Cheryl here. We eat a lot of meat and fish in ALL its glorious forms at our abode. Beef, chicken, pork, duck, lamb, fish, shrimp, salmon…you name it. It makes it’s way to our plates via all the usual methods and some not so usual…grilling, smoking, frying, sautéing, baking and sous vide-ing (not sure if I should “ing” that word). However, dining endlessly in this carnivore’s paradise can make me hanker for the lush, freshness of something leafy, crispy and green. And raw. No cooking required.
I love salad all year round, but as the temps soar north of the triple digits, I really appreciate the cool, no fuss ease of a plate of raw veggies. Unfortunately, I’ve had plenty of main dish restaurant salads that leave me wondering if the kitchen ran out of food. Luckily, I’ve got a few secrets up my sleeve to keep that from happening to you. Here are my tips for creating the best salad meals at home.
- Put Those Leftovers To Work! We grill several times a week and always try to plan ahead by throwing extra chicken breasts, shrimp, pork chops, flank steak, etc. on the BGE. Whatever the protein du jour is, our goal is to get at least one more meal out of it usually in the form of a big, hunger-satisfying salad. Grilled asparagus, roasted broccoli, even leftover brussels sprouts might find themselves on a plate of greens later in the week.
- Whole Is Best! It’s easy to reach for the packaged greens that claim to have been triple washed and rinsed. DON’T do it! Buy whole heads of romaine, iceberg, butter lettuces, whatever your leafy loving heart desires, cut them up and wash them in a salad spinner. One food that Food Poisoning Experts avoid? Pre-washed and cut up produce. The more it’s handled and processed, the higher its chances of being contaminated with bacterial hitchhikers that will hit you over the head and steal your wallet (and your ability to hold down food).
- Shred It Yourself! Another tempting shortcut product…bagged, shredded cheese. Buy a good block of cheese (sharp cheddar, parmesan, asiago) shred a bunch and keep it in the the fridge. The bagged cheese is tossed with other ingredients to keep it from clumping and sticking together. That’s why you’ll notice a powdery coating on it. Nobody needs that extra stuff on cheese. Plus, it just doesn’t taste as good. It never melts right, either. Have you noticed that? Hmmmm…
- Vary Your Veggies! Keep a variety of salad friendly vegetables on hand in addition to the greens. My favorites are radishes, green onions, red onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, and berries for sweeter salad variations.
- Mix Up Your Greens! Pair arugula and spinach, romaine and iceberg, butter and red leaf lettuces for more flavor. Yes! Different greens taste different!
- Dress It Yourself! I’ll be frank. Store bought salad dressings are gross. There’s a gelatinous texture that makes my tastebuds want to to join the witness protection program and relocate. Whatever ingredients are used to make them shelf stable just aren’t natural. If I can’t pronounce them or spell them, I certainly don’t want to eat them. Instead, make the one simple dressing recipe I have at the end of this post and change it up for endless dressing options.
- Toss It! Once you have crafted your salad masterpiece, don’t douse it with dressing by spooning it over the top. Throw your greens and veggies into a large mixing bowl, drizzle with your homemade dressing, and maybe a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and toss carefully using salad tongs. Each leafy piece of lettuce and each chunk of ripe heirloom tomato will benefit from a kiss of that lovely, tangy vinaigrette. The fresh ingredients of the salad and the flavors in the dressing marry to create a cohesive dish. This is much more satisfying than just piling some ingredients on top of each other and expecting them to taste good. Remember, this is a meal, not an obligatory exercise to force feed yourself the 5-9 servings of vegetables the government recommends.
- Add Texture And Flavor! Add the crunch of toasted nuts, the richness of a boiled egg, the sharpness of a good cheese, the sweetness of a dried cranberry. Maybe crumble some bacon over the top! With salad, more is more!
- Invest In Some Tools! Treat yourself to an immersion hand blender to emulsify dressings. The oil and vinegar won’t separate in the fridge if its emulsified with this handy dandy kitchen workhorse. Also, treat your greens to a cheap salad spinner to keep them clean and spiffy. I cut up and wash a bunch of greens at a time and store them in a large container in the fridge. They’ll keep for 2 or 3 days and I’m able to throw together a delicious meal faster than you can say “artisanal, hand grown, organic, small batch, locally sourced, foraged produce” and whatever other trendy hip buzzwords the youngsters are using to describe food these days.
Creamy Red Wine Vinaigrette
1/4 cup red wine vinager
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
Place all ingredients in a bowl except for the olive oil. Blend with an immersion hand blender while drizzling in the olive oil. Add additional dijon, garlic, salt and pepper if necessary. No immersion hand blender? Use a whisk instead.
Change up your acids and oils for different flavors. Add herbs and other seasonings. I’ve replaced the red wine vinegar with the juice of an orange and white vinegar, omitted the mustard, added minced ginger and a little bit of sugar to come up with a tangy citrus version.
A standard ratio for salad dressings and vinaigrettes is one part vinegar (or acid) to 3 parts oil. You can go up or down from there depending on what you’re in the mood for.
And with that, I urge you to go forth and Salad On, my friends!