Basic Salad Making : Start making salads at home

This year we have been eating a lot of salads. We started out eating salads every day when we were in a weight loss phase. Now that we have achieved some of the goals, we have slacked down on salads. I have been a fan of salads for a couple of years now but did not make them at home. As soon as the weather warms up, I am excited because it means I can eat salads when we are eating out (and get that salad thing going at home too).

I did not make salads at home because I thought it was an involved process. Buy the greens, keep them fresh, make dressings. It also required keeping the pantry and fridge stocked for salad supplies. I, like many people, was not sure how much salad I would eat at home, to invest in the supplies. I say, if you enjoy eating salads in good restaurants, you can make salads you like at home too. It is really not that intimidating once you get going on your first salad.

One of the big reasons we started doing salads was, to up the vegetable and fruit intake. Our Indian diet is very much grain based. We do not get enough fruits, vegetable, and fiber to meet our daily nutritional requirement. At least, that was the case for us. Eating a salad before your main course also makes you full and eat less of the main course. Soup does the same but it is more suitable for colder weather.

I just want to list how I made salads exciting enough to eat every day for a couple of months. I think of salads as having a few basic components; the exact ingredients can be changed up to create a new salad every day.

Here are the two most basic purchases I made to get salads going in my kitchen.
  1. A Salad Spinner: very essential for drying salad greens.
  2. At least one type of vinegar: I would go for apple cider vinegar if I buy only one type. Right now I have apple cider, balsamic and pomegranate red wine vinegar. Lemons or limes are a good alternative but it helps to switch up the dressing ingredients.
The basic components we use to make our salads :
  1. Base of greens
    I am very much partial to baby lettuce. Although, spinach (we only like the Earthbound organics brand for baby spinach), romaine, butter lettuces are all great. It is even better to mix different types of greens. You could even mix in some herbs with the greens. I use spring onion a lot but basil is great to add to salads.
    Salad with baby lettuce, spring onions topped with oven roasted sweet potatoes
    Greens are one of the reasons salad was intimidating for me to make at home. Buying them, washing them, drying them and keeping them fresh seemed a huge task. Now, I have the salad greens routine pat down. I usually buy the big box of greens from Costco. I come home and wash them. I spray them with white vinegar diluted with equal water and then rinse them in cold water. Although the greens often come prewashed, I take this additional step to kill any lingering bacteria especially since we are eating it raw. After that, I spin them in the salad spinner to drain most of the water out. Then I line baking sheets with paper towels and spread the greens in a single layer to dry completely. Keep turning them once in a while. Once dry, put them back in the box in layers, with paper towels between each layer and a paper towel both at the bottom and top of the box. My greens keep fresh for a week this way, especially baby lettuce. It is of utmost importance that the greens are dry when using in a salad.
  2. More vegetables
    I like my salads with equal amounts of greens and toppings. That is mostly the problem I have with salads at restaurants: not enough toppings. A big part of the toppings for me is vegetables. I use cucumber, carrots, red bell pepper, sometimes green bell pepper, the little red radish, once in a while, a tiny amount of onion (red is too strong for me so I use white). The husband does not like tomatoes much but ripe summer tomatoes and tiny grape or cherry tomatoes are also a good addition to salads. I cut the vegetables in thin strips or small pieces; whatever it is, all the vegetables get the same cutting treatment.
    Salad with carrots, sweet mini peppers, cucumber and black chickpeas

  3. A bit of fruit/The sweet component
    I love to add a bit of fruit to salads. It adds a nice sweetness. It is also a good way to get some fruit in our diet because we are not big fruit eaters. We are now consciously trying to correct that. I most often use the orange family, apple, grapes, strawberries (which is my favorite berry so other berries do not get a chance :)), sometimes even mango. At times, I use dried fruit too (dried mango, dried berries, dried apricot). Or I add a chopped up nut bar which is sweet and has some dried fruit in it too.
    Salad topped with apples, peppers and carrots and soft cheese

  4. A cooked/warm component
    This is not a necessary component but when added, it makes the salad very satisfying. It adds that comforting element that only cooked or warm foods have. Our favorites are oven-roasted sweet potato slices and cooked chickpeas. We also use roasted corn, all kinds of cooked beans or brown lentil, brown rice, even quinoa works here. For people who eat meat, grilled chicken or grilled fish on top of a salad can make a great meal. In fact, I order salads with grilled chicken when eating out (we just don't cook meat at home).
    Salad topped with cooked chickpeas sauteed with onions and peppers and spices

  5. Nuts/Seeds
    This adds the crunch that differentiates itself from all the vegetables while adding healthy fat and added nutrition to the salad. Our favorite is sunflower seeds, but toasted walnuts and almonds are not far behind.
    Salad with dried fruits, walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds and soft cheese
  6. A creamy component
    This is almost essential if there is no cooked component to the salad. A sprinkle of soft cheese adds richness to the salad and does not make you think the salad is all health food. Our favorite is goat cheese. I also got a box of Boursin garlic and herbs cheese which was very tasty. A tiny sprinkle goes a long way.
    Salad with carrots, red peppers, cucumber, orange and Cheese
  7. The Dressing
    The final but most important component which adds the most flavor to salads. I usually make a vinaigrette type of dressing with equal amounts of vinegar and oil which is much less oil than a traditional vinaigrette.
    layers of red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, oil, garlic and honey
    I use all or a subset of these ingredients to make the dressing. Although, vinegar and oil are the ones I use every time.
    • Vinegar - A mix of any type of vinegar, lemon juice, capers with brine
    • Oil - Extra virgin olive oil (equal to the amount of vinegar)
    • Sweetness - honey or orange marmalade (about 1/4 the quantity of vinegar)
    • Dijon Mustard - for the hint of bitter (optional: a squirt)
    • Flavor - Lot of salt and pepper, optional: garlic, a drop of hot sauce
    I add all of these ingredients to a baby blender and mix it up to make a homogenous dressing. Fast and easy. This is just a guide, customize according to your taste.
To dress the salad, I add the greens, the vegetables, and the fruit in a large bowl, add dressing and mix it. I find hands work best at this mixing. Then I top with the additional ingredients like the cooked component, nuts or cheese. The amount of dressing is important in a salad. Too little makes the salad lacking in flavor and too much turns the salad soggy. You should see the leaves coated in a light layer of dressing. The leftover dressing can be stored in a closed container in the fridge for 2 weeks. So it is always a good idea to make dressing for at least 2 salads at a time.

It might seem like salad greens are a necessity for making a salad but salads can very well be made without the greens.
This is a very Indian salad with cooked black chickpeas, onion, tomato, cucumber, carrot with yogurt dressing with spices like chaat masala, cumin powder, salt, and pepper. There is also my bean salad. I am also going to make a quinoa, bean and corn salad which I will post soon.


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