My approach to salad construction is to layer in some order:
A soft to medium cheese
Grated Hard cheese(s)
A small amount of dressing
Fresh Ground Spice (Coriander, Grains of Paradise, Pepper, ...)
Salads don't need to be boring.
Attending to the contrasts in shape and color, one can make a salad that is a pleasure to look at as well as to eat.
It doesn't add much time. Just prep the ingredients in the order you wish to layer them on the plate, and plate (weigh and log) as you go.
|In this salad, I had some nice Feta cheese I wanted to|
feature, so I made sure it was the
very last thing, even after the dressing.
If I'm going to spend the calories on
cheese, I want to taste it.
Having many textures and an interplay of savory, sweet, and even some bitter helps keep the salad interesting to the palate. This is where even a few nuts and dried fruits can make a big difference.
Explore unfamiliar combinations: ham and strawberry? Give it a try. Take a hard look at leftovers in your fridge and things in your pantry and ask, "Is there a reason I couldn't use that in a salad?" You may find some great surprises.
Topping mixes can be pre-measured for speed of assembly and logging. Nuts, dried fruits, diced veggies... Anything that will keep and not make the other ingredients funky by the time you use them.
Similarly, greens and firm veggies could be pre-assembled. These make it easier to pull off a grab-and-go salad.
Carrots are one of the core veggies that I use in almost every salad. Since I use so many carrots, I like to prep two or three salad's worth at a time so I can batch the washing, cutting, etc. When in doubt, cut carrots into sticks (quartered down the length, then cut crosswise into a length that works in your storage container).
I try to mix up their treatment.
How to cut them: sticks, match sticks, sliced rounds, sliced sticks (little triangles), cubes....
Where to place them: top, middle, bottom, tossed with the greens, around the outside...
How to dress carrots: I often give carrots a quick marinade in good vinegar (white balsamic vinegar from Trader Joe's is nice if you want to keep the color), some lemon juice, and maybe a little toasted sesame oil, a little wine, port, or cider. Let them soak while you prep the rest of the salad. If you make extra, just keep it in the marinade until ready to use.
While I normally keep fruit in small pieces, if you have something worth showcasing at the peak of ripeness, make the pieces a little larger and give them pride of place: apricots, peaches, strawberries do well in this role.
Let's talk about dressing. My view (as a card-carrying member of the Red Rebel Alliance) is that it is better to have a small amount of a dressing you LOVE than any amount of a dressing that does nothing for you. Having some fresh or canned fruit in the salad further helps reduce the need for dressing by providing some juice.
I use between one and two tablespoons of dressing for a salad.
To minimize the dressing, take the greens and a few other ingredients that like to be well-coated (celery, carrots, ...) and toss just them in 1/2 Tbs of dressing per serving. Assemble the salad and drizzle another 1/2 Tbs on top.
For the greens, it is nice to have some variety, both within a single salad and from meal to meal. I like to wash and spin in a salad spinner enough greens for 4-6 salads and put any unused portion in a container with a little spacer in the bottom so the greens aren't sitting in any liquid that collects.
Red Rebel Alliance:
Count the red calories, and
make the red calories count!
Nuts, cheese, egg yolks, bacon are all calorically dense (i.e., what Noom calls Red food). That does not make them bad but it does raise a warning flag to be mindful of the portions and if this item is really carrying its weight for you.
If it delights you, feature it, log it, taste it, enjoy it.
A salad does not have to be a whole meal. A smaller salad is a great companion to foods you love, but a reasonable portion size would not be filling. (I'm looking at you, Pizza. Did you know one serving of a Papa Murphy's Family Sized Stuffed pizza is one-sixteenth slice of the pie? True fact.)
When composing a salad, there is room around the outside to be creative: grapes, olives, berries, cherry tomatoes...
Let's talk veggies. Beyond the basic carrots, tomato, cucumber, and celery, the produce section is full of possibilities. Roasted potatoes, beets, fennel root, turnips, parsnips, radishes, or Brussel sprouts all make lovely additions.
Avocado has a special place for its creamy texture and richness, especially if you are not using much cheese.
Consider Fanciful additions like this little hedgehogs (pork sausage, ginger, salt, with almond sliver spines, baked in the oven). Salads are a great way of having a little of something naughty without blowing the budget, and still being full.
Protein can make a flashy top layer and often provides a nice contrast in color, flavor, and texture.
When I use tofu, I like to marinate it in something to give a little flavor and variety. This works with turkey and chicken breast as well, especially if they are a little dry.
Hard-boiled eggs make an attractive source of protein.
Canned tuna, crab, or salmon are nice to mix things up.
There is no end to the variety.