The Ultimate Salad Cheat Sheet / by Kelsey Vlamis

Kale & arugula drizzled with olive oil & balsamic, topped with pumpkin, sunflower, & hemp seeds, bell pepper, carrot, radish, pickled beets, and avocado.
Kale & arugula drizzled with olive oil & balsamic, topped with pumpkin, sunflower, & hemp seeds, bell pepper, carrot, radish, pickled beets, and avocado.
But, I can't eat salads every day! It would be so... boring.

I think it's safe to assume that at one point or another, most people have been able to relate to this sentiment (myself included)--or would be able to, should someone propose such an atrocious idea to them. However, since learning to redefine what "salad" actually means, that statement couldn't be further from the truth for me. I do eat salads for lunch, just about every day--and let me tell you, each one is significantly (okay I'll admit it, sometimes not-so-significantly) different than the last. The goal of my Ultimate Salad Cheat Sheet is to help you do the same.

So what makes something a "salad"? Let's look to Merriam Webster:

saladnounsal·ad\ˈsa-ləd : a mixture of raw green vegetables (such as different types of lettuce) usually combined with other raw vegetables : a mixture of small pieces of raw or cooked food (such as pasta, meat, fruit, eggs, or vegetables) combined usually with a dressing and served cold

And then, my personal favorite:

:  a usually incongruous mixture

Though the two initial definitions work just fine, the third is perhaps the most creativity-inducing definition to go by. The possibilities of what makes up a salad therein being... endless! So, how could this level of potential variability illicit such notions as "boring" or "monotonous"?

I contend that these feelings are merely a result of being conditioned (probably due to what was served on the too-rare cafeteria salad bar all those years in public school) to think of salad and picture crunchy, wet, flavorless lettuce and blah veggie toppings with ranch or Italian dressing...a thought that simultaneously evokes both comfort and disgust for me. Comfort because well, have I not been served this salad my entire life? And disgust because, when this is what salad meant to me, I thought I hated salad. Alas, I've come to define salad in new terms and I want to inspire you to do the same. So when I tell people I eat salad every day, they can stop looking at me like I don't enjoy every second of it.

Kale, quinoa, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, pickled beets, pumpkin & hemp seeds, drizzled with a blend of tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. Uffda.
Kale, quinoa, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, pickled beets, pumpkin & hemp seeds, drizzled with a blend of tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. Uffda.

THE ULTIMATE SALAD CHEAT SHEET

The key to loving and eating salads frequently is to stock your kitchen with anything and everything you might need. I've concluded that there are five general categories of salad ingredients, though they can be mixed and matched and combined in absolutely any way you choose. They are:

  1. Greens
  2. Veggies
  3. The "Meat"
  4. Toppings
  5. Dressing

Greens, of course, can be any (or no) greens--the more unique, the better.

As for the Veggies, either fresh from the grocery store or leftover in the fridge from last night's dinner. Try washing and chopping a variety of vegetables Sunday night and storing them in the fridge, ready to be added to any salad at a moment's notice.

The "Meat" refers to the bulk of the salad, or the ingredient that is most likely to leave you filling full and nourished--this does not necessarily mean meat, but could also be fish, avocado, sweet potato, etc. If you are a meat/fish/egg person, try cooking something at the start of the week (chicken, salmon, hard-boiled eggs, etc.) and keeping it in the fridge to add to salads as you wish.

The Toppings, can quite literally be anything sprinkled atop or stirred into your gorgeous heap of produce. My personal favorite? Goat cheese--you wouldn't believe the creaminess it adds, I'll tell ya.

And finally, the Dressing, or the primary flavor vehicle in your salad, which can include a variety of oils, vinegars, spices, or any liquid/sauce of your choosing.

Keeping this in mind, I created the simple salad cheat sheet below that includes example salad ingredients that you can start stocking in your kitchen right now--just print it out and pin it on your fridge for inspiration, and check it before you head to the grocery store. Of course, the salad cheat sheet is not exhaustive; rather, it's merely meant to inspire you to begin to imagine all the possibilities that should come to mind when you hear the word "salad". Not to mention, what better time to take your first steps down the road of salad-enlightenment then at the start of the New Year?

What's your view on salads? Any ideas/tricks/tips to share on how you work salads into your own life?