I am a huge fan of really big salads — the kind of salads made famous by Elaine Benes on Seinfeld — but they are often boring. Really boring. Pretty much every menu of every restaurant has the same suite of salads, with some minor variations: Cobb Salad, Caesar Salad, Boring Green Salad, Chinese Chicken Salad, Taco Salad.
Sure, sometimes you get something wild like a Kale Caesar Salad, but when it comes to the world of restaurants, salads are predictable and generally not that exciting. And by not that exciting, I mean not all that flavorful — usually these salads rely upon the salad dressing to carry all the flavor work. This, as we all know, is how a salad goes from reasonably healthy to a calorie bomb in under thirty seconds.
(It doesn’t help that most restaurants pile on the dressing; I always order my dressings on the side to control quantity and flavor!)
Lately, I’ve been looking at salads from a different perspective, a perspective that includes little to no lettuce, more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seeds. Oh, and different proteins — what’s up with processed meats in salads? Nothing turns me off faster than turkey chunks that look like they came out of a package of sandwich meat.
My new salad process involves: a vinaigrette with some tang (try pomegranate syrup for a new flavor sensation!), cooked whole grains or legumes (buckwheat or lentils, for example), fruits (blueberries, anyone?) or roasted vegetables (squash, tomatoes, sweet potato), and some pan-roasted nuts.
Pretty simple, huh? And the ways to vary this combination are endless. I love that I can make a salad for one, or enough to feed my entire book club! Sure, I can add salad to any of these, but I can also make them a filling meal without.
When I want to get fancy, I lay out a platter or roasted veggies lightly dressed with a simply olive oil vinaigrette with a bit of salt and pepper. Add a bit of mozzarella for creaminess if you like, or just wolf down those delicious vegetables as they are.
And what about a classic protein-based salad? I’ve been craving good chicken salad for a few weeks now. I have lots of recipes, but haven’t quite found the right moment to make the salad. Something tells me tonight is the night!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one other type of salad: picnic salads. These include potato salads, which can be made in so many ways, slaws (hello cabbage!), or with cauliflower or broccoli. For most of these, I like a mustardy vinaigrette, but a little Greek yogurt or sour cream adds creaminess that is refreshing, especially on a hot day!
What are your favorite little-to-no-lettuce salad ideas?
Tip of the Week
When I’m grilling or roasting softer veggies, like zucchini or eggplant, for salads, I dress them when the vegetables are still warm. The flavor gets absorbed more efficiently than when I dress cold vegetables.
Gluten-Free Meal of the Week
I love making big salads for my book club. One member is vegetarian and I’m gluten-free, so it’s important to serve something that we both can enjoy (though I will say all members of my book club are amazing about accommodating both of our needs). Big salads fit the bill very well.
The salad pictured with this post is filled with berries, nuts, cheese, and chickpeas was devoured in minutes (and I’d worried I’d made too much!). I tossed it with pomegranate molasses — which added a lot of sour tang with a bit of sweet — right before serving. No recipe needed — just add what you think is sufficient to feed your group.
Blueberry and Pan-Roasted Chickpea Salad