Salad Days: 10 Terrific Ideas for Sensational Salads This Spring
Mar 16, 2015 12:11PM
When signs of spring are in the air, it’s time for a change in the dinnertime fare. The hearty comfort foods of winter kept us going through colder days, but now it’s time to think about the lighter, cooler meal options as the temperatures outside begin to rise. Salads are a great place to start. Here are ten terrific ideas to incorporate more salads into your daily diet.
Choose a 'Green' Salad
With a terrific selection of leafy green vegetables available in grocery produce sections, there is no reason for lettuce salads to become boring. Mix up your salad plate with a variety of greens. Great salads are built on a fabulous green foundation. Make a Cobb salad with romaine lettuce, cubed cooked chicken breasts, hard-cooked eggs, Roma tomatoes, crisp bacon, green onions, watercress, avocados and blue cheese; top with a red wine vinegar, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce-based salad dressing. Make a French “composed salad” using mixed salad greens, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions and hard-cooked eggs, all topped with a fresh herb vinaigrette. Make a garden fresh Italian salad (or a “layered salad”) using torn iceberg lettuce, red leaf lettuce, fresh spinach, romaine lettuce, red cabbage, Roma tomatoes, cucumber, fennel, red onion, carrots, bell pepper, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, black olives, hot peppers, croutons, grated Parmesan cheese and freshly cracked black pepper to taste; top with a favorite Italian salad dressing or vinaigrette. Similar to the Italian salad, add to the goodness sliced or diced ham and cheese from the deli, radishes and perhaps cooked shrimp for a delicious chef’s salad. These salads are meals on a platter, usually more than enough to satisfy hungry appetites.
Homemade Salad Dressing
Take control over your salad dressing ingredients. It’s easy to make your own favorite dressing at home. For a buttermilk-ranch, combine 1 cup buttermilk, 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon dill weed, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper in a blender; blend for 30 seconds. (Yogurt is a nice alternative for salad dressing if buttermilk or mayonnaise is not preferred.) For an Italian vinaigrette, combine 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, 2 cloves garlic (minced), 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme in a large mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil to emulsify the dressing. Transfer to a covered container, refrigerate; shake before serving. For a simple balsamic vinaigrette, combine two parts olive oil with one part balsamic vinegar (or to taste) and shake well before serving. My grandma always made a delicious homemade French dressing: combine 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup vinegar, freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1 lemon and 1 teaspoon paprika in a blender; blend for 30 seconds. Keep fresh salad dressings in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Pasta, Grains and Legumes
Pasta salads are easy and delicious alternatives to hot pasta meals. Simply combine a large bowl of chilled cooked pasta — any shapes or sizes — with favorite chopped fresh vegetables and an Italian dressing. Add diced deli meats, cooked and chilled shrimp, chopped fresh herbs or toasted nuts, shredded or diced cheese, hard-cooked eggs, olives or capers — the list goes on and on! Tortellini is a nice option for a hearty, cheesy bite of pasta. Use your imagination and flavors you enjoy to create a simply spectacular pasta salad for a filling dinner. The same idea also translates well to various cooked grains and legumes. Think rice, wild rice, quinoa, lentils, garbanzo beans or even olive oil-soaked bread (panzanella salad). Combine with diced veggies and your favorite dressing (or simply a combination of olive oil, vinegar and/or lemon juice) and you have a salad masterpiece to enjoy chilled from the refrigerator.
Adding grilled chicken or beef to a green salad is a popular choice to turn a side dish into a main dish meal. Choose a flavor “theme” by simply seasoning the meat accordingly as it cooks on the grill. Fajita seasoning is a great choice for Tex-Mex flavors. Grilled chicken is always a nice addition to a traditional Caesar salad: season boneless chicken breasts with a combination of dried oregano, dry mustard, paprika and salt and pepper to taste; grill over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until cooked through; allow to cool slightly, slice and chill in refrigerator; combine 2 cloves garlic (minced), 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce and juice from 1/2 lemon (plus anchovy paste to taste, if desired) in a small bowl and slowly whisk in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil; combine salad dressing with about 8 cups torn romaine lettuce leaves in a large bowl; arrange chilled grilled chicken slices and 1 cup croutons over the top, and sprinkle 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper to taste over all to serve.
With a Tex-Mex Twist
Turn the taco inside out and sprinkle all the taco fixins over crunchy, cool iceberg lettuce. Toss with tortilla chips and top with your favorite salsa for a Tex-Mex treat. For a traditional Mexican pico de gallo accompaniment, combine peeled and diced jícama, peeled and diced orange, a few sprigs of cilantro, freshly squeezed lime juice and a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper, to taste. “Texas Caviar” combines black-eyed peas, white hominy, chopped tomatoes, green onions, red onion and bell pepper, minced garlic, cilantro and salsa for a nice side salad for any Tex-Mex meal, or simply to serve with cornbread or tortilla chips.
When planning a picnic, chicken salad or pasta salad might sound like tasty choices. Or potato salad and coleslaw might come to mind — the perfect complements to an outdoor barbecue. These are wonderful choices if proper precautions are put in place. Since all of these salads usually have a mayonnaise-based dressing, they all need to remain properly chilled until served. Coolers with plenty of ice (or ice packs) will keep these picnic salads at a safe serving temperature. If keeping food chilled is a concern, choosing vinaigrette-based salads is a much better choice for outdoor dining.
Warm salad options from the stovetop aren’t always the first to come to mind when speaking salad, but nevertheless, they are tasty treats at dinnertime. Try a German potato salad with the flavors of bacon, onion, celery seed and white wine vinegar spicing-up a pan of diced red potatoes on the stove. Topped with crumbled, crisp bacon and sliced hard-cooked eggs, this is a side dish not to miss. Or maybe a wilted spinach salad fits the bill: continuing on a bacon theme, torn spinach leaves and sliced green onions are tossed with the drippings of cooked, sliced bacon, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and salt, sugar and pepper to taste in a large bowl. Top with chopped hard-cooked egg and 1/4 cup toasted pecans.
This salad deserves a category of its own. This taste bud-tempting French classic is a one-dish meal, comprised of several delectable components: new potatoes and green beans tossed in olive oil; white-flesh tuna, red onions and capers make up a simple tuna salad; Belgian endive, Roma tomatoes, black and green olives, hard-cooked eggs and anchovies are arranged as a garnish; and an olive oil, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, basil and chives vinaigrette — along with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and croutons — top this spectacular salad. A dining experience that sends your senses to the French Riviera!
Don’t forget that fruit offers many options for salad ideas. A simple combination of diced fresh fruit and whole fresh berries is delicious with a honey-lime dressing. A bowl of Jell-O graduates to salad status when sliced fruit (and perhaps shredded carrots or chopped celery) is trapped within and the dish is topped with chopped pecans or walnuts. Combine a favorite fruit-flavored gelatin with mandarin oranges, pineapple tidbits, whipped cream, cottage cheese and mini marshmallows for a scrumptious side salad dessert. Combine 2 cups chilled cooked white rice, 2 cups chilled diced fruit, 1 cup whipped cream, 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla for a “glorified rice” salad. Fruit is also a great choice to enhance other salads: add halved grapes to a tuna salad; add dried fruits, such as cranberries or golden raisins, to coleslaw or a green salad; combine diced apples and halved grapes with diced celery, pecans or walnuts, mayo and diced chicken for a chicken Waldorf salad; or one of my favorites — add sliced fresh pears to a leafy green salad — my Walnut-Pear Salad with Gorgonzola Cheese (see recipe).
Next to desserts, salads are probably the most common dishes to present in eye-catching and mouth-watering fashion. Think of the garnish and a simple salad becomes a dish that is hard to resist. Serve taco salads in tortilla cups (form flour tortillas over inverted bowls and toast lightly in the oven until crisp). Serve chicken salad in halved tomato cups. Serve fruit salad (or Waldorf salad) in halved fresh pineapple shells or melon baskets (use a v-cutter tool to cut a honeydew melon, cantaloupe or watermelon into the shape of a basket, scooping out the melon flesh for the fruit salad). Use slices of fruit, twists of citrus, a selection of dried fruit or fresh berries to garnish almost any salad. Sprigs of fresh herbs are also simple, yet wonderful garnishes. Dress the dish for dinner and salads become more than just a simple side dish. Sensational salads become the desire of all diners!
Carol Ritchie is the host of “Cookin’ with Carol”. She has taught cooking classes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for 25 years.
Check out this simple salad recipe to enjoy at home! Read More »