Make me salads in a dorm room
September 9, 2012 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Salads are expensive eat-out fare here. What set-up can I use in my dorm room to make cheap, tasty salads? Restrictions: only microwave, limited fridge space. (Is it even possible?)

Questions like what to buy, how to store, what to make so I don't burn out on salads. Pillow-case salad drying? Mandolines? Buy prepacked salad greens?

MetaFilter, my waistline thanks you. (And whatever, salads taste good anyway!)
posted by undue influence to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Foods that don't need refrigeration that go well in salads: nuts, cans of beans (I'm partial to chick peas), seeds like sunflower or pumpkin, oil, vinegar, dried fruit. Red cabbage, tomatoes, and carrots will be fine without refrigeration for a few days. Bagged salad greens go bad quickly, you're better off buying a head or two of romaine lettuce if you have enough room in the fridge. Buy freshly grated parmesan or romano if your local supermarket has them, or just use some of your refrigerator space for a chunk of your favorite cheese and grate some into your salad. If you eat meat, ham is a good addition, and canned fish if you eat fish. The combinations are endless and salads that contain a good bit of protein will be more satisfying. A slice of whole grain bread or two is a nice complement to a hearty salad.
posted by mareli at 6:19 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hmm. If you can get salad greens in the prewashed state in plastic tubs that fit in your fridge, you can do a lot with them. Anything you can get in a can be tossed with them to make a nutritious meal, and the cans don't need to be refridgerated. Beans, tuna, any kind of seafood, meat or other proteins that come cheap or easy in cans fits the bill. Lots of vegetables can last without being chilled, too, such as tomatoes, onions and cucumbers if you only buy what you need for 2 or 3 days. Seeds and nuts work well, and don't need be chilled.

An array of condiments packed separately from your salads works well too. Any combination of oil and vinegar, or salsa/hot/chili sauce or even soy/fish sauce used carefully can add interest and variety.

On preview, save your fridge space for the greens, and canned proteins will be your savior.
posted by mollweide at 6:22 PM on September 9, 2012

I tried to come up with some options that would come up with as little equipment, storage space, and effort as possible. Equipment you will definitely want:

chopping board — get the plastic kind with a hole in the middle so you can hang it on a 3M command hook
chef's knife or santoku — you will want either a guard to cover this or to store it magnetically on your wall
paring knife

Here are some ingredients you can buy that can be prepared using only that equipment as easily as possible. The following need refrigeration:

prepackaged salad greens (spinach, lettuce, mesclun)
baby carrots
bell peppers
parmesan cheese (shredded)
mozzarella cheese
blue cheese (like Gorgonzola)
pre-cooked hard-cooked eggs
diced ham
diced chicken
snow peas in pods
fresh green beans

Should be kept at room temperature until you open using it:

tomatoes (cherry or grape)
canned chopped olives
red onions
parmesan cheese (grated)
salad dressing
canned tuna

Room temperature forever:

pepper grinder
walnuts or other nuts

How to Cook Everything has lots of suggestions on salads to make.

Lots of the things above you can do yourself for cheaper and better results, but will require more equipment and time.
posted by grouse at 6:24 PM on September 9, 2012

Your best bet is to keep some non-perishable staples on hand (mareli has good ideas, also maybe sardines or anchovies if you like that), then buy prepacked salad greens as well as perishable stuff in small quantities on the day you plan to eat the salad.

Use a mug and a fork to emulsify your own vinaigrette with oil, vinegar, and a little dijon mustard if you can swing the fridge space.

I agree that another good use of your fridge space would be some hard cheese to grate over the top, but if you're in a college dormitory cheese tends to be one of those things that disappears mysteriously. Maybe see if you can buy small quantities of higher quality cheese to use in one sitting. If you go to the deli counter, you can usually buy cheese in small amounts like a quarter or an eighth of a pound.
posted by Sara C. at 6:25 PM on September 9, 2012

I like olives and that sort of thing in a salad - they don't take up a ton of room in a jar in the fridge. I buy the bagged salads more often than not, just because if it is more convenient, I'll eat it.

Feta and blue cheeses are also nice in salads, and a little bit goes a long way. I don't really do dressing on my salad, but if I do it's olive oil and balsamic vinegar, both of which don't need to be kept in the fridge.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:27 PM on September 9, 2012

There are many variations floating around of a cabbage salad made with ramen noodles for crunch, and it is a pretty tasty combo and cabbage keeps well unrefrigerated. Here's one of the more basic variants:
posted by drlith at 6:29 PM on September 9, 2012

Grow some fresh herbs in a windowbox. A few leaves of basil or one of its friends will really lift a salad.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 6:31 PM on September 9, 2012

Did you see this question a few weeks ago? There are lots of good ideas there.
posted by bcwinters at 6:41 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just noticed that you are based in Singapore.

Maybe instead of all this olives and cheeses and balsamic vinegar and suchlike, you could go Asian with your salads? That might make things a little more affordable.

Prepackaged lettuces, one or two local vegetables that can be eaten raw, and a dressing made from sesame oil and rice wine vinegar emulsified with.... something.... (maybe tahini if you can get it)? Another good Asian dressing is soy sauce with a squeeze of lime juice and the oil of your choice. I wonder if you could make up a good one that incorporated wasabi? If peanut butter is affordable, it's easy to make a sort of Thai style peanut sauce with peanut butter, a squeeze of sriracha, a teensy dab of fish sauce, and something liquid to thin it out to the desired consistency.

Pickled ginger would be lovely as a garnish (or minced and added to a dressing), as would soy beans, or some crazy local fruit. If you can get small quantities of sushi grade fish, you could easily make a sort of sashimi salad.
posted by Sara C. at 6:42 PM on September 9, 2012

I often dress my salads just by pouring on some olive oil (which keeps at room temperature) and then drizzling on some balsamic vinegar (keeps at room temperature). You could do this with any oil that keeps at room temperature and any acid to match it -- any vinegar, a squeeze of lemon, etc. Delicious with good-quality, in-season ingredients; you don't need a full-on pre-made dressing when the ingredients are good.

Greens are definitely cheaper bought "whole," but faster and easier bought bagged pre-washed. That's definitely a trade-off to consider w/r/t how often you eat salad, how much time you have, what kind of equipment you have, etc. I eat more salad when I buy bagged greens.

(Bell peppers can totally be kept at room temperature.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:02 PM on September 9, 2012

I've heard it said (although I admit I've never tried it) that washing the greens and laying them out on a tea towel, then gently rolling the towel up jelly-roll style and storing it in the bottom of the fridge will help keep salad greens fresher much longer than storing them in a plastic tub or bag. It's worth a try, anyway.

There's more than just lettuce greens salad, though.

Take 1 red bell pepper, one green bell pepper, one avocado, and a couple ounces feta cheese. Chop everything up to about 1 inch diameter chunks, toss together with olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinegar. Delicious, filling, and reasonably cheap.

Get some green and yellow wax beans, top and tail and microwave in a bowl with some water till tender. Combine with two cans of canned beans, drained (I like red kidney beans and chick peas), chopped onion and green pepper, and the following dressing: 1 part salad oil, 1 part cider vinegar, and the following spices to taste: sugar, salt, pepper, paprika, celery seeds, garlic powder, and onion powder. This gets combined in a bowl or tupperware and allowed to stand overnight.

Cook a bit of bulgur or quinoa in the microwave, and let stand until tender. Meanwhile, wash a big bunch of parsley and a big bunch of mint, and chop them fine. Combine chopped herbs and cooked grains with 1 finely chopped onion, 1 finely chopped tomato, the juice of one lemon, some olive oil, salt and pepper.

Slice tomatoes and mozzarella, and layer them in a container with basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and maybe some salt and pepper. This goes really well with tuna.

Green beans by themselves make a delish salad as well! Top, tail and microwave green beans in water till tender. Drain, then toss while hot with olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon, some chopped green onions, and some chopped dill. Serve hot or cold with tuna or salmon.

I hope you find some of these inspiring!
posted by LN at 7:24 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow! Thank you all! Haha.

I hope you find some of these inspiring!

Indeed, I took a nap and dreamt hazily of marrying this. Really.
posted by undue influence at 8:35 PM on September 9, 2012

I'd skip on the pre washed salad greens ... they are overpriced by weight, don't last so well as heads of lettuce, and, you know, 2 heads of lettuce become a bag of salad greens after 2 minutes with a knife and a salad spinner.
posted by jannw at 3:22 AM on September 10, 2012

so many of the ingredients in Thai salads don't need refrigeration that I would head there first.
Lettuce is overated
posted by Wilder at 4:24 AM on September 10, 2012

Get this book. Not only will it give you a buttload of ideas, but after a year of using it, you will suddenly have an epiphany that "wait a minute....a lot of these are kind of the same recipe, but just changing vegetables," and then you will start experimenting on your own and making up your own recipes. (At least, that's what happened with me and the soups.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:26 AM on September 10, 2012

Buy your ingredients fresh, no more than what you'd need to make one large (think 2-4 serving) salad. Use all your ingredients. Eat a serving, then refrigerate the rest. Only add dressing to the portion that you're ready to eat.

Only equipment you'll need is a knife, cutting board, salad bowl, and small fridge.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:51 AM on September 12, 2012

I'd skip on the pre washed salad greens ... they are overpriced by weight, don't last so well as heads of lettuce, and, you know, 2 heads of lettuce become a bag of salad greens after 2 minutes with a knife and a salad spinner.

I almost always cut up my own lettuce instead of buying it pre-washed. But I have never spent as little as 2 min trimming, washing, cutting and drying it.
posted by grouse at 8:19 AM on September 12, 2012

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