Pantry Cooking – Salads

Rainbow Salad- recipe in post

When it comes to versatile meals, it is hard to beat a salad. Pretty much anything can go into a salad. When your choices might be limited, you can almost always still make a great salad.

When we think of salad, I suspect most of us see of a bowl of lettuce, with a few other veggies and a drizzle of dressing. A side dish, and not an exciting side dish at that.

Salads can be so much more. Salads can easily be a meal all on their own. We just have to use our imaginations a little.

So where do we start? Start by looking at what ingredients you already have. Veggies, fruits, meats, grains, pasta, bread, nuts, eggs, dry beans, lentils, herbs, seafood and cheeses. Did I leave anybody out? Pretty much everything you have can be a salad. How you use them will determine just how wonderful your salad will be.

The Veggies

We’ll start with veggies, because they are the obvious place to start. If you don’t have lettuce, don’t worry. You can make great salads with shredded cabbage, sliced cucumbers, sliced peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, fennel, carrots, celery, mushrooms, green beans, bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, corn, asparagus, sweet onions, green onions, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, endive, dandelion. You get the idea. There are a lot of options. Let’s not forget potatoes and sweet potatoes.

I figured people might still have potatoes and cabbage around. I thought you might like this recipe.

Potato Slaw

1 large potato, peeled and cubed

1 clove garlic

1 t. salt

3 -4 T. vinegar

1/3 c. oil

1 ½ -2 lbs. Cabbage, shredded

Freshly ground black pepper

Cook potato until tender. Meanwhile, combine next 4 ingredients in a blender until smooth. Set aside. Drain cooked potato and mash into the cabbage. Cabbage will wilt a little. Toss in dressing and serve immediately. Serves 4-6.

Many veggies can be used raw in salads, but you’ll want to cook potatoes, sweet potatoes. I love a broccoli and cauliflower in salads, but I prefer to cook them a little. Just steamed a few minutes.

Here is a salad using eggplant!

Greek Eggplant Salad

1 medium eggplant

1 large tomato, seeded and chopped

1 sweet pepper, seeded and chopped

1 small onion, minced

1/3 c. olive oil

¼ c. red wine vinegar

1 clove garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

Sliced ripe olives and chopped fresh parsley

Broil eggplant until skin has blackened. Cool. Rub skin off the eggplant with a damp paper towel and chop the pulp. Combine eggplant with remaining vegetables in bowl. Combine dressing ingredients in blender until smooth and toss over eggplant mixture. Chill and garnish with olives and parsley. Serves 3-4.

Fruits

Fruits can be used in salads, too. I am not talking about a fruit salad, although they are great. I am talking about adding fruit to your veggie salads. Oranges, apples, berries, pineapples, dried fruits all add a pop of sweetness. Even canned fruits can be used, although they wouldn’t be my first choice. Still, if you have a can of pears you are looking to use, it could work. It might be a way of using up those raisins your kids won’t eat.

Proteins

Proteins can take your salads from side dish to main dish. Canned beans are a great addition- like kidney beans or black beans, not canned green beans. Don’t overlook other legumes. Lentils and split peas can be cooked until just tender and then added to a salad. They add protein, texture and even a pop of color. Other great protein options- nuts, seeds, eggs, meats, fish, cheese.

Here is a colorful salad using yellow and green split peas and red lentils. It makes a lot of salad, but you can cut it down to a smaller size. The cooked peas and lentils freeze well, too.

Rainbow Salad

1 c. each green split peas, yellow split peas and red lentils

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can butter beans, rinsed and drained

1 c. diced sweet onion

1 c. diced sweet pepper

1 c. grated carrot

Cook split peas and lentils separately just until tender. Split peas, both green and yellow will take 20 minutes. Red lentils will take about 8-10 minutes. Drain and rinse each under cold water when done and set aside until ready to use, or you can cook them a day ahead and keep chilled. Each will yield about 2 1/2 c. cooked.

In large glass bowl, place the following ingredients in this order.

Black beans, butter beans, green split peas. yellow split peas. onion, red lentils. carrots and peppers. Pour over dressing and chill several hours or overnight. Serve on a bed of greens.

Dressing *

1/2 c. oil

1/2 c. vinegar

1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained

2-3 T. sugar

1/2 c. parsley or cilantro

1 t. each chili powder, cumin and salt

dash hot sauce

 Combine in a blender or food processor until smooth.

*Note: Any bottled dressing you like can be used. Italian works very well.

Additional Salad Ingredients

There are more potential ingredients- cooked pasta is always a good choice, but you can also used cooked rice, barley, quinoa, cracked wheat or other grains.

Salads can be a great way to use up stuff from the fridge, too. Waste not, want not these days. Go through all those jars of pickled goodies you have lurking in there. Sliced hot peppers, dill slices, pickled beets, olives can all add flavor to your salad.

The Dressing

After you’ve got all your ingredients together we need to talk dressing. You can start by using prepared dressings, if you have them. Mayonnaise would be an option, too.

My mom loved to make her own dressings. For leafy green salads, she would often dress it with vinegar and oil. She would drizzle oil first, and toss the salad until the oil was distributed on the greens. Then she would drizzle in vinegar, tossing again. She would also toss in salt and pepper. She taught me to use a light hand with dressings. There was never a big puddle of dressing at the bottom of the bowl. It is a great lesson to learn. You will need less dressing than you might think. She made great salads.

If you don’t have bottled dressing you might have to make your own. It is actually pretty easy. In most dressing you’ll combine a fat with acid, salt, and sweetener. There are endless variations and plenty of options. I love to make salad dressings.

Oils and Fats

Most dressings start with oil or some fat. Any oil you like works here. If you store your extra dressing in the fridge, olive oil and avocado oil will harden up. Don’t worry. You can just take them out of the fridge for a few minutes before using. Sesame oil has a strong flavor, so don’t use too much of it. It can be added to other oils to soften it’s flavor. For wilted salads, bacon fat is warmed and poured over greens to wilt them down a bit

The classic ratio is 3 or 4 parts oil/fat to one part vinegar/acid. I often make dressing closer to equal parts oil and acid, but it depends on my mood and what my acid source is.

Acid Ingredients

Acids are usually vinegar, but shouldn’t be limited to them. Citrus juices are a great acid base in a dressing. Not just lemon or lime juice, either. Orange and grapefruit juices are wonderful in salad dressing. Other juices, too. Pineapple, tomato and pomegranate juice are nice options.

Pickle Juice

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about pickle juice. Most of us have jars of something pickled in the fridge. The liquid in the jars, the brine, can be a great addition to any salad dressing. Most are vinegar based with salt, spices and sometimes sugar. Don’t throw it away. Use it in salad dressings and marinades.

Salt, Herbs and Spices

Salt- don’t forget to add some to you dressing, unless you are on a sodium restricted diet. Salt makes the dressing better. Add some pepper, too. Don’t forget herbs and spices, too. If you only have dried herbs, add them ahead of time and let your dressing chill in the fridge for an hour or longer. It gives the herbs time to get soft, but also for their flavors to infuse in the dressing.

Sweeteners

Sweetening is optional, depending on your personal tastes. The more acid ingredients you use, the more likely you will want to sweeten your dressing a little. It can be as simple as a bit of sugar, but don’t overlook honey, maple syrup, fruit juice concentrates, fruit, dried or fresh as other sweetening options.

Additional Dressing Ingredients

Other possible dressing ingredients include garlic, tahini, peanut butter, almond butter, sour cream, Parmesan cheese, milk, tomatoes. All sorts of things can be added. Start simple and build in more flavors gradually.

Making the Dressing

You can mix your dressing by just putting all the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shaking them up. Of course, if you are adding things like garlic cloves or dried fruits, you’ll need a blender.

You can also make a creamy/emulsified dressing. These are fun to make and kids might even like to watch the magic happen. You can actually get the oil and vinegar to mix together. To make your dressing creamy- start with the acid and other ingredients- but NOT the oil. Place them in a blender. I use an immersion blender, so I place my ingredients in a wide mouth jar. Blend until the ingredients ate well combined. Slowly- and I mean SLOWLY, start to drizzle in the oil. If it starts to puddle up on top, slow down until it mixes in, then add more oil. The dressing with start to thicken up. The more oil you use, the thicker it will become. Mayonnaise is, after all, just an emulsified dressing. Store extra dressing in the fridge.

Don’t forget salad toppers like croutons, seeds, nuts, dried fruit, bacon. Have fun.

Here are a few dressing recipes, to help you get started.

Lemon Dill Dressing

¾ c. olive oil

½ c. lemon juice

1 T. Dijon mustard

1 T. dill, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

¼ t. each cumin and paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in blender until smooth. Use on vegetable salads, especially tomato and cucumber salads or on tuna salads. Makes 1 ¼ c.

Raspberry Vinaigrette

½ c. raspberry vinegar

3 T. minced chives, optional

1 T. each lime juices and honey

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ c. each olive oil and walnut oil or ½ c. olive oil

Combine all but the oils in a blender and mix well. Add oils in a slow stream with machine running until dressing is blended. Makes 1 cup.

Tomato and Herb Dressing

1 c. tomatoes, peeled and seeded, fresh or canned

½ c. chopped parsley

2 green onions, chopped

2 T. fresh celery or lovage leaves

2 t. basil leaves. Dried

½ t. each salt and garlic powder

½ c. olive oil

Dash hot pepper sauce

Combine all ingredients in blender until smooth. Makes 1 ½ c.

Fresh Herb Vinaigrette

¼ c. red wine vinegar

¼-1/2 c. fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, thyme, chervil etc., or a combination

½ t. celery seed

Salt and pepper to taste

1/3 c. oil

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend for 15 seconds. Makes about 1 cup of dressing.

Greek Style Dressing

¾ c. olive oil

¼ c. vinegar

2 T. lemon juice

1 T. fresh oregano or 1 t. dried

2 cloves garlic

¼ c. black olives, pitted

Salt and pepper to taste

½ c. feta cheese

4-6 anchovies cut up, optional

Combine all ingredients in blender, except cheese and anchovies and process until smooth. Cheese and anchovies can be stirred in just before using. Makes 1 ½ c. 

Final Thoughts

Don’t be afraid to play around with your salad and salad dressings. Taste as you go. We will get through this.