I recall only one kind of salad growing up: what I think of as a “traditional” salad. A bed of greens, usually iceberg or romaine, topped with various chopped vegetables, cheese, and perhaps some hard-boiled egg, bacon bits, or chick peas. While I liked these salads I didn’t necessarily love them, and I always associated them with a lot of work (chopping, hard-boiling, etc.), and would rarely make one myself.
When I met Ben he opened my eyes to the world of “simple” salads. He would eat a Caesar salad with almost every meal, making his own croutons in the toaster oven, his own dressing, and then throwing some parmesan over top. Not only did I like the simplicity of Ben’s salad, but I was quickly hooked on the understated flavors.
Now, we receive a bag of mesclun mix almost every week throughout the summer as part of our CSA share. And while we have experimented with more flavor combinations, we have discovered that keeping the salad simple ensures that we will eat (and enjoy) more salad each week.
Let’s get cooking…
It has actually taken quite a bit of training to get myself to a place of eating several small salads a week. I had to get over the idea that salad is a lot of work, and also adopted some tricks to make salad our go-to green veggie with any meal.
Learn about your greens. I am the first to admit that prior to my CSA conversion, I would grab a bag of salad mix at the store and call it a day, not putting much thought into my greens. Some mixes I would like, others I would not, but I never took the time to figure out why. It wasn’t until I was skimming a Cooking Light magazine last year that I learned that the different greens in say, your mesclun mix, each have a unique flavor. Learning which varieties you like, which you don’t, and which go better with specific toppings or dressings can really enhance your salad experience. Check out this website to learn more about your mix.
Get a salad spinner. Okay, I do not normally advocate for kitchen gadgets, but I can honestly say that the salad spinner has resulted in a lot more salad being eaten in our house. I found a small version—perfect for our family—at Marshall’s in Middletown. It comes with a flat top for storing, which means you can wash & spin the salad, and then store it in the same container. When it is just us at dinner, I will even serve the salad out of the spinner, with the dressing, croutons, and parmesan on the side. It really doesn’t get much simpler than that. Storing the greens clean also means that when we are rushing to pack lunches in the morning, it is easy to grab a handful of clean lettuce to throw into a lunchtime salad.
Sweeten things up. Given my limited salad repertoire, it is probably not surprising that until recently I firmly believed that fruit and green salad did not mix. Was I ever wrong. Strawberries, blueberries, apples, or grapes can lend a salad an almost dessert feel. We also use dried fruit on salads quite a bit—cranberries and raisins are particular favorites. The sweetness helps cut the bitterness of some greens and the acidity of vinegar-based dressings.
Get creative with crunch. Croutons are not the only way to add texture and crunch to your salads. Walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds make great additions to a salad, adding flavor, texture, and protein. To bring out the flavor in the nuts, toast them in a single layer in the oven, or toss them in a frying pan until brown and fragrant. For a kid-friendly salad, try using gold fish in place of croutons—we actually get requests for “fish salad” without having to suggest it.
DIY dressings. I have a hard time finding bottled dressing that I like, never mind one that we can all agree on. Homemade dressings can be tailored to your family’s palette. For example, Ben’s daughter loves her salad with vanilla yogurt and a drizzle of honey for dressing. Making your own dressing also enables you to make choices about where the ingredients are coming from. The Green Grocer, in Portsmouth, has just started carrying a line of New England-made oils (Maine Natural Oils) that can serve as the base for your very own dressing. See below for Green Grocer’s Honey Mustard salad dressing recipe!
Honey Mustard Dressing
Recipe courtesy of the Green Grocer, Portsmouth, RI
- 2 tbsp mustard oil
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 tsp honey
- 1/4 tsp chopped garlic
- 1/4 tsp chopped onion
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
Blend and enjoy!