- Corn kernels (cooked from raw or frozen, or canned)
- Bacon – freshly cooked and crumbled
- Hard salami or dried sausage – small pieces or cubes
- Pasta (cooked) – small sizes such as rotini, rotelle, or bowties (farfalle), plain or marinated
- Rice or meat-filled stuffed grape leaves
- Avocado – peeled, sliced or in chunks
Using 1 or more “base” elements, here are a few of my favorite salad combinations:
- Greek-style – Feta cheese crumbles or cubes, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and stuffed grape leaves.
- Jill’s salad (named after my friend Jill because she introduced me to this combination) -Blue cheese or goat crumbles, dried cranberries, red grapes cut in half, nuts (pistachios, walnuts or pine nuts, preferably roasted), cucumbers and tomatoes.
- The Sophisticate (when I want to get all fancy schmantzy as my pal Gail would say) – Roasted walnuts, thin pear or apple slices, roasted red pepper, and pieces of cucumber
- Chopped Salad – Instead of large pieces of lettuce, chop it into small pieces, and add small cubes of vegetables and hard cheese, bacon crumbles or small cubes of dried sausage, and dressing.
- The Kitchen Sink (my salad version of the ice cream dessert at my local ice cream “parlor” growing up that featured many kinds of ice cream and toppings) – Lots of cut-up vegetables, including potatoes, avocado, meat (either bacon crumbles or dried sausage cubes), hard boiled eggs in quarters, tomatoes, and sharp cheddar or gouda cheese cubes.
- You can clean and store heads of lettuce that will last for several days. I did not list spring mix among the “bases” that I use because I find that it doesn’t last well. Precut or shredded lettuce in plastic bags is generally not a good deal in my experience – it is expensive for the amount you get and often contains pieces with browned edges because it is cut with a knife. Lettuce that is torn tends to last longer.
- Baby romaine, which I find in the refrigerated section near produce in groceries, generally lasts longer than spring mix. Although baby romaine seems more expensive than heads of romaine or leaf lettuce, there is no waste to cut off as there is for heads of lettuce, so it is a better buy than it may seem at first glance.
- Baby spinach is more tender, and therefore better for salads, than bagged “regular size” spinach.
- You can roast nuts (without oil) in a toaster oven for 5-10 minutes at 325-350 degrees.
- To make salad the night before and store it, keep the lettuce and other base elements refrigerated separately from the chopped vegetables in airtight containers. Sometimes I mix the chopped vegetables together into a single plastic container. Add other ingredients, e.g. tomatoes, nuts, slices of fruit and/or cheese at the last minute. This system works well for bringing salad to work too; a homemade salad is much less expensive than a take-out version.
- To keep apple and pear slices or avocado from turning brown, sprinkle a bit of lemon juice on them. The slight lemony taste will work well with most salad dressings, especially those that have an oil and lemon juice or oil and vinegar base.
- Make a simple salad dressing using oil and balsamic vinegar or lemon as the base – then go to town with herbs or other flavorings.