Mix and Match Salads

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There is a whole world out there of interesting salads and yet I’ve only been thinking of lettuce, tomato, carrot and beetroot. I never knew how much I was missing until I began researching salads the other day when a loyal reader wrote in asking for lunch ideas. In my post Budget Lunches YouCan Take to Work I shared many different types of lunch ideas, but in this post, and it’s really an addendum to the other, I wanted to focus on just how much you can do to spice up the standard salad. And with this being ‘Spiced Anecdotes’ I knew that spices had to feature in there somewhere so check out the dressings I’ve compiled at the end.

The idea of mix and match salads came to me while I was at the gym. Okay, so I wasn’t really focusing on the cycling I was doing, but at least I was there. The mind was off wondering in blog ideas and menu planning for the coming week when I began to figure out what I wanted to say for this post. So, here goes with the mix and match salads.

Upon reading up about salads and browsing through numerous websites I realised that there are a few main ingredients to each salad, and if you take one from each category you’ve got a basic salad. If you take more ingredients from each of the categories then the fanciness of the salad goes up, as it does when you choose the more exotic or gourmet ingredients. Basically, you can make a great salad out of anything and you can make a salad to fit any budget because you can choose the ingredients.

I am thinking of salads here as being those you can take to work, whereby you get a complete meal with proteins, fats, carbohydrates and of course fruits and vegetables, but they can also be sides accompanying  a main meal. Feel free to substitute where you need, as you may have decided to be carbohydrate free this week, or want to leave out the extra fats. I personally don’t believe in leaving out any particular food group but that’s the great part about a mix and match salad – you get to decide what goes in!

The Basic Categories are:

Protein: chicken, luncheon meats, tinned tuna or salmon, boiled eggs, prawns, roast beef, tofu, split peas, chickpeas, lentils (canned are easiest, but it’s not impossible to cook dried ones either, just needs some planning ahead), beans of any variety.

Cheese: Cheeses are actually a protein, but they are also dairy so you could use as either. Try these types for the salads: feta, bocconcini, goats cheese, labneh (Middle Eastern yoghurt cheese made as a spread and as cheese balls covered in herbs), parmesan, gorgonzola, cheddar, haloumi, cream cheese.

Carbohydrates: rice, pasta, pieces of crunchy bread, crudités (cubes of toasted bread), Lebanese bread or tortillas (or toast these in the oven first and sprinkle over the salad, just like in Fattoush – Middle Eastern bread salad), corn tacos or nachos, potatoes, polenta, barley, faro, couscous or its bigger version called moghrabieh and pasta (but I recommend using the smaller shapes for a more even composition of the salad).  

Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, cashews, peanuts, brazil nuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans.

Leaves: lettuce (cos, iceberg, mignonette, oak, etc), spinach, endive, watercress, rocket, or herbs (like the parsley in tabouleh).

Vegetables: green beans, peas, corn, capsicum (fresh or from the jars preserved in oil), olives, tomatoes, carrots, beetroot (try fresh as well as canned), potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, avocado, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, squash, sugar snap peas, cabbage, Asian greens.

Fruits: pineapple, mango, pomegranate, peaches, apples, grapes, pears (try the dried version as well as the fresh or tinned versions), cranberries, sultanas, dried or fresh figs, dried apricots, prunes, strawberries.

Basically, the combinations are endless! Use your creativity!

So, how exactly do you decide what to take for lunch tomorrow? Well, I love the idea of making little labels with the names of each of the ingredients on them, and putting them in an envelope. I’m thinking you’d need one envelope for each category so you can then reach inside and pull out an ingredient from each envelope so that you can make many crazy and inventive combinations. How’s that for variety in the foods you eat?

Okay, so I realise not everyone wants their meals to be so painstaking, and not everyone is trying to guide a kindergarten class towards fun and nutritious meals, so instead here are a few ideas I came across in my search whereby no envelopes are needed:

My rice salad with sweet chilli prawns
  • Basic Waldorf salad contains apples, lettuce and walnuts mixed with mayonnaise. You could expand on this idea by changing the fruit and adding in other crispy and raw vegetables.
  • Egg salad can be almost anything you like, but my family recipe is a mix of boiled eggs that are mashed with iceberg lettuce and a dressing of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
  • Ever tried prawns, avocado, mangoes and spinach or lettuce? Could be sprinkled with chopped nuts as well for extra protein and good essential fats or drizzled with thousand island dressing.
  • Or how about this awesome split pea salad? I love this one because it’s another way I can use split peas and I’m finding it hard to get many great ideas for these little guys.
  • Go Moroccan and mix shredded chicken already cooked in Moroccan spices with spinach, tomatoes, chickpeas or hummus and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Mix some of the pomegranate juice with oil and you’ve got a dressing as well.
  • Rice salads can contain anything you have available and if you team it with tuna it makes an easy meal. Try these ideas. I particularly love the Persian rice salad idea. I tried a rice salad for dinner the other night and added egg for myself and prawns for my husband (see pics). The extra protein made it a more filling meal as we were using it for dinner instead of lunch. 
  • Pasta salads are as easy as rice salads, however, if you mix the pasta with pesto before it cools it gives the pasta a lovely flavour and then you can add your vegetables and eat it cool.
  • Try this amazing zucchini salad.
  • Or, try my own zucchini and vegetable couscous salad: cut the zucchini into thin strips using a peeler, and finely slice or peel other vegetables just as you have for the zucchini (works well with eggplant, carrots, potatoes, squash). Grill these with oil (I use the oil from my jar of sun-dried tomatoes to add extra flavour), but don’t use too much oil as you want to retain some of the natural vegetable flavours. Mix these to some prepared couscous and drizzle over orange juice mixed with oil, salt and pepper. For a sweeter mix, add some raisins, or for a saltier taste add some sliced and grilled haloumi and olives.
  • This festive salad looks amazingly colourful and uses kiwi fruit and strawberries too. 
  • And here is a list of awesome ideas for saladsfor everyone and all their tastes.

My rice salad with eggs
Dressing a saladmakes the difference between a good salad and a great salad. Always make sure you dress the salad just before you eat it as dressings make the crispier items in the salad turn soggy and you don’t want that. It’s easiest to mix the dressing in a screw top jar, so just save a smallish jar from the recycling, wash it well and save for salad times. Here are a few simple dressing ideas:
  • Basic dressing is lemon juice, oil, salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  • Try pomegranate molasses as a dressing (but use it sparingly as it’s quite strong).
  •  Try different types of vinaigrettes. I hear Raspberry vinaigrette is nice but I’ve never found a bottle of it to try it yet. 
  • My family’s potato salad dressing is mustard powder, vinegar, oil and salt and freshly ground black pepper. This is the only salad I know of where you must dress it straight away because you want to give the hot potatoes time to absorb the flavours. But eat it cool and the flavours will have developed nicely. Sprinkle chopped chives or dried oregano on top too.
  • Here is a great idea for something more unusual: creamy walnut dressing. You can always try it with the salad as suggested in the recipe or on your own salad.
  • You might like this Asian ginger dressing too. 
  • The balsamic, chilli and honey dressing looks great on this page
  • Here’s a list of 10 dressings but you gotta try the citrus vinaigrette. I think it’ll be amazing on a nice leafy green salad. I’m trying this one next.

I hope the ideas in the Budget Lunches You Can Take to Work, and the salad ideas from this post have given you a wake-up call just as it has done for me. There is a whole world out there of interesting and unusual meals waiting for you to make them and to start enticing your taste buds. Who knows, you might also entice a few colleagues and then you can send them here to check out my ideas too. And please, leave some comments with other great salad ideas for us all.

Happy lunch times!

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