Help me diversify my lunch salads...
February 28, 2017 8:35 AM   Subscribe

For medical reasons, I've been told to do a slow gradual but long term weight loss plan. One of my key changes is my lunches, instead of indulging in our cafeteria's pizza of the day, I'm now packing a salad from home. Help me come up with five component parts to top my romaine, and keep me interested long term.

I picked up this container recently and it's gone well for over a month. So far I'm putting romaine and shredded carrots in the bottom, four different things in the top, and a small portion of cheese in the middle part. My big hits are a nut (walnut, almond), a dried fruit (cherry, cranberry), and something like frozen peas, corn, or edamame in the other two.

So if you were to create the perfect salad combo, what are your four parts plus a cheese? Side note: near vegetarian, so no pork or beef. And I also hate chickpeas. Assume I have a fridge at my disposal, and will be keeping dressing at work. Thanks everyone!
posted by librarianamy to Food & Drink (45 answers total) 128 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite salad?

A small amount of fried tofu + grated carrot + grated cucumber + finely chopped purple onion + fresh mint. AMAZINGLY delicious.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 8:40 AM on February 28, 2017 [11 favorites]

My favorite go-to salad is: greens (baby spring mix, arugula, etc.), sliced tart apple, pecans, crumbled blue cheese. Toss in a small amount of balsalmic vinaigrette. You can throw in some shredded chicken if you like.
posted by lovecrafty at 8:42 AM on February 28, 2017 [6 favorites]

Things I like on salads:

BEETS. Slices or cubes of either pickled beets or roasted + chilled beets. Beets are great.
Palm hearts, sliced
Artichoke hearts
Mushrooms, either roasted with seasoning or pickled. Or raw! But I like them in salads better cooked.
Quinoa or rice (cooked, obviously, then cooled)
Sprouts of all sorts (bean! alfalfa! daikon!)
Beans of all sorts!
Kalamata olives (or other olives but kalamata olives are really good)
Cooked/grilled onions
Hard boiled eggs

I like my salads squishy rather than raw & crispy so I go heavy on stuff like this, but they're also great for filling out a more standard salad.
posted by phunniemee at 8:43 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I love Greek salads - cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, red onion, cucumbers, and feta cheese.

I also do a lot of southwest salad for lunch - avocado, green or red bell pepper, corn, black beans, pepper jack cheese.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:43 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Bottom: spinach
Top: roasted corn, black beans, roasted red peppers
dressing: chipotle something

Bottom: spinach
Top: strawberries, walnuts, goat cheese
Dressing: balsamic something

Bottom: mixed greens
Top: Roasted chicken, sliced toasted almonds, chunked cucumbers
Dressing: light ranch

Bottom: romaine
Top: Roasted chicken, parmesan shavings, sunflower hearts
Dressing: ceasar

Bottom: Spinach
Top: steamed chicken, sesame noodles, carrot shreds
Dressing: ginger vinaigrette
posted by jessamyn at 8:45 AM on February 28, 2017 [15 favorites]

For a Greek-ish salad: banana pepper, cucumber, tomato, onion or olive, feta.

One salad that I like to do in the summer is the following: Dilled, Crunchy Sweet-Corn Salad with Buttermilk Dressing which is cucumber, corn, red pepper, onion, feta. I've never included lettuces into the mix, but if you do, I would do so when to eat it (to prevent it from getting soggy).
posted by smangosbubbles at 8:48 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Toasted pine nuts (you can toast them in a dry frying pan, only takes a couple of minutes over a low heat).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:50 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

YUM! Romaine, walnuts, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, maybe some fresh berries OR dried cranberries. Sprinkle a little shelled sunflower seeds and bobs yer uncle!

Goes great with any sweetish dressing, including a fruity-balsalmic with some olive oil.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:53 AM on February 28, 2017

I love greens like a mixed arugula/kale/spinach blend with roasted sweet potatoes, balsamic vinaigrette, some nuts, and maybe some parmesan.

Also, spinach with hard boiled or poached egg, and a ginger-type dressing. Add veg as desired and nuts. (Yes, I used to bring a small glass bowl to work and microwave an egg in water in the bowl to create a nice poached egg.)

PS: you can probably find shredded carrots near the baby carrots in the supermarket. Those are great for adding easy color and crunch to your salad. I also like to add dried cranberries to almost every salad I make.
posted by hydra77 at 8:55 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I do this too, and right now my favorite is burrito bowl: lettuce and/or cabbage plus beans (I make my own, so much more flavor), a little bit of rice well-seasoned (I just throw a packet of Sazon Goya tomato and cilantro into the rice cooker plus a big shake of red pepper flakes), avocado or cheese, diced grilled chicken, and a dressing made of mostly salsa with a dab of sour cream stirred in. If you wanted to skip the meat entirely, you could bake tofu and then toss it in a post-marinade of salsa with a dash of liquid smoke. If you have any cilantro around, even a few leaves thrown into your lettuce mix makes a real flavor difference, as does including a wedge of lime to squeeze on right before you eat.

I really love caesar salad with quiche, if you eat eggs. You can make it crustless, pack it full of vegetables (just pre-cook any vegetables you put in, otherwise they give off too much water and make your quiche soupy), and then eat at room temperature with the salad, or store separately so you can warm it up.

BBQ chicken or tofu salad is also good - do the lettuce/cilantro thing, chicken or tofu tossed in BBQ sauce, any additional vegetables that appeal to you. I don't keep corn around, so I will throw in frozen shelled edamame sometimes, or beans, or just leftover dinner vegetables because it all kind of disappears in the tang of barbecue sauce.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:57 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mixed greens, blue cheese, toasted pecans, sliced granny smith apples (dip in lemon water and they won't brown) and balsamic vinaigrette.
posted by gryphonlover at 9:04 AM on February 28, 2017

When I did this, I had FOMO of everyone eating out for lunch, and had to adjust my salads to feel like I was getting the ethnic food goodies that they enjoyed. Lettuce plus:

Italian - mozzarella cheese, butterbeans, tomatoes, red peppers, giardinera (Italian dressing)
Indian - paneer, spinach, stewed lentils, curried cauliflower, cucumber (yogurt dressing)
Greek - feta, pepperocinis, green peppers, black olives, pine nuts, roasted eggplant (Greek dressing)
Israeli - sheep feta, toasted couscous, green olives, pickled cornichons, cubed cucumbers/tomatoes (oil & vinegar)
Tex-Mex - jack cheese, black beans, avocado, a whole bunch of chunky salsa (no dressing needed)

Basically, just think about the takeout your coworkers are eating, and make a salad for that. If it's a cafeteria, check their daily menu and match it up and you won't have to worry about the psychological diet warfare that our eyes/noses wage in the name of social eating.
posted by juniperesque at 9:05 AM on February 28, 2017 [18 favorites]

Radishes are good.
posted by brennen at 9:08 AM on February 28, 2017

Jar salads (warning: SL Buzzfeed) are no joke and probably a good keyword to search for here. I use 1L Kilner jars to take a me-sized portion in to work. The key is to put dressing on the bottom, proteins/things that don't mind chilling next to dressing next, followed by veggies, THEN your lettuce and greens. Shake it, plate it, and your work is done.
posted by nerdfish at 9:18 AM on February 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've recently starting making chicken and quinoa meatballs for my salads. I got the idea from this blog post but I'm not one to follow recipes very closely. I usually start with 1lb ground chicken, 1c cooked quinoa, and 1-2 eggs. Then I season and bake. So far I've tried an Asian variation (soy sauce and sriracha) and a Mexican version (mashed sweet potato, some black beans, and lots of chili powder and cumin).

I like to do the following for lunch: Handful of baby arugula, 4 chicken/quinoa meatballs, a bit of cheese (or shredded carrots if I'm doing the Asian-type meatballs), and some light oil/vinegar. It's really filling and tasty. I don't think this fills up every compartment of your lunchbox, but you could always use the empty ones to store snacks!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:20 AM on February 28, 2017

Spinach/Rocket mix with Radish slices & orange/nectarine slices, sunflower seeds on top. The spicy of the veggies makes it feel more filling to me. This goes nice with a ginger/orange dressing.
posted by wwax at 9:21 AM on February 28, 2017

Do you like other beans that aren't chickpeas? I loves me some cooked otherbeans on a salad: black beans, white beans, kidney beans, navy beans, younameit beans.

Other stuff I like:
Brown rice
Feta or other crumbly cheese
Tomatoes (preferably cherry or grape)
Green pepper
Thin-sliced celery
Onion (red,sweet yellow/Vidalia, and or green/scallion)
Sunflower seeds
Shredded carrots
Diced boiled egg
Almonds and/or or walnuts
Baked marinated tofu
Alfalfa sprouts
Tiny pieces of raw broccoli

My favorite dressing for tossing is Newman's Own Light Balsamic Vinaigrette.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:26 AM on February 28, 2017

I asked the same question and had some terrific responses. Helped me lose 18 lbs.

Ummmm, maybe I should get back on that train again! Was that really in 2011?
posted by HeyAllie at 9:33 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

The world's best salad: spinach with shredded cheddar and bacon bits, topped by Newman's Own honey mustard dressing.

A Greek salad is good: romaine, cucumber, tomato, and Greek dressing. You didn't specify if lamb is OK, but if it is, it would be good in here. If not, chicken is tasty. Marinate it in the Greek dressing.

Caesar salad is a classic: romaine, shaved parmesan, and grilled chicken.

Something my siblings and I used to make at salad bars: iceberg lettuce (otherwise blech), shredded cheddar cheese, pepperoni, hardboiled eggs, bacon bits, and a little bit of whatever else looks interesting. Be warned, this may be more palatable to tweens than to adults.

Au Bon Pain has a southwest salad that actually makes my mouth water: Spinach, tomato, corn, black beans, avocado, shredded cheddar and pepper jack, with grilled chicken. They have this "southwest vinaigrette" that goes on it that's delicious.

What about the basic caprese? Fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil. Add grilled chicken if you'd like. It's a classic.

Your basic formula (nut plus dried fruit) is tasty, and generally classified under the rubric of "harvest salad". Try adding blue cheese to it, or gorgonzola.

Something to consider is that you can turn most sauces into salad dressing by adding oil and vinegar. So, for example, A-1 steak sauce becomes A-1 vinaigrette. This opens up a lot of possibilities for you. Just take a meal or sandwich you like, cut up the meat, mix the sauce with oil and vinegar, and then spread it on lettuce. Something I've wanted to try but have not yet had an opportunity to is buffalo chicken salad: spinach, popcorn chicken tossed in buffalo sauce, blue cheese, celery, and a buffalo vinaigrette.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:35 AM on February 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Pickled veg can add a real hit to salads: a basic home method is chunky (think 1-2 bite size) pieces of califlower, white onion, carrots, bell peppers boiled in a 2:1 ratio water to white wine vinegar (or any mix of sweeter vinegars - pinch of sugar if you think it needs it), cook to whatever texture you enjoy, rinse, let cool, add to salad.

Seeds & nuts are great if you dry fry or roast them with a couple of spices (I'm a big fan of smoked paprika + pumpkin seeds).

Another classic combo I've not seen mentioned is rocket, blue cheese, toasted pecans/walnuts & sliced pear or apple.
posted by AFII at 10:02 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I make a killer salad with romaine, freshly chopped dill, parmesan shreds and croutons - toss with a lemony viniagrette. Delicious and interesting due to the dill, assuming you like dill.
posted by sarajane at 10:20 AM on February 28, 2017

Seconding the jar salads for inspiration (also, they tend to sort for things that go well.) Variants in my regular routine in summer are (starting from the bottom layer up, roughly)

1) Taco salad: Pico de gallo and maybe a little sour cream, halved cherry tomatoes, ground beef and black beans cooked with taco seasoning (black beans alone should work fine), roasted frozen corn, shredded sharp cheddar, spoonful or two of guacamole, sprinkling of sliced black olives, fill the rest of the jar with romaine lettuce.

2) Tzatiki and chicken: Tzatiki sauce with chunks of cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken breast with Greek seasoning cut into strips, sprinkling of sliced black or kalamata olives, cucumber in bite-sized chunks (seeded and peeled works better for me.)

3) Antipasto and pesto chicken: Oil and vinegar dressing with italian herbs, halved cherry tomatoes, fresh mozarella (the little balls are great), grilled chicken tossed with pesto, tortellini cooked and tossed with pesto, a few diced artichoke hearts. Sometimes I do a layer of the frozen grilled eggplant/zucchini slices you can sometimes get at Trader Joe's in here.

4) Autumn Harvest Salad (derived from this Budget Bytes recipe): About double the dressing in that recipe for four jars, farro (cooked like pasta, but in stock not water), roast butternut squash and onions, TBS or two of feta or blue or gorgonzola cheese, 3 small meatballs (from frozen or homemade), diced Granny Smith apple, about 2 TBS pomegranate seeds.

General tips: I found that having something a bit salty and a bit crunchy helped a lot (even a small amount of salty cheese changes the whole thing). I work on a nut-free campus, or there would be nuts in most of these for more crunchy, too, but apples are a good crunch when they work.

When I'm doing them, I make four of the same kind on Sunday, and do something different for the fifth day (left over take out, eating at the campus cafe, some other lunch). Everything in this holds up well, though the guacamole gets a little brown around the edges. (The tomatoes marinating in the dressing all week are awesome, though.)
posted by modernhypatia at 10:23 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

1) Steam 2 heads broccoli, 1 bundle asparagus, 1 pack fine beans
2) Add peas/broad beans and feta
3) Dress with lemon/oil
4, optional) cut pitta up into bits, salt and oil, bake a while, add
posted by katrielalex at 10:37 AM on February 28, 2017

If you're into umami flavors, try pickling some red onion. It's been a game changer for my salads (tuna salad too!) and sandwiches.
posted by workerant at 10:43 AM on February 28, 2017

I AM STEALING ALL OF THESE IDEAS and will add this spinach salad with parmesan crisps:

orange segments
almonds or whatever nuts float your boat
red onion if you don't have to worry about onion breath

Dressing is a citrus vinaigrette:

1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon orange juice
1⁄2 teaspoon lemon zest
1⁄2 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon honey
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper

The trick is to make the parmesan crisps on a silicone mat or parchment paper. Spread your grated fresh parm into little circles then bake until they make perfect cheesy crisps. You can also buy parm crisps.

I will say for the record that I was hesitant to try this salad because it just sounded like all kinds of disgusting but DAMN this is delicious.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 11:19 AM on February 28, 2017

arugula with figs and goat cheese (and i'd add prosciutto but see you're practically vegetarian)

also love a black bean/corn/cherry tomato/smoked mozzarella/avocado salad.
posted by iahtl at 11:33 AM on February 28, 2017

Do you do canned tuna? We picked up this cookbook the other day and last night tried out one of the recipes, which was (for each salad):

canned tuna in oil, drained and flaked
squeeze of lemon
half a can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 sliced green onions
sugar snap peas, sliced
cherry tomatoes, cut in pieces
arugula or other salad green
a few mint or basil leaves, torn up and scattered over the salad
salt and pepper to taste

If you're doing the salad jar thing, layer the ingredients in the order above, starting with the tuna at the bottom of the jar, then shake to combine before you eat.

The remaining olive oil on the tuna combines with the lemon juice to make a vinaigrette of sorts. My husband hates most salads but spontaneously said "This is really good!" while eating it. The basil made it for him.
posted by telophase at 11:36 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

My favorite salad (assuming a bed of whatever greens you like best) is:

-Sweet corn
-Chicken (optional)
-Red wine dijon vinaigrette (whatever ratio of vinegar + oil you favor, plus a healthy squeeze of dijon mustard, whisked together)
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:43 AM on February 28, 2017

Red onion, blue or gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and mandarin orange slices. I like this best with a raspberry or pomegranate dressing.
posted by ersatzkat at 12:03 PM on February 28, 2017

My fiancee likes more kinds of vegetables than I do, so we tend to store everything separately in the fridge and assemble individual salads for lunches- dinners. But our staples include:

- Greens: we switch it up. Baby and adult spinach, kale, arugula. I like raw, dark leafy greens.
- Carrots
- Thinly sliced radishes
- Raw beets. They're basically the consistency of carrots, but have a nice sweet/earthy flavor that's a little less intense than if they're cooked or pickled.
- Red onion
- Couscous or quinoa
- Tomatoes, bell peppers
- dried cranberries (gonna be a lot of sugar in these)

I don't do the tomatoes or bell pepper but the rest of it basically all works in any given combination.

You can buy all this stuff once a week, spend a bit of time washing/chopping veggies and then just grab whatever you need/want for the day in the morning or the night before. The advantage of this is that once you pay the fixed cost of doing the washing/chopping (and prepping the grains if you want 'em) there's barely any effort involved which helps overcome any time-inconsistency problem ('i planned on doing this, but in the moment the effort is too much!')
posted by dismas at 12:11 PM on February 28, 2017

The basic salad base is spinach, cucumber, rocket, bell pepper. And then I normally put two-three of the following things:
smoked salmon
Boiled Egg
Cashew nuts
Dried Goji berries
Dried cranberries
Pomegranate seeds
Roasted butternut squash chunks

And one of the following dressings:
curry yoghurt dressing (black mustard seeds, yoghurt, mint leaves, olive oils, lemon, some spices)
Lemon and oil dressing (lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper)
Pomegranate dressing (pomegranate mollasses, lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper)
posted by Nilehorse at 12:18 PM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is my current favorite salad: tofu, avocado, grapefruit, spinach, and a miso-tahini dressing. Pickled onions would add some crunch.

Also I now have severe lunch envy and I am really excited to go grocery shopping after work and make salads for the rest of the week!
posted by esoterrica at 12:25 PM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

spinach + hardboiled egg(sliced) + mandarin oranges + bacon + mushrooms
dressing - lemon juice with a tiny amount of honey and a little oil.
posted by theora55 at 12:38 PM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lumpy salad (broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, carrots) with salsa. Actually, salsa is good on everything.
posted by 445supermag at 12:38 PM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Today I had mixed greens with cucumber, feta, cherry tomatoes, avocado and cannellini. Oil and vinegar. Was great.
posted by gaspode at 1:03 PM on February 28, 2017

Here's something I got from combining my wife's orders at Chipotle, Jimmy John's, and Pita Pit: lettuce, grilled chicken, cucumber, corn, bean sprouts, and feta.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:28 PM on February 28, 2017

To add to these ideas, many of which I am stealing:

I add pickled turnips, pickled vegetable salad or mufaletta spread to give salty crunchy goodness. Capers are also an option. If you like it a bit on the hotter scale, banana or pepperoncini peppers are yummy.

Roasting a combo of zucchini, eggplant, red pepper, mushrooms, and onion makes a great topping for salad (or served on rye crisps for that matter.)

Smoked salmon can be a good add for protein, in which case I would add capers, pickled onion, rye croutons, and something citrusy for dressing.

For super-easy I add the broccoli slaw/rainbow salad from the salad aisle as a topping for greens. Leftover green beans can also be a nice add.

One of my faves is mango + red pepper + thinly sliced red or Vidalia onions + peanuts or cashews + a shake of red pepper flakes for faux-Thai.

Also adding fresh herbs is a game-changer.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:09 PM on February 28, 2017

Kale marinated in an olive oil/lemon/dijon dressing (needs to soak to be less I'm-eating-a-leaf) topped with Gala or Pink Lady apples, sliced paper thin; parmesan, shaved thick; and toasted almonds (Also craisins if you're into that, but I'm not.)
posted by raspberrE at 2:20 PM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

REALLY GOOD TIP: at the grocery store, use their salad bar to buy small, prechopped portions of your favorite toppings. Don't buy the lettuce there, just the toppings. You save yourself the chopping chore, and will throw a lot less away since you won't have to buy too much.

Garbanzo beans are my fave for adding bulk, and I rarely eat salad without some type of cheese on it. I also love hard boiled egg, bacon crumbles and red onion.
posted by wwartorff at 2:44 PM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Somebody up thread mentioned canned tuna; this was my default lunch when I was recovering from a broken hip, unable to get much exercise, and trying not to gain weight.

I'd drain a can of tuna in water, and give the water to the cats. Then, I'd just throw whatever raw vegetables I had into the food processor. It was usually some combination of celery, carrots, red or Vidalia onions, dill and sweet pickles, olives, and bell peppers. I'd pulse them into chunks about the size of something in between Grape-Nuts and Meow Mix.

Equal parts tuna and vegetable mix into a bowl, then stir in just enough mayonnaise and light balsamic vinaigrette to make it wet but not too wet.

I'd spoon it onto leaves of iceberg lettuce and it like open-faced sandwiches.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:53 PM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am much happier since I realized that for me salads are just an excuse to eat shelled, salted sunflower seeds with vinaigrette. Seriously, everything else is optional.
posted by potrzebie at 3:03 PM on February 28, 2017

If you ever get tired of green salads, try using a grain as your base. One of my summertime favorites is red quinoa, diced orange bell pepper, celery, corn, and black beans, with just a bit of lemon juice as dressing. In the winter, I do lentils, chickpeas (you could sub another white bean like cannellini), roasted yam.
posted by basalganglia at 3:14 PM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Roasted, unsalted sunflower kernels.
posted by aerotive at 4:14 PM on February 28, 2017

This salad has many pizza components - cheese, tomato, cured meat, oregano - but is rounded out with chickpeas and greens.

Another option: clean raw kale and strip out the ribs. Make a dressing of garlic, peanut butter and lemon or lime - adjust until flavors are balanced. Massage dressing into kale leaves. You could probably put some grilled chicken on top of that.
posted by bunderful at 7:25 PM on February 28, 2017

All my favorite salad additions are already here, except one : hummus dressing. About 1tbsp store bought hummus, 1 tsp olive oil and a splash of lemon juice. The greatest.
posted by cholly at 3:26 AM on March 3, 2017

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