Food — Living through your salad days 
Living through your salad days

By Amy Diaz

A nip, a tuck, a bag of greens and you have a meal

 

Lettuce in a bag is a wonderful thing.

Sure, lettuce by itself in the non-chopped form is usually half the cost of those handy bags. And, while a good head of lettuce will give you two meals worth of salads, those bags usually only serve for one meal. But, the lettuce-in-a-bag and all its salady variations is a perfect and uncommon merger of health and time-savings; of convenience and not-unworkable increase in price.

Salad in a bag is also an excellent base to a meal that isn’t just relatively healthy but quick to throw together. From the first snip of the top of the bag to the first forkful of food into your mouth, the prep time is usually 15 minutes or less.

Variety

Salad in a bag comes in many variations.

The laziest form is the one that includes salad dressing, croutons and grated cheese in one bag. This means that you are four scissor snips away from a fairly solid family-sized Caesar. Add a pizza and you’ve got a complete meal that required very little extraordinary effort on your part but still features both a vegetable and a main course. 

But let’s say you have more than two minutes to put your meal together. If you’re willing to supply your own dressing, your choice of potential salad foundations increases measurably. In any major supermarket, you should be able to find bags of:

• Mixed greens (usually iceberg lettuce with other assorted greenery)

• Spinach (“baby” and big leaf)

• Hearts of romaine

• Spring mix (usually a mix of slightly more tender lettuce such as butter lettuce)

• Italian or European mix (sometimes, there will be one of each; usually, Italian or European signifies the presence of radicchio and/or arugula)

• Asian mix (the actual mix of greens can vary, sometimes including bok choy or snow peas, but is generally slightly tarter than standard salad)

Gathering the components

Some salad math: bag-of-lettuce + dressing = side dish.

However, bag-of-lettuce + dressing + dairy, protein and additional vegetables =a meal.

Start with the dairy. Any salad gets a bump up in heartiness with an addition of cheese (and, if you’re concerned about fat content, use a vinaigrette instead of a creamy dressing if you add cheese). Some standard salad cheeses to keep around:

• Parmesan: grated, it adds flavor and a little saltiness that provide a perfect complement to heavily tomato salads.

• Blue cheese: chop or break into small chunks and blue cheese — which is usually hearty and rich — can really turn a spinach salad into a meal. About 1/4 to 1/3 cup of blue cheese per regular-sized bag will add a good amount of heft.

• Gouda: This smoky cheese works well with romaine, spinach and some of the mixed herb bags. Slice the cheese then chop into small pieces about half the size of a postage stamp.

• Manchego: A common Spanish cheese, manchego adds a mild salty flavor and works well with sliced apple and pear.

• Feta: A standard in Greek and Mediterranean-themed salads,  feta goes well with just about every variety of bagged greens and adds saltiness and substance to the dish.

• Mozzarella: While the grated leftovers from a pizza-making session can work well, a particularly meaty addition to salad is the soft, pebble-sized mozzarella chunks frequently found in the olive-and-pepper self-serve bars at most supermarkets. These very mild-flavored cheese pieces need a bit of flavor but go well with a basil-based dressing and with red peppers and capers.

Other cheeses that can prove handy are Monterey Jack or pepper jack, both of which go nicely with a Mexican salad, a Stilton, especially handy in salads with meat if the crumbly Stilton includes blueberries or cranberries.

If you plan on beefing up your salads with beef or other meats, good meats to have around include:

• Ham: ham goes with just about every lettuce and works in most types of salads.

• Bacon: fry (or bake) and crumble.

• Salami: give salads an Italian flavor (pepperoni, capacoli and prosciutto work as well)

Your leftovers — beef, chicken or even lamb — will also work. Slice, reheat (a little olive oil will help combat dryness) and season.

Other good additions to an entrée-sized salad include:

• Nuts: Peanuts work well with an Asian-themed salad, especially if other ingredients are sweet. Pecans and almonds can help add protein to a salad as well. For extra flavor from your nuts, sauté them for about three minutes (until they start to deepen in color and look a little shiny) in a pan lightly sprayed with non-stick spray.

• Olives: A jar of black pitted olives or stuffed green olives or a carton of any of the marinated olives sold at grocery stores are a handy addition to salads.

• Fruit: Fruits that work well include apple (with ham or wintery salads); mango, grapefruit or blood orange (with tropical or Asian salads); and strawberries and blueberries (with especially with lighter iceberg or romaine lettuce and in summery salads).

• Sunflower or sesame seeds.

Assembling your meal

Salads are all about pairing complementary flavors.

A meat with a cheese, a cheese with a nut, a fruit with lettuce — find a good combination and you’ve got a salad.

A good place to find ideas for salads that will feel tasty and filling is the sandwich menu of your favorite deli. Do you love a roast beef sandwich? Try a salad of romaine lettuce topped with thin slices of roast beef, grated Havarti cheese and a Dijon dressing (made by whisking together balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard and then adding olive oil while continuing to whisk the mixture).

Or substitute lettuce for pasta and make a cold equivalent of your favorite Italian dish. Do you like primavera? Chop tomatoes, zucchini, basil, green onions and oregano and toss them in a bowl with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add your bag of salad and toss thoroughly, then top with grated parmesan or asiago.

If you feel the need to flesh the meal out, add toast bread, warmed tortillas or pita or tortilla chips. Open a bottle of wine and you have a very chic, health-conscious meal that, only 10 or so minutes earlier, was nothing but a bag of greenery.

Other salad ideas

Island Salad

1 avocado, sliced thin lengthwise then sliced in half or thirds to make stamp-sized pieces

1/2 mango, chopped

2 lemons

1 teaspoon cumin

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil

10 precooked shrimp

1 bag of iceberg, mixed greens or spring mix

In a bowl, mix juice from one lemon, cumin, cilantro and salt and pepper. Add pre-cooked shrimp and mix until lightly coated with mixture. Saute shrimp until warm throughout.

In a large salad bowl, open the bag of salad. Add the mango and shrimp. Whisk together the juice from the other lemon with about an equal amount of olive oil. Pour the olive oil and lemon mixture on the salad and then toss. Add avocado, about a quarter of the avocado at a time, and toss.

Serve with corn bread or lightly salted corn chips.

Pecan salad

1/3 cup of blue cheese, chopped/crumbled into small pieces

1 1/2 cups of pecans

4 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 tsp olive oil

1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon

1 bag of baby spinach

Saute pecans over medium high heat until slightly deepened in color. Remove from heat and lightly salt.

In a small bowl, whisk balsamic vinegar and lemon juice together and slowly add in olive oil while whisking.

In a large bowl, empty bag of spinach. Add pecans, cheese and bacon. Pour dressing over the top and toss.

Serve with toasted wheat bread.


—Amy Diaz

 
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