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Value Guru Seeks Composure in a Salad

Brazilian Cobb SaladNo matter what was else was on the table, my grandmother served an iceberg lettuce salad at every evening meal. As a sometimes visitor, it was one of those things I looked forward to as a familiar part of visiting my grandparents and I enjoyed helping to make the dressing. She had one of those glass carafes with the measurement lines on it for filling with oil and vinegar, and then you added the packet of dressing mix and shook it up. Thing was, if I had grown up with that-vs. being a visitor-I think I would have rebelled against being served the exact same salad and dressing every night! Skandinavian SaladNow that I'm all grown up (relatively) with the responsibility of shopping and preparing meals, I rely on entrée salads about once a week for dinner. With warmer weather it happens even more often and I have figured out how to prevent my household from rebelling by changing up the ingredients and making every plate a work of art that one cannot resist eating. I'm talking about a composed salad, where one arranges a variety of ingredients in an attractive fashion on individual serving plates. Salad Niçoise is the classic composed salad, but no need to get stuck in that rut, either. This is another one of my (in)famous ways of using up bits and pieces of things, and also how I get to enjoy every new organic or local fresh vegetable as it comes into season or goes on sale. You can pick up a few special tiny potatoes, a single perfect zucchini or a handful of bright green beans and you're well on your way to a meal. Antipasti SaladBecause a composed salad is all about featuring a little bit of several individual components for each uniquely wonderful flavor, here's the ideal opportunity to get a small amount of fantastic ingredients: a few ounces of wild Alaska salmon for poaching, a little piece of exceptional cheese, a few local eggs or the freshest, most tender fiddleheads. Then dig in your pantry or fridge for roasted red peppers, olives, canned tuna, anchovies. And maybe you've got a garden to dig into, too, perhaps for tomatoes. If they're still green, slice thick and grill or broil with salt and pepper…something my other grandmother taught me. The basic instructions are to steam your veggies and quickly chill them in ice water. Gather together whatever else you're going to use-small boiled potatoes and halved hard-boiled eggs are classic elements. And then arrange everything in small colorful heaps or rows on your prettiest big flat plates, with or without a bed of baby or torn greens. I like arugula, spinach, Boston or leaf lettuce. Each item need only be 2 or 3 bites worth. Drizzle with a simple vinaigrette and serve with crusty multi-grain bread. So that's how I keep my composure as I tackle salad boredom, warmer days and enjoying the best of fresh local and organic produce on a budget. My latest discovery is when I had no olives for the plates, I added olive tapenade to the vinaigrette and realized a minced sundried tomato or a spoonful of pesto would work the same way. What tricks do you have in your budget toolkit when it comes to salads?

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Alli says …

When I don't have a lot of veggies in the fridge, I jazz up my salads with fruit. Adding some strawberries or pears & maybe a few pecans or walnuts makes plain old lettuce gourmet!

Meenakshi says …

It's no coincidence that on my regular visit to this blog I saw your post... I think with summer here, salads become the ideal choice..... and I couldn't agree more about how they could easily get boring and definitely need some pizzazz! I made this cooling summer salad with cucumbers, garbanzo, oranges and more! Besides, almost all the ingredients except the garbanzo and onions were home grown which made it even more delicious. Here it is: http://onestopeats.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/cool-summer-salad/ And yes, adding fruits, nuts, raisins, dates, olives, sun dried tomatoes..... all work great!

Andrea says …

I love salads and eat them often, but as Susannah says that could lead to boredom. So I appreciate her tips and those of the other posters! I just made my mixed greens salad today a main course by adding ham and cheese slices (and some orange slices along with tomatoe). Other things not already mentioned that I've added to salads are mango chunks, persimmon (in season), apple slices, dried cranberries, and snipped fresh herbs. When using fruit I often like to add nuts, such as pecans, and/or avacado to balance the sweetness. Sometimes I'll buy a little salmon pasta salad or chicken salad and put that in the middle of my greens and eat with little or no salad dressing.

mj says …

I am diabetic and had one kidney removed, so watching carbs and salt is a top priority! 365 Everyday Value Artichoke Hearts are better than Progresso or any other brand in salads. They are lower in sodium; the quality is better! I rinse them before eating or cooking. I heat up chopped garlic, extra virgin olive oil, about 3 or 4 artichoke hearts and low skim mozzarella cheese. I cook for a couple of minutes in the microwave. Then pour and toss over salad greens. I like lots of garlic. When it is cooked and not eaten raw, I can enjoy more!! Another suggestion is brown baby portobello or portobello mushrooms. If you bought a package a week ago, don't throw them out - cook them, along with garlic, chopped onions, low skim mozz and then toss with raw spinach and/or arugula.

Lee says …

Great information! Going to buy my ingrediants!

cooking4carnivores says …

i am about to go make a vegetarian BLT (with fake bacon strips) salad for lunch, complete with buttermilk dressing!