Spoiler alert: this salad has nothing to do with pot pie or with the mayonnaise-y (or plain yogurt enhanced, if you dig it) chunky spread-slash-filling that your mom used to pack in your lunch box. The “potpourri” part refers to the medley of ingredients and fluctuates depending on your fridge, stomach, and willpower. This recipe is no brainteaser, but it makes a damn good salad that will boost your energy and make you realize that no, people actually aren’t lying when they profess their LOVE for salad. So push aside that healthier-than-thou poser piling her plate with spinach and fat-free raspberry vinaigrette and get started on your sexier, cooler, healthier (really!) mash-up of a salad.
Between my winter and summer internships I’ve packed more salads for lunch than I can count. Yet never once did I repeat the same combination. Why? Because that is plain B-O-R-I-N-G. The threat of flavor fatigue pushed me to experiment with textures, flavors and colors and come up with a rough formula for creating a stellar salad, no matter the season. And it’s not for wimps. Plug this formula into your TI-89 : a lettuce (go for leafy and dark green for max nutrients), one protein (chicken, fish, meat, marinated tofu, canned chickpeas), one or two fats (avocado, toasted nuts, sweetness, full-fat cheese), seasonal produce (aka no cherry tomatoes in December), and a freshly-made dressing. With each of these components, your salad is complete.
I advise stocking your college pantry with a rotating cast of nuts (walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts) and dried fruit; a high quality olive oil and vinegar, and a fridge filled with at least two cheeses and mustard. Pecorino Romano and parmesan are two favorites, as a very small amount can pack huge flavor. Saving leftover protein from dinners out or grilling up an extra chicken breast or portion of fish will make it that much easier to throw it all together. With all those elements already in arm’s reach, all you need is one item of seasonal produce to make the salad take off: this week, that meant a carton of baby heirloom tomatoes. Maybe next it will be some leftover corn from a labor day BBQ, and then later in September a crisp Macoun apple. Whatever it is, make sure it’s fresh, fragrant, and delicious.
This time around my salad featured radicchio, butter greens, sliced Medjool dates, grilled chicken breast, heirloom tomatoes and shavings of pecorino romano.
Some more salad thoughts:
Texture: though the salad I talk about here features it, you really ought to think beyond the grilled chicken. Protein can come in the form of hummus—perhaps thinned out with some olive oil to form a dressing, or just in a cute blob on the side of the plate. Add things that crunch, like celery, jicama or dried Asian noodles.
Dressing: this could be an avocado plain and simple. No fuss. It has to be ripe, but just mash and toss. Avoid dressings that are prepackaged—if you must, go for an organic brand with ingredients you can pronounce. So many fat-free dressings are ticking time bombs of sugar. Invest in the trifecta of olive oil, vinegar and Dijon mustard and you’re good to go.
Croutons/ something for a little “uumph”: nuts are a no-brainer, but what about elevating that to a granola? If you’re already adding nuts and sweetened crasins, its not that weird. And its healthier than those buttery croutons. This salad features 2 Medjool dates. Experiment with dried mangos, banana chips and apricots—in moderation, they will add a welcome bit of natural sweetness. Fresh fruit remains an option: apples, grapes and pears pair well with cheeses and chicken. A good rule of thumb is to have a colorful plate. Seek out inspiration from local restaurant menus, cookbooks and blogs. Just remember—the simpler the better. Better to balance the salad with the best ingredients you can find from each of the categories above than to aim too high and try to feature every vegetable in the salad bar. Think smart, minimalist, and above all, delicious.
Brooke Elmlinger knows a good salad when she sees one. All you need is a little creativity, spunk, and investment into the right pant(r)y items to elevate boring’ old greens to a sexier salad.