Tuesday, December 13, 2016

In Praise of Salad

This time of year we're surrounded by rich, decadent meals and sweet, indulgent treats. They fill our tables, our Facebook feeds, and our favorite food blogs and magazines. So I'm here to offer some fresh veggie goodness that is no less flavorful than those scalloped potatoes and gingerbread cookies.

Now, I almost never make salad for just myself. But lately it has become my staple for potlucks, and I love when there's a bit left over so I can take it home and enjoy it again. And it's nice to have something fresh and light to balance the heavy casseroles and rich desserts. So I'm here to try to convince you to make sure salads are in your rotation for potlucks and dinner spreads this season. My top 5 reasons:
  1. Salad is easy. Throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl and call it a day. There may be some chopping, but maybe not a ton.
  2. Salad doesn't have to be kept warm. At my office potlucks, it's not uncommon for about ten different women to need access to the one oven/stove in our building to heat up their dish or keep it warm.
  3. Most of it can be prepped ahead. Whether you're hosting a dinner or attending a potluck, it's nice to be able to prep things ahead of time. You may need to keep some of the salad components separate until shortly before serving, or wait to cut that apple until you're ready to dress the salad, but you don't have to set a timer or babysit something on the stove.
  4. You can make your own dressing, and people will think you're a food goddess (or god). It sounds fancy to say you made your own dressing, but dressing is so simple and uses mostly pantry ingredients, and you can make just as much as you need for the one salad, rather than buying a bottle, using a tiny bit, and letting the rest sit in your fridge until it goes bad. 
  5. Salad ingredients are easily interchangeable. Don't like kale? Use spinach instead. Need some more protein? Add some beans, grilled chicken, or whole grains. Don't have red wine vinegar? Use white wine vinegar. Are grapes in season? Toss some in. Can't eat onions? Leave them out.
Okay, so I've convinced you (yay!). Now what? Here are several dressing recipes, along with suggestions for what to include with them.

Greens: Almost always I tend toward darker greens (kale, baby spinach, spring mix, etc.). They're chock full of nutrients and they tend to stand up well to flavorful dressings.

Instructions for all dressings: Put all ingredients in a jar and give it a good shake. Be sure to use a 3- or 4-cup jar so there's plenty of room for the ingredients to bounce around in there and get nice and emulsified (so the dressing won't separate as quickly).

Yield: Most of the time I use my 4-quart Pyrex bowl for salads, and I'm 98% sure that all the dressing recipes below will make enough dressing to moderately dress that much salad, probably with some dressing left over.

Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette
I can't remember where I found this one. It's now on an index card stuck to my fridge.

6 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
~1/4 tsp. dried basil

The rest of the salad:
Pretty much whatever you want. This dressing goes with just about anything.

Italian Summer Salad
from The Faux Martha. This is my absolute favorite for an Italian meal. Move aside, Caesar salad!

2 Tbsp. grated parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 clover garlic
Generous squirt of honey
6 cracks black pepper

For this one it's best to use an immersion blender or small food processor to blend the dressing and fully blend in the cheese and garlic.

The rest of the salad:
Greens of choice (I like Romaine for this one)
Cucumber, chopped
Cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
Green onion, thinly sliced
Pepperoncinis, lightly chopped (don't leave these out! they make the salad!)
Salted sunflower seeds
Feta or parmesan

Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
a combination of a few different recipes I found on various sites

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil (or decrease by 1/2 to 1 Tbsp. and add in that amount of bacon grease)
1 Tbsp. maple syrup (the real stuff)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. apple cider (optional)

The rest of the salad: 
Spinach, kale, or spring mix
Butternut squash or sweet potato, cubed and roasted
Bacon, cooked and crumbled
Pear or apple
Dried cranberries
Almond slivers
Goat cheese or feta crumbles

Shallot and Red Wine Vinaigrette 
adapted slightly from Food Network

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. minced shallot or red onion
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Black pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Squirt of honey or agave

The rest of the salad:
Walnuts, toasted
Goat cheese crumbles

Lemon Parsley Vinaigrette
adapted from All Recipes

1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Squirt of honey

The rest of the salad:
Greens of choice
Onion of choice
Tomatoes, cucumbers, or other veggies of choice
Black olives and/or pepperoncini peppers
Feta or parmesan

Kale Citrus Salad
from Minimalist Baker

3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Pinch of kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 Tbsp. honey
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. orange juice (optional)

The rest of the salad:
Kale, chopped and massaged
Canned mandarin oranges (or fresh grapefruit or orange)
Tart apple, chopped (I actually left this out)
Pomegranate arils and/or dried cranberries
Toasted nuts of choice
Quick pickled red onion (it's easy, I promise. Instructions are in the recipe linked above)