I Love You Salad, Oh Yes I Do
A somewhat extreme love letter to one of the world's best customizable dishes
I work from home, and try really hard to only buy lunch once a week. And usually when I do buy lunch, it’s from Sweetgreen, because truly, with very few exceptions, all I want for weekday lunch is salad. But I’m tired of Sweetgreen, and recognize that I am fully capable of making my own freaking salad.
I’ve recently started doing something that pretty much every human I know has been doing for ages — keeping things around that are good for salads.
Really, all you need are some greens plus a vegetable or two; the rest of the accoutrements you need to make an incredibly satisfying bowl are already in your cabinet.
Trust me; here’s what you want:
Base: Any kind of salad greens; use one kind or have a mix (romaine hearts, arugula, kale, thinly sliced brussels sprouts or cabbage; add in some chopped herbs if you’d like — I really enjoy dill in a salad).
A vegetable or two: carrots, celery, chopped raw or cooked broccoli (I like adding leftover roasted broccoli to my salads), bell peppers, grape tomatoes sliced in half, canned or jarred (or fresh, if you’re lucky like that) artichoke hearts, etc.
Something to add crunch: chopped almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts (this is my new, albeit expensive, favorite), coarse bread crumbs, crumbled up tortilla chips (another favorite here), sesame sticks, crispy cheese (see the second salad below, make some, and freak out about how good it is).
A fruit of some sort: This is optional — and highly dependent upon what else is in the salad, because you gotta think a little about how things will mix together — but recommended. Try chopped apple, dried cherries (do not even bother with dried cranberries; I’ve recently become a total cherry convert. They’re so much plumper!), chopped pear. The mandarin in salad thing is not for me, but if it works for you, no judgment.
Protein: Also optional, but it’s pretty much always a yes for me and then I snack less before dinner. I like crumbled hard boiled egg and avocado the best, but if I happened to make some plain-ish chicken (or, my goodness, steak) and have some left over, I’ll chop that up and put it in there; or bacon; tuna salad and egg salad are always good; I love chickpeas. Plain tofu cubes are kind of, uh, plain, but if you’re making a salad with a miso-based vinaigrette, you could dunk the cubes in soy sauce for a bit and put those in. Or you could prepare some tofu like this or this and it would be excellent in a salad.
Cheese: Yes, also a protein. I use whatever’s in my fridge, which is usually chopped fresh mozzarella, Jarlsberg or Gruyere, cheddar, or crumbled blue cheese. I rarely do not add cheese.
Below are a couple of the salads I made in the last week or two, for inspiration, plus two of Mark’s more basic salads with plenty of additions/substitutions to customize to your liking, and his basic Vinaigrette (and tutorial), also with variations — I am very partial to the soy.
Two things to note: Most of the time, at least at lunch, I’m rushing around a bit, so if I don’t have dressing made already, I just splash oil and vinegar or a squeeze of lemon on top and toss. Also worth mentioning is that ingredients, of course, will change with the seasons, so adjust appropriately — like, if you chopped up a “fresh” tomato right now, you’d be disappointed.
I’m pretty thrilled about finding my salad groove, and if you haven’t yet, I hope you can find some inspiration here. If you have inspiration to offer, please do so in the comments.
This was a magical little salad! Sometimes after I drop Holden off at school, I stop at Zabar’s and buy whitefish salad (plus a package of lox, because my baby lives for lox — like mother, like son) to eat for a few days, lunch and snacking. I chopped up hearts of romaine, carrots, and celery; added some leftover chickpeas, crumbled up Red Hot Blues, and chopped avocado; tossed everything with olive oil and sherry vinegar and salt and pepper; and then placed a big ol scoop of whitefish salad on the side. (No fruit or even cheese here; this is not a situation that calls for either.)
I cannot wait for Nick to read this newsletter, because he’s gonna be so mad he worked from the office the day I made this baby! So it’s spring mix and my precious dried cherries, to start. I bought a jar of macadamia nuts randomly the other day because they remind me of my grandpa (he loved them and used to get in trouble when he ate them too often because $), chopped up a few of those (gotta be judicious here; they’re like a dollar apiece), added them in. But the true pièce de résistance came inspired by Nick, actually.
That morning, he made Holden a quesadilla for school lunch that was visually perfect. (And he gave me a bite before he packed it up; it tasted perfect, too.) He left some of the crispy cheese bits in the pan (what a psycho). After I polished those off, I had the brilliant idea of making just the cheese part to add to my salad that day. Seriously, it was really smart of me. I used shredded Monterey jack, but use whatever cheese you have around. Just sprinkle it into a nonstick pan and let it melt and then crisp up. Take it off the heat as soon as it’s a color you like, let it cool, and break it up. I dressed this salad simply, too — the flavors were already bold and wonderful.
(Note that this salad is a good example of how you can customize the Greens with Fruit, Cheese, and Nuts, below.)