Quick and Easy Salad Ideas
Two reasons I love cooking and baking are to be creative and to try new things. This past Thanksgiving I had a lot of fun torturing our family and friends with my latest creation for a salad. For some reason everyone looks forward to the salads I make. I don’t know why, but I assume it is because besides being good and good for them, the salads always have some sort of twist.
This year I shook things up by adding in some zucchini among other things for the Thanksgiving salad. They tore this salad up—even my dad who claimed he never eats salad. This was his first time experiencing one of my salads. And he actually went back for seconds. So, if the salads are good, why would I say I torture them? They keep asking for a recipe or, “What’s in it this time?” I tell them, but they never believe me. I assure them it is as simple as I say. I think the difference is I make sure everything is fresh and always make them the morning of the event. Then they say, “Well mine never taste like this!”
Another way I torture anyone who eats certain salads of mine is by waiting until they eat some and then ask them what they just ate. This always gives way to pause and making everyone wonder if they should take another bite or not. Previous conversations of what people have been up to at work turn to everyone shouting out the easy to identify items. I heard “lettuce” like three times this year before someone offered olives, carrots, and tomatoes. “Well what kind of lettuce this time?” I start treating them like they were in one of my college courses, questioning them further and spurring on discussion. Think some more. Taste some more. Then tell me what you think! Well, no one guessed the zucchini that I put in this year. Because of the color and cut, they probably figured it was cucumber.
So, what are some simple ways to add something special to your salads? Here are some things I always do or add to make sure my salads get rave reviews:
Keep It Fresh
As stated above, I never make the salad in advance. This means I make it at minimum the morning of the event. Also be sure to store things properly so it is not spoiled, wilted, or otherwise ruined before you are ready to use or serve it. So, don’t buy anything too far in advance either.
I also do not dress or season the salad in advance. From experience you probably know this leads to soggy leaves and a ton of liquid at the bottom of the bowl.
Use as many fresh ingredients as possible. The only canned items I tend to use are mandarin oranges and olives. Besides that, everything is fresh. I like going to the farmers market to get items. I can get fresher spring mix for about half the price as if I bought it from the supermarket. I can also get more varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Mix It Up
Serve salads based on the season. For example, while people look forward to my spring mix with strawberries, provolone, and candied walnuts, I only make it during the summer months. This way the strawberries are the sweetest and juiciest and not out of season.
I also like adding new items to see how they compliment some of my “go to” salad bases. For example, this year I added beets and zucchini. Another new favorite is organic pea shoots. No matter what you choose, remember that size matters. Do not put in big chucks that make it impossible to fit other items on the fork for a good mix of ingredients. So while playing with size can add interest, keep in mind the texture and what is feasible for eating.
Now, I don’t mean start cracking horribly out-of-date jokes. Try different cheeses on for size. This year I switched from mild provolone to goat cheese. No one could guess what cheese I added this year. And they were all surprised. Many had never eaten goat cheese before. But within a matter of minutes I had a table full of goat cheese lovers. A simple switch from domestic to imported or sharp to mild can make all the difference too.
While many people suffer from peanut or other nut allergies, adding nuts can add a nice crunch and depth of flavor to your salad. Experiment with the different types of nuts on the market. Also try different flavor options like candied, cinnamon and sugar, sweet and spicy, etc.
If you know people have allergies but still want to add nuts, it is easy enough to put them in a bowl on the side. This way people can help themselves and the whole bowl will not be “contaminated.”
Dress It Up
Do you make your own dressing? If not, consider doing so. Many people like to watch their calorie intake especially during the holidays.
I still remember when the spritzer dressings first came out and had one calorie per spray. A former colleague of mine claimed she was starting to watch her weight. We all looked in amazement at the convenience of the spray and it counting the calories for you. After my colleague saw how little one spray covered, she simply said, “Oh screw this!” and sprayed vigorously until she was satisfied. The idea was novel, because one look at the label of manufactured salad dressing could send you reeling when you realize that the serving size is only a tablespoon and people tend to use about three or more for one bowl of salad.
So cut the cost and calories by making your own dressing. Many homemade recipes are really simple and only call for oil, vinegar, and salt. Some people even dress their salad with only fresh lemon juice and some salt.
Spice It Up
Even if you only like adding salt to your salad, there is the potential for variety. For example, consider using pink Himalayan salt, sea salts, smoked salt (click here to learn how to make your own smoked salt), and so on. The same goes for pepper. Black pepper can be substituted for white pepper so it does not look like dirt is speckling your work of art.
If you are feeling really adventurous, you can add in spices that add a depth of flavor that is hard to pinpoint or detect on first taste. Cumin can add a smoky flavor, while adding garlic or onion powder can be used to avoid cutting whole onion and garlic. Your guests may thank you for not having their breath and the rest of their meal overpowered with the strong flavor and odor of these staples.
Which addition would you most likely choose?
This trend has caught on fast this year, but like anything good is a repetition of the past. Many salad mix companies are offering salad blends that include herbs. The most popular seems to be parsley. And this is no surprise. While people often toss the parsley used as garnish on their plates to the side, it is really a palate cleanser. Many of these herbs also have astringent properties. So your body is cleansed on the inside and your mouth feels refreshed.