May is National Salad Month, so it seems as good a time as any to salute that random melange of veggies enhanced by punchy dressing and substantial bits of protein. Actually, the turn in Florida's weather to summer humidity is the best reason of all to focus on salads. The less time the oven or stove is blazing, the better.
In recent years, the main-dish salad has been elevated from a ladies-who-lunch entree to dinner for everyone. Nearly every restaurant offers grilled salmon, shrimp, steak or chicken draped over its Caesar salad. Plus, who would ever argue that a taco salad or a chef's salad overflowing with meat, cheese and hard-boiled eggs is lightweight fare?
But just like the tired side-salad trio of iceberg-tomato-cucumber, standard dinner salads can get old hat, too. Today, we offer 25 hearty ideas, most of which are plenty sturdy for dinner, and if you don't think so, add chicken or seafood. These ideas are meant as guideline and inspiration. Feel free to substitute or add more or less of anything.
Salad Nicoise: Cooked green beans, grape tomatoes, black olives (such as kalamata), quartered hard-boiled eggs, quartered cooked and peeled red potatoes and chunks of canned tuna (packed in olive oil is tastiest). Dressing: Olive oil vinaigrette.
Chopped Mediterranean Salad: Whole-wheat pita cut into small squares, chopped romaine lettuce, canned chickpeas (rinsed and drained), peeled and diced cucumber, sliced scallion, halved grape tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese. Dressing: 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, and coarse salt and black pepper to taste.
Chicken Taco Salad: Shredded iceberg lettuce topped with kidney beans, black beans, black olives, shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes, crushed tortilla chips and shredded rotisserie chicken. Dressing: Sour cream mixed with salsa, or prepared guacamole.
Bistro Beef Salad: Cooked penne pasta, baby spinach leaves, chopped tomatoes and sliced cucumbers topped with slices of leftover steak. Dressing: Ranch or sun-dried tomato vinaigrette.
Grapes and Greens: Spring greens, halved green grapes, chunks of Brie or triple-cream cheese and walnut halves. Dressing: Honey mustard.
Slider Caesar: Top a Caesar salad with skewers of mini-burgers cooked on the grill. Make croutons out of hamburger buns.
Grains and Fruit: Cooked couscous or brown rice mixed with zest and juice of one orange, extra-virgin olive oil, peeled and sliced oranges, dried cherries (or cranberries), chopped red onion and chopped pecans.
Get Their Goat Salad: Roast beets, then slice or cut in cubes and scatter over spinach leaves with knobs of goat cheese. (Or bread goat cheese medallions with panko and saute briefly.) Dressing: Dijon vinaigrette.
Salmon Hash Salad: Saute chopped onions, then add leftover salmon pieces and cubed cooked potatoes. When crispy, layer over sturdy Romaine. Gild the lily with a fried egg.
Iceberg Wedge: A quarter of a head of iceberg draped with chunky blue cheese dressing, crumbled crispy bacon and sliced scallions. Can be a starter salad but stands in well for a meal, too.
Cold Sesame Noodle Salad: Al dente whole-wheat spaghetti tossed with grated carrots and chopped scallions. Dressing: Peanut sauce (we like Jade brand) and chopped peanuts for garnish.
No Greens Salad: Tomato wedges with halved strawberries, basil leaves, big shaves of Parmesan and drops of balsamic vinegar.
Grilled Cheese Salad: Grilled cheese sandwiches slightly cooled and cut into bite-sized squares, then mixed with greens and chopped Granny Smith apples and/or fresh figs when they are in season. Dressing: Vinaigrette made with apple cider or sherry vinegar.
Chickpea Tabbouleh: Roughly chopped rinsed, drained canned chickpeas, tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, chopped fresh parsley and mint, kalamata olives and small tomato wedges. Serve with toasted pita.
Five-Bean Salad: Chickpeas, cannellini beans, kidney beans, steamed string beans and steamed yellow wax beans. Mix with sliced scallions or diced red or Vidalia onion and Italian flat-leaf parsley. Dressing: Red wine vinegar vinaigrette.
Panzanella: Day-old (or more) large cubes of Italian or French bread tossed with chopped tomatoes, cubed cucumber, diced red onion and small balls of fresh mozzarella. Dressing: Extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Walnuts and Blue Cheese: Toss red leaf lettuce with toasted walnut halves, raspberries and knobs of soft Cambozola cheese. Dressing: A simple vinaigrette.
Charcuterie Salad: Toss cooked potato pieces with equally sized cubes of hard salami and smoked mozzarella cheese. Mix in chopped cornichon pickles. Dressing: Mayonnaise mixed with mustard. Serve over sturdy lettuce leaves, such as iceberg or Romaine.
Sprouted Slaw: Shred Brussels sprouts in the food processor and toss with crumbled bacon. Dressing: Creamy vinaigrette.
Shrimp Stir: Fry Salad: In a large skillet or wok, saute peeled shrimp in vegetable oil. Remove shrimp and add chopped peanuts, grated fresh ginger and about 1/4 cup Asian sesame salad dressing to the pan. Remove from heat and return shrimp to pan. In a large bowl, toss baby spinach leaves, packaged broccoli slaw, thinly sliced cucumber and red pepper strips with another 1/4 cup of the dressing. Toss with warm shrimp mixture.
Curried Chicken Salad: Chicken breast cubes mixed with sliced strawberries, red onions and chopped pecans. Dressing: Balsamic vinaigrette blended with curry powder and a touch of honey. Serve in large iceberg lettuce leaf.
Grilled Portobello Salad: Brush portobello caps with extra-virgin olive oil and grill on both sides. Also, grill olive-oil-brushed baguette slices for croutons. Slice mushrooms and layer over dark greens. Sprinkle with feta, blue or goat cheese crumbles. Dressing: Balsamic vinaigrette. Top with baguette crouton.
Marinated Artichoke Pasta Salad: Mix jars of marinated artichokes and their brine with cooked bow-tie pasta, sliced raw asparagus spears and pimento-stuffed olives. Dressing: More Italian vinaigrette if you need it.
Asian-Style Salad With Pork: Cooked cellophane noodles, shredded napa cabbage, thinly sliced cucumber, red bell pepper and scallions, shredded carrot, chopped basil and mint, and slices of roasted pork, your leftovers or from the deli. Dressing: 3 tablespoons each fresh lime juice and rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon each fish sauce and vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon red chili paste or Sriracha (or to taste) and salt to taste.
Sushi Salad: Cooked sushi rice or leftover rice from Chinese takeout mixed with cooked edamame, chopped cucumber, red pepper, avocado, grated carrots, flavored with rice vinegar and topped with pickled ginger and nori cut into thin strips. Dollop with mayonnaise mixed with wasabi.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586.