Entree Salads in Simple Steps
Updated: Jan 30, 2021
Salads are wonderful ways to be creative. There's no real rules and the possibilities are endless. Your salad can have anywhere from 2 to 25 ingredients and still be delicious.
I enjoy entree salads year-around. And I love to load up my salads with all the food groups: protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and fats. When I am meal prepping and know that entree salads are part of the plan for the week, going to the grocery store becomes a search for treasures.
You never know what you will find in the store. When you go to the grocery store, you can find things that may be on sale. Maybe the store is celebrating something new of the season. There's a time of the year when my local grocery store, has hatch chilies everywhere. Then I'm on a quest to use hatch chilies as much as I can in whatever I can. It's great to have some flexibility in your shopping list and especially when visiting a farmer's market. Something that you weren't looking for may be looking exceptionally fresh compared to what you came in for. Just switch it up.
The Best Salads are in Season
Design your salads based on what fruits and vegetables are in season at the time. The difference between imported from Timbuktu to freshly grown down the street will be the difference between an "okay" salad to "what did you put in this salad?" salad
One of my favorite times of the year is also a labor of love and patience. Growing up my father always had a garden. He grew up on a farm so growing his food was in his DNA. We would have fresh peas, beans, watermelon, and summer squash. Every year I try my hand at gardening but it's more of a cross my fingers and let's hope for something edible or at least pretty. If you're like me and your green thumb is a little more yellow than green, just visit farmer's markets or see what's local in your grocery store. Most stores are advertising where they have gotten their produce and seafood. When it doesn't have to travel as far to get to you, the taste is amazing.
How to Build Your Salad
Even though there are no real rules to building a perfect entree salad, there are a few concepts I keep in mind to make sure my salad will be delicious. The base will set up the foundation for your salad. Your vegetables will not only help to get your daily servings of vegetables but will build the flavors of your salad. Selecting your protein source can also add to the flavor of your salad and takes your salad from a side salad to an full entree. For texture, I like to add something specifically crunchy to break up the monotony of textures in my mouth. And your salad dressing can transport your salad to different regions of the world and add spices to every bite of your salad. There are so many salad dressings that you don't have to be limited to just Ranch, Italian, or Blue Cheese.
The base is just like what it sounds. It's the foundation to a good salad. The greens that you choose will immediately give crunch or bitterness or a peppery taste to your salad. I like to mix my greens for crunch and flavor. My go-to mix is Spring mix and Romaine. I like the crunch of Romaine and the flavor and nutrients from the Spring mix. Here are some options you can use for the base of your salad:
Butter or Bibb Lettuce
Shaved Brussels sprouts
For me the veggies are the most exciting part of the salad. There are so many vegetables out there that this is what makes every salad unique. You can eat a salad a day for a year and never repeat the same salad by just switching up the vegetables. During the fall and winter months (and whenever I'm feeling like it), I'll roast some of my vegetables to bring a bold punch of flavor and an earthiness to my salad. Here is a list of some vegetables to add into your salad but this is by no means the extent of the list:
Shaved Brussels sprouts
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Choosing a source of protein will ensure that your salad is a complete meal. Your protein can be a meat or seafood source or vegetables like beans can serve as your protein. Cheese is also a good source of protein and bring flavor to your salad. To make sure your salad is truly balanced, adding protein is important. Protein helps to build muscle, help you feel full longer, and is important to help you heal when sick.
Here are some ideas of protein sources to add to your salad:
Hard Boiled Egg
Roasted or Grilled Salmon
Tuna (Canned or Fresh)
Sliced Turkey or Ham
All the Yummy Cheeses
I usually like to add something specifically crunch to my salad to add some texture. And if I've gone overboard on the veggies, it helps to break up the flavors as well. I will add a handful of nuts to my salad which also gives it more protein. But the surprise that most people are shocked about it when I add grains to my salad like couscous or bulger wheat. It really "bulks" up the salad for me. While I'm adding grains, I often add a salad type grain like a tabouli. I joke that I'm adding salad to my salad. But what's nice is that this salad is already dressed so I need less salad dressing for my entire salad.
Sometimes I'm looking for something sweet and crunchy so I'll use fresh fruit like apples or pears or blueberries or dried fruit like dried cranberries.
I don't always want something extra crunchy in my salad so this step is optional. If you're meal prepping for the week and packing your salad, you'll want to keep your crunchy items separate until you're ready to eat your salad. If you don't separate them your crunchy items will get soggy and will lose the crunchiness that you're looking for in your salad. Here are some crunchy options:
Dried Cranberries or Cherries
Sliced or Chopped Apples
Diced Fresh Pears
Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds)
The salad dressing is where you can add a specific spice to all of the salad. For most, it's the fat that makes the salad so delicious. Or it's just a way to tenderize the greens. Whatever the reason you use salad dressing, be careful to not overdress your salad. You want just enough dressing to coat the salad. You want a sprinkle not a downpour. There are so many salad dressings in the markets now that you can bring almost any flavor you want to your salad. But making your own salad dressing is not as hard as you make think. Here's a recipe that so simple, you will end up making it all the time.
The fun thing about a salad is that you can make them as unique as you are. With these simple guidelines of picking your base, filling up on veggies, not forgetting your protein, adding a level of crunchiness, and dressing for less you will be making salads year around with ease.