One thing most people do when they move to a healthy lifestyle is to eat more salads, both as an accompaniment to a meal and as a meal in itself. We’re all familiar with the salad bars at restaurants like Ruby Tuesday and Golden Corral; we can fix ourselves side salads or dinner salads with equal ease. However, we don’t always have the makings at home for dinner salads, and we don’t usually have recipes on hand either. Let’s look at the staples we need to keep in our refrigerators and pantries to whip up healthy and spectacular dinner salads at a moment’s notice:
Every good salad needs an equally good dressing. While there are a few brands of good dressing available, the best dressings are made fresh and used immediately. So, you need to keep the ingredients available in your pantry.
Every salad dressing needs an emulsifying agent, and this agent is usually extra virgin olive oil. Be sure you get extra virgin oil, and be sure it’s fresh. Olive oil goes rancid, so pay attention to its expiration date, and check the oil before you use it, as it can go rancid before it expires.
The emulsifying agent blends with an acid; usually it’s vinegar, but it may also be lemon juice or orange juice. Keep a variety of vinegars on hand – distilled white, apple cider, red wine, champagne, and rice wine are the most commonly used. If you use a citrus juice instead of vinegar, be sure it’s freshly squeezed; keep fresh oranges and lemons in your refrigerator if possible.
Salad dressings get flavor from herbs and spices; if you don’t have fresh herbs available to you, keep a stock of dried herbs in your pantry. Dried herbs are stronger than fresh, so adjust your recipe if substituting.
Fine sea salt should be a staple of your pantry, for all of your cooking needs.
Onions are used in the bases of many dishes, so they should always be in your pantry. Garlic cloves are also used in most savory dishes in Italian and French cooking, and they are present in many American dishes as well, so keep a head or two handy. Shallots are not as common in American cooking, but they are available at most large supermarkets. Keep a couple on hand, for salad dressings, salads, and main dishes.
Brown mustards and Dijon mustards are used in many salad dressings, as well as condiments for sandwiches, hamburgers, and hot dogs, so keep a bottle handy in the pantry, and move it to the refrigerator once opened.
The basis for all salads is a combination of greens – iceburg, Boston bib, romaine, arugula, and spinach are the most common. Cabbage is used in coleslaw, either red or green, and bok choy is often combined with lettuce greens. While it’s true that the healthiest foods are ones grown locally, it can be quite expensive to keep heads of all the different lettuces and cabbages used in a salad base. The salad kits available in most supermarkets are OK to use, but be sure you wash them in purified or distilled water before using.
Carrots are used in a variety of savory dishes, so they should be in your refrigerator as a matter of course. Radishes are used mainly for salads, but they are also used in appetizers, so keeping some on hand is a good idea. Beets can be used for salads, and for side dishes, but they don’t keep well, so they should be bought as you plan to use them.
Meats in a dinner salad are usually cuts of steak, or chicken breasts. Fishes used in dinner salads are salmon, tuna, and swordfish. The fish and steak are generally grilled; the chicken can be grilled, fried, baked, or roasted. Keep the steak, fish, or chicken in your freezer, and prepare them when ready.