Monday, January 9, 2012

How to Craft the Perfect In-Seaon Salad


Ever been in a salad rut?  I've so been there, until I realized how quick and easy it is to change things up in that bowl.  First off, everything in my salad must be in-season.  If I want to get the most out of my food, it must be fresh.  Also, the produce provided in each season are designed to nourish us in exactly the area we need for that particular time of year.  Having a garden or CSA box makes this choice a no-brainer.  Now on to the part where we play.

A good salad doesn't have to take years to assemble.  We just need to know what makes a salad pleasing to the palate and eyes.  In my opinion, there are four components (five for a meal salad) to accomplish this: sweet, salty, crunchy, and soft.  For a meal salad, add "meaty" to that list.  Use this rule of thumb and pair it with what you have to work with for the season and you've got yourself one beautiful, tasty, nutrient-dence treat.

Sweet
For the sweet factor, I usually go with some in-season fruit.  During cold seasons, pear, apple, orange, persimmon, or pomegranate seeds are my fruits of choice.  To combine sweet and crunchy, try tossing some honey-caramelized nuts into the mix.  Warm weather fruit options are endless: peaches, melons, apricots, cherries, berries...

Salty
My two go-to salty additions are usually olives (we adore olives of any kind) and/or cheese (which also  offers that soft texture).  Choose your cheese to complement your salad theme.  Making a Greek-like salad?  Use feta.  Italian?  Parmesan is the way to go.  Grated cheddar is always a fabulous default.  Cheese and olives also bring a good source of fat to the salad which will help your body absorb the nutrients your salad has to offer.  Also, everything is just better with cheese, you know?

Crunchy
Ya gotta love the crunch.  We usually use nuts and seeds, including pomegranate seeds.  Pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, slivered almonds...  They're such an easy toss-in that adds a pleasing texture for both the eyes and palate, not to mention the lovely nutrients they bring to the mix.

Soft
This brings a great balance to the crunch factor.  My go-tos are avocado slices and/or cheese.  Oh, how I love avocados and what they do to salads.  Beans are also a good throw-in to up the protein level, and if you're making a taco salad of sorts.  Let's not forget slices (or crumbles) of hard boiled eggs.  Delicious.

Meats
Want your salad to be a meal?  Add meat.  Taco meat, pastured bacon bits, shredded chicken, leftover slices of steak or roast... Use whatever you have in the fridge.  Pretty plain and simple.

A Word on Greens
There is pretty much always a leafy green in season, so it's not a problem for your leafies to change with the seasons.  Currently in this wintery time of year, we can barely keep up with the lettuce, spinach, chard, and collards.  Because of oxalic acid, I try to wilt spinach, chard, and collards before using them in the salad, but every now and then we'll just go ahead and eat that spinach raw.

Dressings
It's taken me years to work up to making my own dressing, but it's completely worth it.  Dressings are usually the secret culprit that takes a perfectly healthy salad to new lows with all their preservatives and MSG.  "But the salad dressings I buy are organic," you say?  Well check the label.  Does it have "natural flavors?"  That's code for MSG.  Sadness, I know.

I have a few salad and dressing recipes (listed below) and will continue to add more this month.  But now that you know what makes a salad great, why not head to the kitchen and play around to see what you can come up with?  Have fun!

Riddlelove Salads & Dressings to Date:

Creamy, Probiotic-Rich Ranch Dressing ~ I'm not allowed to let us run out of this stuff. ;)

Simple Taco Salad ~ Hearty and full of flavor!

Roasted Poblano Dressing ~ Great with taco meat or anything south-oth-the-boarder-esque.

California Cold Weather Salad ~ A gorgeous salad to bring to a big get-together.

Chicken Enchilada Salad ~ A great way to use up leftover chicken from making stock.

13 comments:

  1. How do you feel about beans in your salads? I often wind up with salads that involve no greans this time of year or use cabbage. They also tend to have black beans or garbonzo beans.

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  2. I do put beans in my salads when I have some prepared ones on hand. They can add a nice texture, too. And yes, cabbage, too! I love a good slaw. :)

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  3. Yummy! Now that my kids all love salad, we are definitely having more meal salads for dinner. My kids gobbled up hard boiled eggs in their salad last night (another soft/protein idea). Great blog! :)

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  4. Yes! Hard boiled eggs! It totally slipped my mind and we enjoy those all the time! Thank you, friend. :)

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  5. This salad was awesome! We eat a lot of salads in our house and I'm always looking for new recipes. Thank you! Dawn

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  6. I'm so glad you liked it! :) Which one did you try?

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  7. Oh how delicious your salads look! Sadly, at least according to the widget at the bottom of my blog NOTHING is in season in Indiana.

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  8. I've been in a bit of a salad rut lately, but this is great inspiration, thanks!

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  9. What a great way to break it down in steps. Love this post! It's just such a refreshing way to think about building a salad.

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  10. This is a great post. Salads are so simple once you have a good method like this one.

    I'd be honored if you'd share this post on our new weekly link up -- Friday Food Flicks -- Amanda

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  11. Thank you! And thanks for letting me know about your link-up. :)

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  12. Jamie @ Delicious & NutritiousFebruary 9, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    This is such a wonderful post! I love creating salads and have four homemade salad dressings that we use on a regular basis. The method to salad making is helpful - I need to keep these in mind when making a new salad. Here are the salad dressings that we LOVE in our house. http://delicious-nutritious.blogspot.com/search/label/salad
    And I will definitely have to try your recipes.

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  13. Please tell about wilting your spinach! I have been told about oxalic acid once before and we use a lot of spinach. Curious about that process!

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