Stacking Up a Satisfying Salad

springtime salad

If someone asked my favorite course of a meal, I would, without a moment’s hesitation, tell them: Salad. Not bread, not dessert, not a thick juicy piece of meat. Not even soups or sandwiches or vegetable sides. Nope. It’s salad.

I love how fresh and raw most of salad’s ingredients are. I love that so many of them grow in my garden. I love that salad is such a wide range of tastes and textures. I love that it’s simple to throw together. And so incredibly versatile.

So today, let me try to spread this love a little. Because I know that many (like the other four people sitting around my table) don’t share my affinity for lettuce, spinach, sprouts and the like.

I think many people eat the same salad over and over. And of course that gets tedious. Rather than offer up a series of recipes, let me suggest a new way of thinking of your salad. It’s along the same lines as the Buddha Bowl meal I wrote about a few months back.

I want you to think of your salad as a group of components that you’re mixing and matching. (Like, say, Legos.) You can build your salad to be a side to your meat and grain meal (like this arugula salad or this cucumber salad) or you can make your salad a place where grains and proteins, nuts and herbs, fruit and cheese are all invited to the party. You can stir together a fantastic medley of flavors and top it with a clean, homemade dressing. Serve it with a side of homemade bread or a gluten-free pumpkin cornbread muffin and you’ve got a satisfying, nutritious, plant-based meal.

If you’re game, off we go:

Start with leafy greens — any kind of lettuce, spinach, arugula, beet greens, chard or even kale. If you don’t prefer to eat greens like chard or kale raw, warm them briefly in a cast-iron skillet until they wilt. Or quick-saute them with an onion or some garlic.

Add a dollop of grains (think quinoa, barley, spelt, rice, polenta or orzo).

Or perhaps a “bean” (such as chickpeas, lentils, black beans, navy beans or kidney beans).

Top with raw veggies (beets, carrots, radishes, snow peas, green onions, sprouts of any kind, asparagus — raw or quick-sauteed).

Add herbs (This time of year parsley, cilantro, chives and mint are likely growing in the garden. Not too long from now we’ll have dill, oregano and thyme, too.).

Pile on some fruit (berries, sliced grapes or pears, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, raisins, dates, figs).

Add nuts and seeds (minced peanuts or cashews for an Asian twist, stand-by walnuts or pecans or pistachios; sesame seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds are also all great choices).

Stack on a little cheese — especially crumbled feta and dollops/slices of goat cheese.

Top with dressing.

If all the choices seem overwhelming, try stacking your salad along a theme, say Thai (greens, veggies, forbidden rice, chives and mint, cashews and a peanut dressing — you could even add shrimp for a deconstructed Pad Thai). Or try Mexican (wilted kale with black beans, onions, avocado, tomatoes, cilantro pepitas (roasted Pumpkin seeds) with an avocado dressing). The possibilities are truly endless.

Or let your what’s available in your garden or farmers market be your guide. Let’s say you can buy new potatoes, asparagus, spinach and green onions at the farmers market. That’s your start. Add a few lentils or some goat cheese, maybe a few raisins or almonds and Presto! Your veggies are now a meal.