Yay Leftovers! Episode 7: How to spin whatever-you’ve-got into an easy summer dinner
Giving directions for improvising a salad from leftovers is a little like describing how to assemble a sandwich. (Hey, now there's an idea for another time!) Instead, I'll share my system for organizing whatever you might unearth from the fridge and pantry. Akin to Five Tricks for Building Better Bowls, only with different component categories and a couple of options for dressing and finishing.
Leafy: The so-called "base" doesn’t have to be traditional lettuce or salad greens, nor does it have to be either homogenous or voluminous. Consider chopped raw kale, escarole, Napa cabbage, or Asian greens like tatsoi or mizuna. Microgreens are a welcome addition. Or even a scoop of already-dressed slaw, which will disperse and evolve into something totally unlike its original self. Year-round I keep a spinner of salad greens washed and ready to roll in the top shelf of the fridge so there's no excuse not to have salad.
Chewy: Anything you can sink your teeth into — meat, chicken, and seafood qualify, as do tofu, beans, grains, or vegetables like eggplant, peppers, scallions, and squash. I'm only going to say this is almost always a cooked component served cold. Simply steamed, grilled, or roasted chewy ingredients are the most obvious choice but you can make stir-fries and even braises work by incorporating the sauce into the dressing or leaving it behind to use for something else.
Juicy: These are the occasional bites that will burst in your mouth. Tomatoes and cucumbers are summertime favorites but don't forget to consider tossing fruit like melons, berries, plums, grapes, or peaches into the mix.
Crunchy: Most common are nuts, seeds, breadcrumbs, and croutons. But I also count raw celery or other crudite-type vegetables like radishes and bell peppers in this group as well as sharp-tasting ingredients like fresh chiles, red or green onion or shallots, or the white parts of baby leeks (yes indeed!).
Saucy: Just like the Big Lebowski's claim that a rug really ties the room together, the right dressing will harmonize even the wackiest components. When there's a lot of flavor going on, all you need are drops of oil and vinegar (or squeeze of citrus) and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Most times you'll appreciate something with a mind of its own. I'm including recipes below for the herbed vinaigrette shown in the photo and video as well as a creamy vegan dressing designed to mimic blue cheese. Or try Soy Ranch (scroll down when you get to the story) or Miso-Carrot Sauce with Ginger.
And for times you'd rather not wing it, here are three suppertime salads from The Bittman Project Recipe Archive: