Do you ever find yourself in this scenario that has played out all too often in my household? It’s dinnertime. The main dish is nearly done, but I haven’t had time to make a salad and I realize that I really would like a salad. Well, it doesn’t make itself, and it isn’t made in a snap, what with all the cleaning, drying and chopping.
But dinner is ready now, and nobody wants to wait. So I skip the salad, and compensate by serving fruit afterwards. Which is not a bad thing. But I love the crunch and taste of a well-made salad, and I love how filling it can be.
So I figured out how to set myself up with easy salads for days on end. With just a little prep work, I can indeed have the salad practically make itself.
I also list below some favorite ways to jazz up a salad, some of which you might not have thought of. I’d love for you to share your salad tricks in the Comments section below.
The planning and prep work consist of:
- Washing the lettuce,
- Making an easy dressing and
- Making a sturdy salad topper.
Do yourself a favor and skip the pre-cut lettuce (unless you’re on a camping trip or something). There are 2 big reasons for that:
- As soon as you cut a piece of produce, the nutrition starts leaking out and the spoilage factor goes way up, By the time you use it, it’s probably many days old already. Even if it looks good when you buy it, by the end of the week you’ll be spending time having to sort through and trim bad pieces, or you’ll end up simply composting the lot.
- When there are huge recalls of produce with dangerous bacteria, it’s usually the pre-cut stuff that’s implicated.
I have to admit that I make an exception for pre-cut spinach or kale, which are sturdier than lettuce, plus I usually simmer or steam them.
Washing a whole head of lettuce all at once and packing it up really doesn’t take very long, and has the added benefit of helping to crisp up the leaves. I have seen some pretty droopy leaves totally revive with this method.
If you buy a bag of multiple heads of lettuce, you may notice that the bag has numerous little air holes in it. If it will take you several days to use the lettuce, it’s best to stick the package into another loosely closed bag to prevent the lettuce from going limp.
You can find recipes at the end of this post for the following:
- The Easiest Salad Dressing
- Famous French Chef’s Vinaigrette
- Beet Salad for Beet Haters
- Maxine’s Best Bean Salad
- Perfect Bacon Bits
Should You Get Organic or Commercial Lettuce?
For heaven’s sakes get organic lettuce, or unsprayed if local. Commercial iceberg lettuce is one of the most heavily sprayed crops. The thought of eating a salad of leaves sprayed with pesticides is repulsive, isn’t it? How the heck are you going to wash the toxins off all the crinkles in the leaves (never mind what is absorbed in the leaf)?
One day, people will look back on our times and say, with amazement, “Do you know that they sprayed poison on their food, and then they ate it?!”
In Defense of Iceberg Lettuce
Now I happen to love iceberg lettuce, so now I get a chance to come to its defense. There is a myth out there that iceberg lettuce has no nutrition. That is simply not true.
The New York Times found that iceberg lettuce has fewer nutrients than romaine, but not that much less! There is also something that is found only in iceberg lettuce that makes it particularly cleansing and beneficial to the colon.
So if you too love iceberg lettuce, be proud, and request organic if your local grocer doesn’t carry it.
Why You Should Make Your Own Salad Dressing
- Because it’s really easy and quick and
- You can make sure it contains healthy ingredients.
Consumer Reports found NO quality product among the commercial salad dressings (no, not even Paul Newman’s brand, not even the ones that say “olive oil”). They all use low-grade, cheap, unhealthy oils like soy oil or canola oil. Many commercial salad dressings have MSG or other questionable ingredients that would not be found in a kitchen.
Even the rare salad dressing that brags that it uses olive oil contains mostly low-grade soy or canola oil! This is also true for big-name mayonnaise brands that advertise olive oil as one of the ingredients.
You can find a quality dressing at the health-food store, but you’ll pay dearly. Better to spend that money on a quality oil that will make many bottles of dressing.
If you’re not used to making your own dressing, you’re in for a treat. Not only is it way faster and easier than you can imagine, it is super tasty too. Just try one of the
2 dressings at the end of the post.
You don’t even have to make a dressing — just do it the Italian way: Add a sprinkle of vinegar and a bigger dollop of olive oil, a grind of pepper and a sprinkle of Celtic or other quality salt and Bob’s your uncle!
Wash A Head of Lettuce
I don’t prepare iceberg lettuce ahead of time because it doesn’t keep as well as romaine, even uncut. I have to confess that I don’t wash iceberg lettuce except for maybe a quick targeted rinse only if needed. I figure it’s the cabbage of lettuces and you wouldn’t wash the inside of a cabbage now, would you? I just peel it back well and examine it closely for bugs, then I try to use it up as soon as possible.
This method works best for the leaf lettuces.
Cut off the root ends and wash leaves. Drain a while in a colander. Spread out leaves on a clean kitchen towel, carefully roll them up and place in a loosely closed plastic bag. Refrigerate.
Now you have lettuce ready to use, maybe just trimming off an occasional brown edge, for several meals’ worth, and you won’t have to futz with spinning or otherwise drying the leaves.
Make Salad Dressing
Try a recipe (there are 2 at the end of the post) or get creative with a little toasted sesame oil and/or sherry vinegar added to the mix. The all-purpose classic ratio of oil to vinegar is twice the amount of oil to vinegar.
Fill ingredients into a jar or bottle with a top, shake and pour. If the dressing has mustard in it, it’s best to shake or whisk the mustard with the vinegar before adding the oil, as the mustard won’t easily emulsify in oil.
Make Salad Topper
This is a key to the easiest salad. A scoop of the delicious Maxine’s Bean Salad or Beet Salad for Beet Haters (recipes below) on top of salad greens tastes delicious with nothing else added, and it doesn’t take much to take it to yet another level — say, by adding an avocado, or a sprinkle of sunflower seeds (or both). If you have added enough dressing to the salad topper, you won’t even have to add additional dressing to your salad.
These sturdy salad toppers last a couple of weeks in the fridge and only get better as they sit.
10 Tasty Ways to Jazz Up Your Salad
- Sunflower seeds. My favorite, bar none, is GoRaw’s Sprouted Sunflower Seeds. Sprouting seeds and grains dramatically raises the nutritional profile and makes them much easier to digest. The seeds have been dried at a temperature that doesn’t kill the enzymes. They are as crisp as any fried seed, with more flavor. Keep in the freezer to prevent bugs and rancidity. You can get yours by ordering online from the company (goraw.com); Costco also carries them.
- Pine nuts. Technically it is a seed and not a nut. Particularly good in spinach salads and on the Beet Salad. I prefer mine straight from the freezer.
- Sliced black olives.
- Cauliflower, lightly steamed. Pour vinaigrette over warm cauliflower for maximum flavor; cool before use.
- Jicama. Peel off a thick layer and cut into sticks or dice (not too small).
- Apple, diced.
- Hard-boiled egg. I slice mine in an egg slicer and then put the egg across and slice again — it takes seconds.
- Squirt of soy sauce, or Ume Plum Vinegar. I get organic tamari (wheat-free soy sauce — why not avoid wheat when it’s this easy?) and the Ume Plum Vinegar at my local health-food store. They even carry a “soy” sauce made from coconut that is reputed to taste like soy except better and have a more nutritious profile. Ume Plum Vinegar has the peculiar ability to make any food taste better with just the littlest sprinkle (it is very salty).
- Half a can of tuna. I get Wild Planet low-mercury albacore at Costco; you can also find it online, or check with your local health-food store.
- Bacon bits. The best are the ones you make yourself — see recipe below for perfect, splatter-free bacon. Just put one or two crisp, cooled slices into a small plastic bag, squeeze the bag to break up the bacon, and turn the bag inside out: Presto! you have bacon bits without even getting your hands dirty.
The Easiest Salad Dressing
This recipe comes from the Kelseyville Kids’ Garden Club.
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Celtic salt or other nutritious salt
Shake up the vinegar and mustard in a jar or bottle with top and add the other ingredients. Shake vigorously.
Famous French Chef’s Vinaigrette
Once you’ve tried this, you may never go back to store-bought again. It’s more than the sum of the parts and tastes neither too mustardy nor too garlicky — even my mustard-hating daughter likes it.
If you don’t have a good bottle with a flip-top to store this in, it might be a good idea to buy a bottle of vinaigrette with a flip-top just to reuse the bottle for this purpose. Just make sure to develop a habit of double-checking the flip-top or screw top before you shake it — you won’t regret it!
2 teaspoons pressed or minced garlic
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup wine vinegar (red or white)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
If you have a food chopper, just toss everything in it and whir — no need to even chop the garlic. If not, just shake the vinegar and mustard in a jar or bottle and add the rest of the ingredients; shake vigorously.
Beet Salad for Beet Haters
If you really dislike beets but are willing to give this a try, I suggest you start with the lighter-colored Chiogga beets, which are not quite as intensely flavored as the deeply colored beets.
1.5 lbs (approx.) beets
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Steam beets till you can pierce them with a fork – if they are small, start checking after 20 minutes. Big beets can take 50 minutes (watch the water level in your steamer).
While beets are cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients in a jar; shake vigorously.
Peel and dice beets while still warm and pour dressing over warm beets. Refrigerate. Beets will continue to absorb dressing. Just remember to take it out of the fridge 15 min. before dinner to give the olive oil time to liquefy.
Stir and put one or two scoops on top of a green salad. Taste and add dressing if needed. If you tolerate feta cheese and walnuts, they are a treat with this, and the feta cheese looks pretty against the red beets. I prefer my beet salad plain or with sunflower seeds or pine nuts.
The Beet Salad is also delicious heated up.
Maxine’s Best Bean Salad
I don’t remember ever getting a really good bean salad from a deli or store — it was always too vinegary or too sweet and goopy. My mother-in-law taught me how to make a simple bean salad that not only keeps well, it’s also delicious and very versatile.
If you make it for a crowd, mix it up with different types of beans and steamed and cooled green beans.
1 can of your favorite beans (mine is garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained well — finish drying them on a clean kitchen towel
1 or 2 cloves garlic, pressed with a garlic press or minced then smashed with the blade of a broad knife
Half of a medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs or oregano, rubbed between the palms of your hands for extra flavor
1 bottle salad dressing (approx. 12 oz., or to taste) (see recipes above)
Mix everything up and add a spoonful or three to your chopped salad greens; taste and add more dressing if it seems dry.
Perfect Bacon Bits
Bacon, the pièce de résistance for carnivores! This method is the best because you avoid the splatters, mess and uneven cooking that happen if you cook the bacon in a frying pan.
Just stick it in the oven to bake — it’s so easy. The hardest thing is protecting your finished bacon from the ravenous hordes, because the smell alone will alert the beasts (the carnivores). I hide it in a container or bag deep in the fridge, behind stuff.
1. Preheat the oven at 400°F. While it’s preheating, place a rack in a shallow roasting pan or on a cookie sheet. You can use a much lower temperature, say, 275° to 350°, it’ll just take longer.
2. For easy cleanup afterwards, first spray the baking pan with nonstick spray — wipe around the edges with a paper towel in order to avoid gummy residue buildup on the edges.
3. Spread out the bacon on the rack. Overlap if necessary, as the bacon will shrink. (You have to loosen overlapping slices midway through the baking to keep them from sticking together.)
4. Bake for 20 or 30 minutes, till they look perfect and no parts are uncooked and limp. Use now or refrigerate for other uses.
5. To use in salad, put cooled slice in a small plastic bag, crush the bacon in the bag with your hands and turn the bag inside out over your salad. Your hands will stay clean. If the bacon is not crunchy enough to crush, just heat it in a low-temperature oven (300°F) for 5 or 10 minutes and cool briefly before crushing.
Here’s to your tasty salad days,
4 thoughts on “Salad Days the Easy Way”
I really liked the salad ideas, Inger. There are times when I am rushed with the salad and your tips will help. I also liked the salad dressing idea, because I sometimes just don’t have dressing, but that one sounded delicious and I have all of the ingredients. Thanks!
Thank you for feedback, Ellen! Let me know what easy salad tricks you’ve discovered.
I used to use PAM as my cooking spray but discovered that the sprayable coconut oil (Trader Joes) doesn’t leave a gummy residue. I’ve switched over entirely.
I’ve used Trader Joe’s olive oil spray — I didn’t know they now make a coconut oil spray too — interesting that it acts differently from PAM.
One thing to know is that those sprays are actually quite toxic to breathe — I take them outside when I use them.