Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I usually find recipes for salads to be kind of silly. In general, I am satisfied with the combinations I think of on my own, and moreover, I believe salads should be based on the conditions of the day. Meaning, a salad should be a some combination of expressing a craving for a specific ingredient as well as reflecting what is in the kitchen and needs using. But I can get into ruts and additionally, often enough a recipe comes along that I would never have thought of myself. Or they can re-inspire me to pursue an odd-ball ingredient. One example is above. I will try this shortly, as I think it looks lovely. It is from Not Eating Out in NY, which has a lot of very delicious, but far too complicated-sounding recipes. The woman who writes it cooks/blogs for a living and has no kids, so she has all day and night to peel turnips into perfectly symmetrical ribbons. One place where I could really benefit from some good recipes is with the dressings. I'm very uncreative and lazy about dressing. It's practically a New Year's resolution of mine to improve every year, and I generally fail. But often the dressing is really the flavor you take away so it's really the most important part. And salad dressings, like baking, really do benefit from some exact proportions. I should work on my dressing-making proclivities.

As for my daily lunch salads I just try and have a whole host of add-ins available in my pantry and refrigerator. It always surprises me when people comment that my salads look good, even though it happens all the time, and has been happening since the high school cafeteria salad bar days. Isn't making a salad just putting things in a bowl? If I do have a knack for making extra-yummy salad combinations it may be due to my overzealous food-shopping habits, along with my tendency towards bulk weekend cooking. When I go to one of those fancy salad-bar restaurants I often note to myself that I have almost all the ingredients from their 20-foot prep table in my own tiny kitchen. But good salads also come from balancing sweet with salty and sour, and mushy with crunchy.

So the following could be either blazingly, irritatingly obvious or somewhat helpful...here goes....


I buy all kinds, and this week splurged on a $6 bag of mixed greens at the Bethesda farmer's market, feeling kind of silly. However, upon eating them this morning, I found them to be so tasty and fabulous that I'll go back each week. I didn't even want to cover them in dressing and I was eating various pieces with my fingers so as to better enjoy each individual flavor. 

In the winter a shredded cabbage is nice and hearty. The low-water content makes it pretty filling. Sounds rabbit-like, I know but I've come to like it with a strong citrus-y or Asian dressing. I have also been enjoying pea shoots and other funny overpriced micro-greens. If I buy romaine lettuce I usually chop up 3 days worth on Sunday or Monday. I need to start trying more things like shaved fennel and other overlooked root vegetables. Somehow pulling out a mandolin seems overly labor-intensive for a weekday morning (do I even have one?), but it can happen sometimes...

I always have some cooked chicken, pork, hard boiled eggs or fish, as well as tofu, lentils or beans. I also have cooked frozen shrimp in the freezer that just thaw during the morning if I put them in. I often use more than one protein.

I also usually have something like quinoa, wheat berries, couscous, or brown rice cooked and in my fridge. If not or if I want something separate, I'll add a nice hearty whole wheat bread on the side, with a slice of cheese or peanut butter.

Lately I have been not using many other veggies aside from the greens, except for a bell pepper. I've been turning my attention to some added fruit.

I love a little fruit in an otherwise savory salad. Orange wedges perk up salmon and hold their own to a mustard vinaigrette. Apples are a nice sweet and crunchy balance to plain chicken and a fruity vinaigrette. Pineapple and mango are fantastic as well, especially with a grainy salad. The other day I had a salad that was almost equal parts quinoa, arugula and mango. It was fantastic even though it had a bit of an identity crisis appearance to it...kind of not a grain salad, and not a green salad. I don't usually put dried fruit in my salads as I find they are added calories that I don't taste that much. The juiciness of actual fruit seems much more special in my sad little office.

I have a huge selection of seeds and nuts on hand at any time: pistachios, walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, soy nuts. I usually prefer to keep the nuts separate - so better to really taste and crunch them, but seeds in the salad for an extra crunch. Perhaps it's just mental game-playing, but a handful of walnuts on a salad seems like a salad, whereas a salad with a handful of robust walnuts on the side seems like two separate dishes, and hence a bigger lunch.

Generally I don't put cheese in my salads. Perhaps a bit of blue or feta but not usually. I like to savor the cheese on its own or with some bread.

Again - I'm admittedly bad at making dressings. I do however, have a plethora of flavored vinegars and various oils at my disposal that I sprinkle (ok, pour) on top. I try to match the flavors to the ingredients in the salads. I have pomegranate glaze, balsamic glaze, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, orange champagne vinegar, olive oil, grapeseed oil, sesame oil, truffle oil, peanut oil, etc. I try and make creamy dressings with real mayo and non-fat Greek yogurt sometimes. I love homemade blue cheese dressing when I get around to making it. It's kind of labor intensive to mush up all that blue cheese but well worth it (mush equal parts blue cheese, yogurt and mayo together, thin with milk as needed). The other dressing I make sort of regularly is a kind of Thai peanut/lime/soy staple (peanut butter, soy, brown sugar, lime, rice vinegar, ginger-check online for ratios).

For an upcoming party I'm making a bean salad I made up. Dead simple. (That's my Jamie Oliver impersonation)
Equal parts black beans, edamame and red kidney beans. Dressing is grapeseed oil, orange champagne vinegar (from TJs - other light vinegar would do) and some cumin and lime. Delish, beautiful, cheap and a real crowd-pleaser.

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