Now that you’ve mastered the foundation of the salad in the last article, let’s talk about the fun stuff: toppings! This is also a great way to practice your knife skills too.
There are so many ways to create a fun and interesting salad, so let’s start with some basics …
Personally, I think vegetables that are in season are best. Not only are they picked riper, but you’re supporting a local farmer too. But how do you know what’s in season when? One, you can shop your local farmers market or two, you can visit this website. This will give you a general idea of what is available.
Because we’re heading into fall, here are some vegetables that I’m adding to my salads:
- Roasted delacata squash: slice in half, scoop out seeds, don’t peel—you can eat the skin, cut into ½ inch slices, toss with olive oil and salt, roast at 425 degrees until tender.
- Peppers: did you know red, orange and yellow peppers are just ripe green peppers? Now is the time to try new varieties too. Roast them in a 400-degree oven then peel or slice up fresh.
- Beets: believe it or not, I love uncooked beets in salads. Simply peel, slice them very thin and marinate briefly in your favorite vinegar. Look for red, yellow or even red and white striped varieties.
- Carrots: carrots are even sweeter after they’ve been through a frost. Look for multicolored ones like purple and white to add more color to your salad.
- Cauliflower or broccoli: cut florets into bite size pieces and eat raw or roast similar to the squash above.
- Mushrooms: they really add a lot of earthy goodness to a salad. Look for new and different varieties for fun: shitake, chanterelle, porcini and Portobello. Slice up and add fresh or sauté with a little garlic, salt and olive oil.
- Potatoes: look for the little multicolored marble potatoes at the farmers market or your grocery store. I like to roast them whole tossed with olive oil, salt and rosemary until tender.
- Sweet potatoes: peel, cube and roast them (like the squash above).
- Kohlrabi: believe it or not, this makes a great crispy, slightly sweet addition to any salad. Peel the hard outer skin and slice into matchstick size strips.
- Radishes: slice thin. To add extra crunch, soak them in cold water. For extra flavor, marinate them with a little salt and your favorite vinegar.
- Additions: other fun vegetables include hearts of palm, artichoke hearts and pomodorachio tomatoes (semi-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil from Italy). Look for them in the canned section of the supermarket.
If you’re making a main course salad for a workday lunch or a quick evening meal, it’s great to add some flavorful protein to the mix. Here are some of my personal favorites:
- Tuna packed in olive oil: why oil? It just tastes better and is not as dry in your mouth. Open the can, let it drain and sprinkle over the top.
- Leftover roasted chicken: if I make a whole chicken for Sunday night dinner, I’ll shred up the breast meat and use it on a salad the next day. The same for leftover pork tenderloin or steak!
- Beans: your salad doesn’t have to have meat on it to make it great. I love beans for their texture and flavor. Try lentils, garbanzo beans, black beans, navy beans or Italian white beans. I prefer to soak dried beans overnight (Bob’s Red Mill has a great selection) and then cook them the next day (gives you less gas!), but canned beans work well too. Just be careful about the amount of sodium.
- Eggs: want to make a perfectly hardboiled egg? Place an egg or two in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. Once at a boil, turn the heat off and let eggs stand, covered, for 11 minutes. Place eggs immediately into cold water. Once cool, peel and slice into your salad.
- Prosciutto: this thinly sliced cured meat add saltiness and umami to your salad. Use just a slice or two for flavor.
Sometimes adding a starch to a salad can give it bulk and make it more hearty. Try adding one of the following:
- Quinoa: cook in boiling salted water just like pasta. Drain when tender and rinse with cold water to cool it down.
- Pasta: add fun shapes like bow ties, spirals or shells. Cook in boiling salted water until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and toss with a little olive oil to prevent sticking.
- Farro: this nutty grain from ancient Italy gives a chewy, hearty texture to your salad. Cook according to package directions or like pasta.
- Wild rice: rather than a true rice, wild rice is a marsh grass. Cooking time depends on the brand you buy (I like Bob’s Red Mill quick cooking version). Cook according to package directions or like pasta.
- Croutons: make your own by tearing any type of bread into bite size pieces. Heat a sauté pan with a crushed clove of garlic and olive oil in a pan. Toss bread in oil and toast until crisp.
Cheese always makes a fun addition to any salad but be careful not to add too much due to the high fat content. Here are my favorites:
- Fresh mozzarella
- Crumbled feta
- Blobs of fresh ricotta
- Shredded sharp cheddar
- Cubed smoked gouda
- Crumbled goat cheese with herbs
Why yes you can – and should – add fruit to your salad! Not only does it add great texture but a hint of sweetness as well. Like vegetables, I like to keep things seasonal for best flavor.
- Cranberries: be careful – fresh ones are tart! But you can chop them fine and sprinkle over salads.
- Apples: slice thinly and toss with lemon juice to prevent browning. I like Pink Lady or Braebrun the best.
- Pears: try Comice, Bosc or even Bartlett.
- Pomegranate: these plump seeds add a crunchy sweet texture. Cut ripe ones in half and peel underwater. The seeds sink to the bottom and the pith floats. Plus you and your kitchen won’t be covered in red juice.
- Grapes: it’s grape harvest time not only for wineries but table grapes as well.
- Dried fruit: chop up dried figs, apricots or currants to add a bit of sweetness.
Nuts and seeds
Add crunch, healthy fat and fun flavor with a variety of nuts. Buy them in bulk for the best price and opt for raw rather than salted to stay on the healthy side.
- Hazelnuts (they’re local!)
- Pine nuts (avoid ones from China as they may cause pine mouth)
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Black and white sesame seeds
Putting it all together
Phew – that’s a lot of items to choose from! So how do you decide what to put on your next salad? There are no hard and fast rules but my suggestion is to keep it simple. I try to limit my choices to around six items: three vegetables, one protein, one starch or cheese and one fruit or nut. This way your taste buds don’t get overwhelmed with too many flavors all at once..
Favorite Salad Ideas
Here are some of my favorite combinations:
- Roasted yellow pepper, pomegranate, chick peas and feta cheese.
- Red and yellow peppers, bow tie pasta, fresh mozzarella, basil and tuna with lemon vinaigrette.
- Roasted butternut squash, pine nuts, dried cranberries and chicken with cranberry vinaigrette.
- Ham, Swiss cheese, Pink Lady apples, hazelnuts with butter lettuce and tarragon vinaigrette.
- Sliced steak, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.
- Sliced pears, walnuts, blue cheese, arugula and lime vinaigrette.
- Thinly sliced beets, arugula, goat cheese, fennel and apple cider vinaigrette.
Now it’s your turn to get creative! What kind of salad can you dream up next?