I love a good salad, the more colourful and interesting the better. Layered salads, fruit salads, pasta salads, bean salads, salads I can put on a sandwich, roll up in a wrap, or scoop up with a nacho. Salads I can put on top of other salads. Salads for the win!
Make standout salads a meal or just a snack
Salads are a great way to pack a lot of flavour and nutrition onto one delicious plate, and are also a great way to try new flavour combinations, and clear out leftovers in your fridge.
If the word “salad” conjures up an image of rabbit food, or limp iceberg lettuce topped with anemic tomatoes and soggy cucumbers, it’s time to reinvent your definition of the word. Salad, to me, is colourful, full of delightful flavour and texture combinations, as filling or as light as I want it to be, lovingly concocted and curated for maximum effect on the plate (or in the mouth).
There are so many salad recipes around, and so many salad dressing recipes, the list is endless.
When I make a green salad I tend to use some sort of mixed greens rather than lettuce. Grow your own, buy fresh from a local farmer’s market, or buy in a carton or bag from the grocery store. Mixed greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, etc) has the added benefit of freezing well and being useful in cooking for those times when you forgot it was in there and won’t get through ten cups of it before it gets that funky smell. Toss it in the freezer and crush it for use in smoothies, pasta sauce, or soup. Lately I’ve been buying “Power Greens” from Costco but I’m not particular. Sometimes it’s nice to add some fresh herbs right in with the greens for a zingy taste of cilantro, parsley, basil, or mint to name a few.
Boost the protein (and staying power) of your salad with a few of the following:
- Canned tuna or salmon
- Cooked chicken
- Diced ham or other cured meat
- Hard boiled eggs
- Cooked beans such as kidney beans or chickpeas
- Cooked lentils
- Chopped nuts and seeds
When I cook chicken I try to cook an extra breast or two to have in the fridge for quick salad making. Beans I will make from dry in my Instant Pot, but I always try to have a can or two in the pantry when I need them right away. Keeping a can of lentils handy is also a good idea. Lately too we’ve kept a stash of hard boiled eggs in the fridge for school lunches or snacks. Nuts and seeds are a staple in our house, so it’s never hard to boost the protein on a salad here. I don’t like cheese in salad unless I’m eating it right away – it gets soggy if it sits, but the right cheese on a salad can make or break it!
Grains or Pasta
It’s a rare salad of mine that doesn’t have rice or quinoa scattered on top, or heck, make it the base component of the salad. I make large batches of brown rice or quinoa to keep in the fridge, either as side dish for dinner, or for layering things onto. Taking ordinary salad ingredients and adding them to pasta all of a sudden makes a whole new creation. Greek salad? Try it with bowtie pasta or even cooked tortellini.
This does take some planning but is well worth it for the flavour and nutrition punch it brings. Much like chicken, try to cook extra when you’re making them anyway. Cooking beets or sweet potatoes and keeping them in the fridge…yum. I know what I’m having for lunch. Sweet potatoes can be microwaved quickly but beets take longer. Roast them, or cook them in Instant Pot and keep them in the fridge cubed and ready to roll. Leftover corn or peas are nice too. One serving of cooked carrots, beans, broccoli, or more left in the fridge? Throw it on and see what you think.
The options are endless. Experiment with different sizes and ways to incorporate them. Be mindful of how any individual piece will be to spear with a fork, or how it will combine with the other ingredients. I have never liked carrot coins or diced carrots in salad, I find them too hard. But I do love them grated or as large curls created with a peeler (kids love this job!). Liven up a salad by growing your own sprouts or microgreens, super easy to do with minimal equipment and packs an incredible nutritional punch to any salad.
I only add cheese if I’m going to eat the salad right away, otherwise it becomes soggy. Cubed cheddar, grated parmesan, some nuggets of pungent blue or gorgonzola, chunky feta or crumbled goat cheese. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Cheese can sneakily up the fat and salt content of a salad, or overwhelm the taste though, so use sparingly.
Fruit on a green salad seems to be a love it or hate it thing. I like strawberries on a salad with goat cheese and pecans, but wouldn’t add it to a salad with tomatoes or peppers or cucumber. Sometimes cubed apple can be nice – douse it in lemon juice first so it doesn’t brown. Dried cranberries can be a lovely garnish and an easy addition for a bite of sweetness. I keep a can of emergency mandarin orange sections in the cupboard for days when we are out of fruit for school lunches, or to jazz up a salad. I remember a salad from my childhood that involved mandarin orange sections and my siblings and I would fight over who got the most pieces out of the bowl.
This vegetable — technically a fruit as my children enjoy lecturing me — gets its own section. Avocados are an acquired taste for sure, and are something else I’ll only add if I’m eating the salad immediately, due to the tendency to brown and get mushy. Avocados hot are revolting, so never, ever heat them up. But when you chance upon that perfectly ripe avocado? Amazing.
Don’t forget about olives, sun dried tomatoes, pickled onions, or other jarred delights that can be unexpected but marvellous on a salad.
The Sky is the Limit for Standout Salads
Get creative, be brave, and try to keep some staples stocked in your pantry or fridge. If they’re there and prepped, you’ll use them!
And when you’re lacking inspiration, pick something from this handy list to keep the salad excitement going. Also available as a PDF if you’d rather print in letter size.