Help Me Make My Salads Less Lame
November 17, 2009 10:34 AM   Subscribe

How do I make my salads less lame?

Hello. My name is Jason and my salads are painfully dull. Every day, usually with dinner, I throw together some spinach, a tomato and half of an avocado.


I attribute my utter lack of salad inspiration to my utilitarian view of the dish -- that they're just vitamin pills that you eat with a fork. But I know that there's more to making salads than that, that they can be bona fide examples of culinary artistry as well.

So what are some good salad recipes -- or salad-making principles -- that would help me get out of this rut? Bonus points for salads that draw upon a wide range of vegetables, as I've heard that such variety is not only pleasing to the palate but also great for one's health.

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Food & Drink (66 answers total) 143 users marked this as a favorite
Start here.
posted by contessa at 10:36 AM on November 17, 2009

For me, the addition of sunflower seeds, bacon bits, and egg slices go a long way toward making them explicitly appealing. I have a lot to learn about varying the base, though, so I look forward to this thread.
posted by ignignokt at 10:42 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My sister had a policy about salads, which was that every salad should contain a nut, a fruit, and a cheese. So you can do spinach salad with pine nuts, dried cranberries, and goat cheese, or with walnuts, sliced apples, and blue cheese, etc, etc. I've found this to be a good rule of thumb over the years.
posted by cider at 10:42 AM on November 17, 2009 [17 favorites]

Combine different colors and textures.
posted by mareli at 10:43 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

When making green salads I like to use a couple different greens or multiple kinds of lettuce. I also always include radicchio or endive or another bitter green for flavor contrast. Thinly sliced fennel, radishes, red or green peppers, and cucumbers are also all standard additions.

I also find that dressing matters a lot - I like a standard vinaigrette, 3 parts oil to one part vinegar (using the best of each that are available) plus salt, pepper, paprika, mustard, garlic and other herbs to taste - but use what you like.
posted by pombe at 10:44 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Fruit! Apples, raisins, dried dates, etc.

I like salads that have a range of flavors in them, like salty cheese and sweet bits of fruit, or bits of onion and nuts.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:45 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Everything's fair game for salad, in my opinion. There's hardly a vegetable in the produce aisle that I haven't used at one time or another- with the possible exception of celery.

What I like in a salad is a good diversity of textures. I like some crunchy, some creamy, some crispy, some soft, some squishy. And ideally, it's arranged so that every bite isn't the same as the last one, thereby increasing the intra-salad variety.

I also like hearty, meal-like salads with meat and/or beans. Tuna, grilled chicken, garbanzos, red beans and such are all good additions. Nuts are good for adding texture and crunch- walnuts and almonds especially.

You might try going to one of the mega-salad-bar places and trying different stuff a few times to see what you like.
posted by Shohn at 10:45 AM on November 17, 2009

What do you dres your salads with?

I found that a good, homemade, simple dressing or vinaigrette really can liven up a salasd - are you interested in dressing recipes?
posted by pointystick at 10:47 AM on November 17, 2009

Best answer: My favourite is blue cheese, pomegranite seeds and pecans. You don't even need a dressing.

Another good option is a soba noodle salad. Use leafy greens, soba noodles (or any noodles), bell peppers, cashews, avocado and a dressing (cilantro, parsley, sesame oil, soy sauce, wine vinegar, sugar).
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:50 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Sorry, about that blue cheese/pomegranite/pecan salad above... that is the stuff you would put on top of lettuce, I wouldn't recommend eating those on their own :)
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:51 AM on November 17, 2009

What about dressings? (On preview, ditto!) Even the most boring of salads can be brought to life by an amazing dressing. There are the usuals like French dressing, Caesar, Balsamic vinaigrette etc - but try making your own! Generally they are comprised from an oil plus acid, - for a Thai inspired one try sesame oil, lime juice, chilli, a bit of ginger, etc...yum.

Also - as said above fruit is an excellent addition. Think apples, orange segments, grapes, blueberries, pomegranate, mango, raisins...the list is endless.

Try different lettuces, different varieties of tomatoes. Pick up celery, cucumber, sweet peppers, spring onions, fennel, raddish, grated carrot, beetroot, grated courgette... any veggies you see really that you fancy and that would work raw!

Maybe if you're finding your salads repetitive try to take inspiration from what you're having with it - so a chicken breast would go well with a caesar salad with bacon bits and croutons, a steak might pair well with a salad of lettuce, blue cheese, walnuts, a spicy Indian/Thai dish might work with a salad of tomato, cucumber, mango and chillis, and maybe some rocket, tomatoes and avocado with pasta? (I'm just kind of making these up but you get the gist!)
posted by schmoo at 10:53 AM on November 17, 2009

Oh, and don't forget taco salad!

Salad base: Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, black beans, jalapenos, corn, avocado and ground beef/veggie ground round if you like that.

Dressing: blob of salsa, blob of sour cream, sprinkling of cheese, lime juice.

Serve with tortilla chips. It doesn't have to be extremely unhealthy, just use small amounts of the high-fat ingredients and baked chips/pitas.
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:53 AM on November 17, 2009

Best answer: When in doubt, A-R-U-G-U-L-A! It is the best green in town.

But seriously, now, a three-item salad is always going to get boring. My favorite salads tend to have arugula, carrot, celery, shallots, maybe some roasted garlic, roasted red peppers, tomato, possibly some hard cheese, like a Parmesan or a Roomano (a kind of aged Gouda), with a balsamic vinaigrette.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:53 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Scallions provide one of the best flavor-bang-for-buck salad additions I've found.

If you are bored with spinach, try arugula. It's not too different in texture from baby spinach, but it has a stronger and more interesting flavor.

I also like throwing together impromptu salad dressings. Olive oil and lemon juice is a simple and delicious combination, so is soy sauce and sesame oil.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:55 AM on November 17, 2009

I've been shocked to realize that the quality of ingredients does matter to salads. Buying organic greens makes a tremendous difference in the taste. This is coming from someone who can't afford to buy much organic stuff.
posted by jefficator at 10:56 AM on November 17, 2009

Best answer: First of all, you have to read this!

I like this formula: lettuce + fruit + walnuts + cheese + vinaigrette. For the fruit, I like sliced green apples, pears, or asian pears. For the cheese, I use feta, bleu, or gorgonzola.

Fennel + red pepper + radicchio, all sliced narrowly. Mix together with chopped parsley and a very light dressing (olive oil + real lemon juice + salt + pepper). (Whoa, I wrote this before seeing pombe's answer.)

I like to mix cantaloupe and strawberries with green olives and feta cheese for an unusual sweet/sour combo. Mix with lettuce or spinach, and use a vinaigrette. I got the inspiration from this Flickr photo.

A weird pseudo-Asian salad I've been addicted to lately: minced ginger + minced garlic + chick peas + diced beets (canned) + thinly sliced carrots. Dressing: sesame oil + sweet and sour sauce + salt + pepper. Cilantro and lime juice could be good additions too if you have them.

Fresh herbs can make a salad more lively. Try parsley, basil, mint, etc.

Walnuts or almonds are good, reliable ways to add nutrition. Hard to go wrong with these.

Make your own vinaigrette. Healthier and more dependable than creamy dressings.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:58 AM on November 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

I steal ideas from Cosi a lot.

posted by December at 11:01 AM on November 17, 2009

Best answer: Feta, chopped fresh mint and an oil/lemon vinaigrette vinaigrette can freshen up a salad of leaves.

I also like to add grilled vegetables which I cook indoors on a cast-iron skillet - red or yellow peppers, courgettes (zucchini), a large flat mushroom.
posted by essexjan at 11:04 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

At some point I learned that a traditional Greek salad actually doesn't have any lettuce in it, which has caused me over the years to form three(ish) mental categories of salads: chunky salads with no leaves; mixed salads; leafy salads. I share your utilitarian view at times, but I also really enjoy vegetables, so I find it's useful to vary between these styles.

The salad you've described is a mixed one: it includes leafy greens and chunks of stuff. Mixed salads can have lots of ingredients, as others have suggested, you can add fruits and nuts (although bacon, cheese, and eggs starts getting away from the utilitarian purpose, so I tend to go lightly with those). My mother adds ground nuts, which really helps the dressing stick in a nice way and gives a hearty feel to the salad. You can try different recipes, but I personally find salad recipes often too fussy to be my main go to (they're a great place to get ideas about flavours that go together though).

Leafy salads are the easiest: when you have really tender leaves and not much time, it's often good to just whip up a nice dressing with maybe some green onions and herbs and dress your leaves and eat them like that. Mesclan mix and boston lettuce are good like this.

Mixed salads can have really anything, in staggering combinations. For leaves I like adult romaine lettuce because it stands up well to the chunks and the dressing, but really any green will do. If it's super delicate, you can dress the greens and the chunks separately and put the greens in your bowl first and then the chunks.. For vegetable chunks:

green onions
bell peppers of any colour
carrots, chopped or shredded
cabbage, raw, shredded
sprouts (alfalfa, bean, pea)
snow peas (raw)
beets (pickled, boiled or roasted)
green/yellow beans raw or lightly steamed
raisons/dry fruit
fennel root
(nuts, cheese, seeds)

Chunky salads
You can obviously use any of the above that appeals, but perhaps it's worth noting that you can play around a little with cooked stuff, like cooked beets and fennel root. The classic Greek (as I know it) is:

Bell peppers

Dressing: Olive oil, vinegar, salt, oregano
posted by carmen at 11:07 AM on November 17, 2009

Best salad ever is an "andrea's salad" from a restaurant I frequent.

Chicken, sun dried tomatoes, gorgonzola cheese, walnuts, whatever lettuce you like, with honey mustard dressing.

very simple, and very good.

it's the bee's knees.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 11:08 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

My favorite salad is a mix of greens, feta cheese, and a hard boiled egg. Variations may include dried fruit, nuts, parmesan, freshly crisp fried tofu instead of egg, cucumbers, and carrots.

I never eat dressing (I'm a supertaster - vinegar is too bitter) and rarely eat tomatoes, so maybe I'm not the best source here, but there you have it.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:09 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Raisins.

Also, I once heard a great little saying about making a good vinaigrette:

Be a benefactor with the oil,
Be a miser with the vinegar,
Be a poet with the salt,
And be a devil with the pepper.

Even the most boring salads can be transcendental if made with a tasty dressing.
posted by RingerChopChop at 11:11 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't like salads enough to order them, generally. But if a salad bar has the "magic ingredients" I could eat several helpings.

My magic ingredients: raisins, sunflower seeds (or pine nuts or similar item), and good quality croutons. The sweet/crunchy/crispy combination is fantastic.
posted by The Deej at 11:12 AM on November 17, 2009

One thing to do is to promote the salad from being a side dish to being part of the main course. We like to have "meat salad" at home- a simply cooked protein (grilled chicken, tuna) on a bed of greens with other veggies as appropriate.

Marinated items like olives and artichoke hearts add a lot of flavor.
posted by mkultra at 11:12 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Look at the combinations used in the salads listed on for inspiration, and then go from there. Personally, lettuce and starchy or simple carbohydrates tend to be a minor part of my salads: I usually get a shitload of protein from grilled chicken, steak, or turkey, plus cheese and nuts, and also eat a lot of non-leafy vegetables. I tend to go for smoky dressings; think barbecue sauce minus the sweetness.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:13 AM on November 17, 2009

YUM. That is all.
posted by zeoslap at 11:18 AM on November 17, 2009

Our house rule for a fun salad is that it should include a good balance of bland, sweet, bitter, chewy, and crunchy. Your salad has the sweet (depending on the tomato) and bitter(depending on the avocado/spinach) but is too chewy and not crunchy enough!

Crunchy suggestions:
- quinoa
- croutons
- sunflower seeds

Sweet suggestions:
- Sweeter tomatoes
- Cranberries
- Fruits of all kinds
- Fresh corn kernels
- Some kinds of salad dressing

Bland suggestions
- Some kinds of green leafys
- Beans

Bitter suggestions
- Other kinds of leafy greens
- Other kinds of salad dressing
- Some tomatoes
- Some avocados
posted by muddgirl at 11:18 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

One thing that might help you is to think of the salad as the entree, rather than some second-rate add-on to your meal. Don't use iceburg lettuce; romaine is pretty sturdy, or if you're feeling fancy, one of those greens mixes is going to be a lot more interesting.

I agree with others about the necessity of having a range of textures and tastes, and I also like sneaking in fruit as well; dried cranberries are great for this. I usually try to add a protein, to make the salad more hearty. You can try meat, obviously, or something like tuna salad or chicken salad, but hardboiled eggs, nuts, cheese, and edamame are good, too. Check out this caramelized pear salad that I just bookmarked. I love love love steak salad with greens, red onion slivers, toasted or candied pecans, blue cheese and balsamic.
posted by runningwithscissors at 11:19 AM on November 17, 2009

Man, I didn't even get to cheeses. Feta is bitter!
posted by muddgirl at 11:19 AM on November 17, 2009

Playing with temperature can make salads more interesting, too. Warm dressings, warm veggies or warm proteins on ice-cold lettuce (or the green of your choice) can make a big difference.

Use different greens than your typical lettuces, as well. Spinach and arugula are favorites, but dandelion greens, herbs (basil, mint, etc.) or other crisp greens like fennel are just as good.

Salads can be assembled instead of tossed, too. An orange/fennel/white onion salad is refreshing. A salad of nothing but lightly-dressed heirloom tomatoes topped with a little parsley is fantastic in the summer.
posted by xingcat at 11:20 AM on November 17, 2009

I like to put corn and white beans (also called cannellini beans) into my "meal" salads. Along with avocado, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, red pepper, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.
posted by Grither at 11:20 AM on November 17, 2009

Bitter can also mean salty in my household! I am not crazy!

Also, left off walnuts, and really nuts of all kinds. They can be both salty and crunchy.
posted by muddgirl at 11:20 AM on November 17, 2009

You know what's awesome in salads? Something hot. Not spicy (although I like that, too), but temperature. I am a personal fan of fat-free refried beans heated up and put in a little dollop in the bottom of the bowl. The mixture of hot and cold, along with crunch and creaminess is the bomb. I think of it as The McDLT Philosophy.
posted by mckenney at 11:23 AM on November 17, 2009

A secret I learned s that a salad is anything you say it is, there are no rules for salads.
"But wait," you say, "surely a salad must include leafy greens."
To which I reply, balderdash. To support my position, I point to three-bean salad and potato salad. But that's secondary to the issue at hand.

To start, try substituting new ingredients for old ones. Arugula or radish sprouts for spinach, sun-dried tomatoes for fresh tomatoes.

Second, try importing flavors from other dishes you enjoy. I love fruit with cheese, so apple or pear with bleu cheese is a pretty easy addition to the bed of lettuce. If, for example, you really like ham sandwiches or cheeseburgers, try ham & swiss or ground chuck & cheddar. Like burritos? Beans, rice, cheese & salsa over

Third, you can never go wrong with fruit, nuts & cheese. It's a law or something. Unless you're using Kraft American Cheese Slices, which are good for nothing except throwing like ninja stars. Seriously. Try it, it's fun.

Fourth, be bold. Grab a vegetable you've never tried before and experiment. Shredded raw beets or winter squash can be wonderful. Their flavors are delicate, so don't overwhelm them with dressing. Slice a raw brussels sprout thinly over your salad. Use cabbage instead of lettuce.

Lastly, make your own dressing. Sadly, I'm crap at this, so I can't really offer any advice, but there's plenty from other posters in this thread. Heed them.

Written in authoritative voice for dramatic and comedic effect. Salads are awesome. Pile good food on your plate.
posted by lekvar at 11:28 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your spinach-tomato-avocado job would be just right with a chopped boiled egg and some cheese. And a great dressing.

Try the classics -- Wikipedia Category:Salads.

Do not rule out cold boiled veg -- potatoes, peas, asparagus, etc; check out aioli garni for some inspiration.

Salads are a good place to experiment with different cheeses. Asiago's lovely.
posted by kmennie at 11:28 AM on November 17, 2009

For me, frizzled leeks make any salad better.
posted by machaus at 11:34 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stuff like frizzled leeks (which I assume are leeks shredded and flash fried in oil?) are delicious.

Also: crispy cheese things. Grate some hard cheese (parmesan, usually, in our house) in a cast iron or non-stick pan (you can do this in a baking sheet) and cook until the cheese is light brown and lacy, you can flip it over at that point or you can take it out of the pan and lay over a shot glass if you want to get fancy.

It hardens as it cools and is as delicious as anything you can imagine.

When I do this, I do it in a single thing crepe in a cast iron pan, about the diameter of a soccer ball. Then I take it out, let it cool, and snap it into little pieces.

Typically I think people do it in rough little circles about 2 or 3 inches across. My way is lazier.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:40 AM on November 17, 2009

Also, I wanted to add that while that might sound awfully fussy it's actually pretty easy.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:41 AM on November 17, 2009

I throw together some spinach, a tomato and half of an avocado. Ho-fucking-hum.

Go to the best Italian deli in town and buy the best balsamic vinegar you can afford, and some really good, extra-virgin olive oil. Mix and drizzle liberally over your spinach, tomato (which really should be from the farmer's garden), and avocado.


Then try dipping some really good bread in the oil/vinegar mix. You will never go back to regular salad dressing.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:56 AM on November 17, 2009

Bleu cheese, feta cheese, parmesan, any other cheese
Walnuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, sesame seeds
Grape halves, kiwi or stawberry slices, orange or grapefruit slices, mango chunks, pomegranate seeds, pineapple pieces
Diced eggs, ham, leftover chicken
Dried fruit: cranberries, apricots, blueberries, raisins
Don't forget radishes, jicama, peas, corn, beans, sugar snap peas, brussel sprouts, broccoli, anything can be added to a salad!
It's a pain to buy all those things just for one salad, but if you keep the nuts/seeds/dried fruit/canned fruit in your pantry, and then grab 1 or 2 of the other ingredients every time you go grocery shopping, then you can have endless combinations of salads!
Dressing: make your own and vary them all the time! Start with looking up recipes with any of the following flavors: raspberry, sesame, peanut, italian herb, lemon, balsamic. Add various herbs and vary flavors with ginger, garlic, onions, lemon or orange juice, mustard, honey, different vinegars. Find recipes with creamy/buttermilk dressings.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 11:57 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, more things to add: sundried tomatoes, olives, chick peas, croutons.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 12:01 PM on November 17, 2009

Pink grapefruit chunks with all the white, unchewable parts removed.
posted by dpcoffin at 12:09 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've mentioned it on here before, but keep a salad bar in your fridge - prep a bunch of veggies and keep them in resealable plastic containers so that when you want a salad, you can throw it together in a couple minutes. You can mix & match so you're not eating the same thing every night, play around with different dressings, etc. I'm only cooking for myself (as I assume you are), and a lot of times, if it's a big production, I just won't do it because I don't think it's worth the time for just me (which is totally false! But still.)

I'm a big salad eater, some things I like to keep on hand in the fridge at all times are:
chopped celery
chick peas
cheddar cheese
red onions
grape tomatoes (no chopping!)

If I'm grilling chicken breasts, I always do a couple extra and keep them to chop up and put on salads. Even cold, they're delicious. I'll even do the same spices if I'm seasoning them fancy, if it's good hot, it'll be good on the salad.

Also, if you like the Italian dressing that you make in the carafe with the mix, try making your own mix - so, so, SO much cheaper overall and very tasty. I don't know how authentic it is, but it tastes good, so who cares.

1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1 T granulated sugar
2 T dried oregano
1 t ground black pepper
1/4 t dried thyme
1 t dried basil
1 T dried parsley
1/4 t celery salt
2 T kosker salt

(T=tablespoon, t=teaspoon)
Mix all ingredients together and store in a tightly sealed container. (I keep mine in my spice cabinet.) To make the dressing, mix together 1/4 cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons water, and 1/2 cup oil. (I still use the bottle that came with Italian dressing packets and use the lines on the side. It works out fine.) Add 2 tablespoons of the dry mix and shake well to combine. Allow to sit for at least 2 hours to develop the flavors. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. I like using red wine vinegar and 1/2 extra virgin olive and 1/2 canola oil.
posted by AlisonM at 12:16 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Just popped in here to add that toasted walnuts are infinitely better in salads than raw ones. I usually find raw walnuts too bitter and unfun a flavor, but man, throw those babies in 350 degree heat for 10 minutes, add a little pile of sliced turkey or lean roast beef over lots of spinach, and you've got yourself a tasty high protein meal.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:21 PM on November 17, 2009

Arugula (baby is nice and tender)
Pecans or walnuts
smoked turkey
freshly grated parm or romano

white balsamic, olive oil, fresh black pepper

Compose the salad with the arugula and the turkey, shredded.
Toast the nuts in a dry hot pan until they get a little blackened and smell delicious.
Dump the burning hot nuts into the salad. Yes this wilts the arugula- that's the idea. COLD SALADS SUCK ASS.
Sprinkle with the wet stuff. Dust with pepper.
Add the cheese.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 12:27 PM on November 17, 2009

crumbled uncooked ramen noodles and a sesame-flavoured dressing
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:30 PM on November 17, 2009

A salad of nothing but lightly-dressed heirloom tomatoes topped with a little parsley is fantastic in the summer.

This. I hardly cook at all (if throwing together a salad can be called cooking), but I loves me some heirloom tomatoes. Yum.
posted by juv3nal at 12:31 PM on November 17, 2009

My home salad:

- lettuce of choice (I like mixed spring greens)
- tomato
- cucumber
- mushroom
- some slivered cheese - a nice one with a good smell, or nacho cheese, whatever floats your boat
- Sometimes I'll chop up some sandwich meat and toss it in (turkey and chicken are good)
- sometimes a handful of mandarin orange pieces can be fun

- long splash of balsamic vinegar
- long splash of virgin olive oil
- dash of salt

Toss and eat. I've found this particular combination so satisfying I haven't felt a need to tweak the recipe in years.
posted by Billegible at 12:36 PM on November 17, 2009

Spinach, avocado, tomatoes + feta cheese and walnuts.

During the summer, you can make some fun light salads with sliced almonds, sliced strawberries and some spring salad mix from the store.

I am a big fan of a lime-chicken-avocado salad as well.
Chicken breast, tomatoes, freshly squeezed lime juice, cilantro and avocado tossed with romaine hearts.

I usually dress everything with olive oil + vinegar, but if you want to get really fancy there are some other delicious oil options like walnut oil. It's a polyunsaturated fat so it breaks down quickly in heat (NEVER cook with it), but it is absolutely delicious in salad.
posted by scrutiny at 12:40 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Make your own dressing:

Pinch of coarse kosher salt
Liberal grind of pepper
Dollop of dijon mustard (try tarragon mustard for a treat)
One spoonful of vinegar
Three spoonfuls of the best olive oil you have
One dribble of cream (helps to emulsify)

Also, try these tricks on for size:

Broiler-roasted carrots, carmelized and crispy
Handful of fresh herbs, coarsely chopped
Goat cheese instead of blue cheese crumbles
Sauteed shallots
Chopped fresh pimento pepper
Roasted chicken breast
Roasted nuts of any sort
Defrosted pre-cooked freezer prawns
make-your-own croutons
posted by cior at 1:06 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Clover Food Lab avoids greens entirely.
posted by mkb at 1:07 PM on November 17, 2009

Everything's better with dried cranberries and pecans.
posted by aquafortis at 1:07 PM on November 17, 2009

My current favorite dressing is one I copied off a local food purveyor. It's oil (neutral tasting is better but olive is fine), tamari, nutritional yeast, and apple cider vinegar. Oil:ACV is 3:1ish and oil:tamari is 4:1. I usually do about a giant heaping tablespoon of nutritional yeast in one salad's worth of dressing. If you taste test it should be tangy and salty and rich in equal balance.

It's great over baby greens and sweetened cranberries. Sunflower seeds too.

Also have fun with it! I do themed salads sometimes: The White Salad is water buffalo mozzarella, hard boiled eggs (brought to a boil, heat turned off, and sat for 10 minutes), on romaine with simple vinaigrette. Steak and Potatoes is grilled and sliced NY strip and roasted fingerlings over romaine, simple vinaigrette. Bacon and Eggs is exactly what it sounds like. Deconstructed Chicken Sandwich is grilled chicken breasts and grated cheddar. And The Kitchen Sink is everything you have on hand that can go in a salad.

And always remember: The only thing that actually improves upon bacon is lettuce/arugula. So pile it on.

It might just be me but I think avocado only kind of limps along when it's on its own. If I was having it in my salad I'd rather make it into a guacamole inspired dressing than just lumping some fatty limp slices in my salad. Consider a guacamole-aoli hybrid for a dressing. Or, hell, if you don't have jarred mayo phobia like me, whir up some avocado, garlic, lime juice, salt with mayo and dump it on.
posted by birdie birdington at 1:14 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pick up a copy of the Moosewood Daily Special cookbook. It is nothing BUT soups and salads (the restaurant makes up a "soup of the day" and a "salad of the day", and the "daily special" is a serving of each in lieu of an entree).

That should kick-start things. The "main dish" salads especially will open up a whole world of "....hey, salads don't have to involve lettuce necessarily".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:18 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing toasted nuts - I usually do walnuts or pine nuts & toast them on some foil in the toaster oven so I don't have to wash a pan or heat the big oven up.

Something I don't see mentioned: anchovies. If you mash them into a vinaigrette type dressing they add a background richness, or if you like them enough add them whole.
posted by yarrow at 1:38 PM on November 17, 2009

Two tools for salad making that I cannot imagine living without now is a salad spinner and a mandoline.
posted by spec80 at 2:14 PM on November 17, 2009

Grilled haloumi - preferably brushed with garlic-infused olive oil.
posted by Weng at 2:33 PM on November 17, 2009

Ginger! But not too much. Crushed walnut or peanuts aren't bad either.
posted by cwarmy at 8:17 PM on November 17, 2009

A few of my favorite salad ingredients include:

steamed broccoli (i hate it raw)
cottage cheese (can even be a dressing substitute)
dried cherries
apple bits
hard boiled eggs
beans - white beans or kidney beans

In fact, those ingredients mixed together would make a mighty fine salad.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:04 PM on November 17, 2009

My latest salad obsession involves kale with a garlicky dressing (inspired by Whole Foods, I must admit). Tear or chop kale leaves (get rid of the tough stem) and top with some of this dressing:

2T honey
2T rice wine vinegar
2T soy sauce
1/2 t dark sesame oil
1 t sesame seeds
2 t grated fresh ginger
1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (more if you're daring!)
4 T canola oil
sometimes I add some chili pepper flakes

The bonus to this salad is that kale (like other dark leafy greens) is insanely healthy. Yum.
posted by koselig at 11:44 PM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Also, I always recommend against toasting nuts unless for some reason you're allergic to them. Unless you roast them yourself at very low heat, odds are that you're going to destroy some of the good fat in those nuts. Store bought roasted nuts are almost always cooked at very high heats. I love nuts in salad, but sticking with the raw kind is better if you're concerned about nutritive content and all that.
posted by scrutiny at 7:18 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I talk way too much about her online everywhere, but her salads rule like whoa. They're her strong suit, along with baked goods, in my opinion. One approach she has that I like is to really microscopically examine different salad greens and the texture and flavor qualities of each. Then it just becomes a matter of treating the whole assembly of salad as "painting," with contrasts and accents. For whatever it's worth, my favorite easy-to-find salad greens are escarole and romaine hearts.

Do you have access to Cook's Illustrated? A few months ago they did a feature on chopped salads and wow, they were all amazing and to me a fairly novel approach, refreshment and reprieve from normal wilted leafy salads...the Pear and Cranberry one was my favorite. MeMail if you want details; I'd be more than happy to oblige ya. Yum.

In case someone hasn't mentioned this yet: Mark Bittman's 101 Salads.

And here's one from my mom, simple and yummy:
Asian Cucumber Salad

If Japanese cucumbers aren't available English cucumbers can be substituted. The English cucumbers need to be peeled, cut lengthwise, seeded and sliced into thin half moons.

2 cups Japanese cucumbers--thinly sliced (I used English)
1 tsp salt
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sesame seeds

In a large bowl, combine cucumbers with salt and mix well. Add sugar, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil and mix well. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and mix. Let marinate for at least 20 minutes before serving (in my opinion, these are way more delicious after hours and hours of stewing, even overnight).
Bean salads are another approach--my three favorite varieties are black bean (ideally with mango, and cannellini beans round it out nicely too), Tuscan cannellini, and French lentils.
posted by ifjuly at 10:49 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also have a strict policy regarding salad contents:

Salad = greens + "snap" + fruit + cheese + nut + "accent" + dressing.

Most nights, I usually pick from the following...


Butter lettuce
Baby Spinach
Mixed romaine lettuces
Whatever green leaves suit your fancy


Julienned carrots


Dehydrated cherries/cranberries/blueberries
Thinly sliced apples
Thinly sliced pears
Mandarin Oranges


Blue cheese
Goat cheese (crumbled or sliced/breaded/fried)
Sharp cheddar
Parmagianno Reggiano shavings




Apple chips
Sunflower seeds
Thinly sliced garlic
Poppy seeds
Fresh herbs


Self-explanatory, but you can make your own really interesting fruit vinaigrettes by using pureed fruit/fruit juice along with the vinegar and oil.

Lately, my favorite salad is baby spinach + sliced vidalia onions + apple chips + pecans + gorgonzola + garlic croutons + homemade apple vinaigrette.

The apple vinaigrette is made from equal parts of this apple cider vinegar, this boiled cider, and canola oil. I add a pinch of salt and pepper, a pinch of brown sugar, shake it all up, and swoon.

One good way to break out of a salad rut is to copy restaurant salads. Panera makes some great ones that are fairly easy to duplicate at home, which is how I came to the above salad.
posted by muirne81 at 10:56 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

My favoritest salad: Spring mix or other "interesting" darker greens, thinly sliced red onion, crumbled gorgonzola, mandarin orange segments, chopped walnuts, and raspberry dressing.
posted by ersatzkat at 1:00 PM on November 18, 2009

Response by poster: Wow.

You guys kick ass. You've given me a few years' worth of material to work with here!

Thanks a million! I'll be marking best answer over the next day or so.

Again, thanks.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:05 PM on November 18, 2009

1. For each salad, use an ingredient you've never used before. You know what I mean: that section of the vegetable isle you walk past because you don't know what that shit is. 2. Keep a salad log book.
posted by quinncom at 12:23 AM on December 12, 2009

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