Really Big Salads

Gluten-free salad featuring buckwheat, strawberries, and kale.

I said, feeling virtuous, “Let’s just have a really big salad for lunch.” My husband, feeling less virtuous, required a bit of persuasion, but eventually conceded a really big salad was just what he wanted. Mostly because all other options would require him to make his own lunch.

He is a wise man.

Really big salads are meals that satisfy all types of cravings — fresh, crunchy, creamy, soft, cold, hot, spicy, mellow, healthy, decadent, sweet, savory. The list can go on forever. I like to make these salads at home because restaurant salads tend to have a, shall we say?, sameness to them.

You have your Caesar, your mixed greens, some kind of antipasto or chopped salad (that isn’t really chopped), Cobbs. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of these options (except the non-chopped chopped salad), but restaurant salads are generally boring, and, if you forget to request the dressing on the side, drowned in so much salad dressing, flavors are destroyed.

Home salads, however, are all kinds of fun! You can make a salad to suit your imagination and ingredients. You can make your own dressing with as much garlic as you want. It’s the perfect meal.

And here are some ideas to jumpstart your really big salads:

  • Corn and Avocado Salad: Whenever I grill corn, I usually add a couple of extra ears for a salad later in the week. I get my corn nice and charred so it’s full of flavor. You can roast the avocado or not (if you haven’t tried it, roasted avocado is sooo good). Add a jalapeno or two, roasted if you want. Maybe roast some tomatoes. Serve over greens with a lime vinaigrette.
  • Fruit Salads: I have declared war on restaurant fruit salads. Surely there is something more creative than a few chunks of cantaloupe, a couple chunks of honeydew melon, a couple of grapes, and maybe a slice of strawberry or banana. In the summertime, I love to roast stone fruit — peaches, apricots, plums — on the grill. Generally this type of salad doesn’t need anything else, but you can add a tangy yogurt-based dressing to counteract the sweetness.
  • Grain Salads: Quinoa, buckwheat, millet, rice…all of these are great salad grains. Toss with greens, add your favorite protein if you need more. Mix in fruits, like roasted grapes, or chopped carrots (for color). Maybe a little cheese, if your heart desires.
  • Nicoise: This salad simply doesn’t get enough love. It’s a simple dish featuring greens, tomatoes, tuna (the good stuff in jars, if possible), hard-boiled eggs, olives, and anchovies. Arrange the components on a platter, drizzle with a vinaigrette, and dig in!
  • Rice Noodle Salad: Cold rice noodles are topped with a mix of cooked, roasted, or chopped vegetables. Add grilled meat or fish or tofu. Make a simple dressing using lime juice, brown sugar, garlic, chile paste (if you like), a little fish sauce. Pour over the top. Add some chopped nuts if you want. Eat.
  • Roasted Vegetable Salad: Serve a roasted vegetable salad warm or cold. I like a mix of squash, green beans, mushrooms, radishes, and red peppers or tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, use a light vinaigrette to dress the veggies so their flavors shine through.
  • Shaved Veggie Salad: Similar to the roasted veggie concept, but without the roasting. This is a great way to highlight beets of various colors, radishes, zucchini ribbons, red onions, even Brussels sprouts. Again, don’t overdress this salad because you want the flavors to be the stars.
  • Strawberries, Kale, and Buckwheat: This is such a simple, delicious salad featuring one of my favorite grains/grasses: buckwheat. Plus it can be ready in under 30 minutes, including the actually cooking of the buckwheat.

Tip of the Week

I’m too cheap to buy gluten-free croutons, so I add a bit of crunch to salads by making parmesan crisps. Use about a tablespoon of shredded Parmesan per crisp. Bake for about 6 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Menu of the Week

It’s hot, so strawberries are on the menu. And buckwheat has become my go-to grain these days. I make a big pot of it every week to add to my lunches. In this recipe, however, you need warm buckwheat to absorb the lemony dressing. The same dressing is massaged into the kale.

If you like cheese, a little ricotta goes nicely on this salad. If you’re still hungry after this salad, I suggest gelato or a simple vanilla ice cream.

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