Simple tips to making a big salad that will satisfy all appetites

Six to eight ingredients is about the most your palate can handle before the flavours get murky. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Six to eight ingredients is about the most your palate can handle before the flavours get murky. PHOTO: NYTIMES

(NYTIMES) - A Big Salad is a modern solution to the home cook’s eternal question: How can an entire tasty, nourishing meal be packed into one bowl? Now that so much fresh produce is available year-round, salads can serve as a worthy dinner option, one that satisfies many tastes.

Combine fresh, frilly greens, raw and cooked vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds for a vegan dinner. Add cheese and eggs for a complete vegetarian meal. Studded with fish and seafood, diced steak or roast chicken, even slivers of charcuterie and duck confit, a salad can be a feast for omnivores.

Salad is a deeply personal thing. There is no magic to putting together a great one, only a willingness to experiment. You probably don't even need a recipe — there’s one here, though, just in case — but there are some rules to follow.

Start with sturdier greens, like oak leaf or romaine: Soft lettuces like Bibb or mesclun tend to get squashed. Local produce is usually fresher and tastier, but if a specific ingredient, like an avocado or a handful of grape tomatoes, makes you happy and is within reach, add it.

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And while it may be tempting to throw in everything in the refrigerator, a selection of six to eight ingredients, before toppings and dressing, is about the most your palate can handle before the flavours become murky.

  • BIG SALAD WITH GRAINS 

  • INGREDIENTS

    2 cups sturdy salad greens, such as romaine, iceberg, escarole or kale
    1/2 cup cooked grains, like quinoa, farro, bulgur wheat or barley
    1 cup roasted vegetables, like potatoes, sweet potatoes or winter squash
    1/4 cup thinly sliced raw vegetables, like bell peppers, celery, carrots, fennel, mushrooms, onions, radishes, snap or snow peas, summer squash or tomatoes
    1/4 cup salad dressing, like yogurt, tahini or a vinaigrette, plus more to taste
    1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
    1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and halved
    2 tsps snipped chives, plus more to taste
    2 tsps sliced or chopped nuts, like almonds, walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts, plus more to taste
    Whole-grain bread, for serving

  • METHOD 

    1. Place greens in bottom of serving bowl. Add grains in an even layer over greens. Repeat with the roasted vegetables, then the raw vegetables.

    2. Top with dressing, and toss gently. Fan out avocado on top on one side of bowl.

    3. Place hard-boiled egg pieces on the side opposite the avocado. Top with chives and nuts. Serve with whole-grain bread.

As for a dressing, look for one that is well balanced, falling between creamy and tart, salty and sweet. A dressing with a rich element, like avocado, tahini, yogurt or cheese, helps everything come together nicely. 

Don’t just drizzle it on top, either. You want all the elements to be nicely combined and coated, as in a potato or macaroni salad. Tossing with light plastic or wooden spoons works well, but if you really want the best results, roll up your sleeves, wash your hands and dig deep.

Finally, it’s never a bad idea to toss something crunchy, like nuts, croutons, radishes or popcorn on top.