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Super Salad Combos

Make up your own grid and never eat the same salad twice in a single season

There are a gazillion salad recipes in the world. But the most common to make at home would be a side salad to accompany a main course.

Over the years, my kitchen has hosted hundreds of salad ingredients, but over time, it became apparent, the simplest and most flavorful salads usually consisted of just six basic ingredients sprinkled with salt and pepper. They are lettuce, oil, vinegar, nuts, cheese and fresh or dried fruit. Taking those six ingredients and working with five options of each, I've created a grid that would give you 150 salad combinations, based on how you choose to mix and match each ingredient.

Here's the grid, then we'll look at how it works.

Oil

Vinegar

Lettuce

Nuts

Fruit

Cheese

Traditional Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Traditional Balsamic

Spring Greens

Walnuts (crushed)

Apple

Blue

Blood Orange

Cara Cara

Butter

Sunflower

Pear

Parmesan

Butter

Grapefruit

Baby Kale

Pine

Cherries

Feta

Persian Lime

Black Cherry

Spinach

Roasted Almonds (crushed)

Apricot

Cheddar

Eureka Lemon

Peach

Arugula

Pecans

Raisins

Goat

Now that you've looked across the grid, you may have noticed the first row is a simple Washington Apple Salad. Beyond that, you can lay claim to all the other possibilities and call them your very own. Let's break down what's going on.

Oils & Vinegars

By now, you may have noticed the fruit theme running through the oils and vinegars. By staying with that theme, you can mix and match each without getting too crazy on the flavor of your combinations, and any combination pairs nicely with whatever fruit you decided to add. These are all infused flavors, no need to attempt that yourself. Remember, we want to keep it simple.

The various combinations of one oil and one vinegar comes to a total of 50 different dressing options. Wow!

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have some outstanding oil and vinegar shops like Queen Anne Olive Oil in Seattle and Oil and Vinegar in Bellevue. You can also order just about any infused oil or vinegar you can imagine online.

Unless you plan on entertaining a large crowd, it's better to buy these in small quantities like 200 ml size bottles. You can also pair these any way you like to make some tasty combinations for dipping bread into at the front of a meal. Store your oils away from direct sunlight so they keep longer.

Lettuce

In the Pacific Northwest, we have plenty of options when it comes to buying pre-washed, pre-packaged lettuce. A favorite of mine is the Organic Girl brand, which is out of Salinas, California. One regular tub provides four to six servings and will hold in the refrigerator for about a week.

Nuts

The bulk section of better grocery stores will have all the nuts listed here and you can buy them in small amounts, rather than large packaged quantities. PCC, Whole Foods and Town & Country Markets (Central, Ballard etc…) are all good outlets for bulk foods.

Nuts really taste best when they are fresh, so again, no need to buy large amounts. A cup or two at a time will be plenty. One cup yields 8 servings.

The best flavor happens when you heat them up, so begin making the salad by toasting the nuts in a small pan. This allows the oils to release more flavor. Untoasted pine nuts are rather boring. Toasted pine nuts are a flavor explosion that will send your taste buds to heaven.

Fruit

There's two ways to go here. You can use fresh fruit, or you can use dried fruit at 1/3rd the serving size. I'll take fresh apples any day over dried apples, but of course raisins are only going to be available in a dried format. Fresh cherries are in season in the early summer, but you can access dried cherries all year. Dried Bings (photo) and Rainiers from out of the Pacific Northwest pack a really nice flavor punch.

Not listed, but also a good option here would be avocado.

Cheese

There are many brands of cheese in the store. Since I'm all organic at home, my preference is to buy the Organic Valley brand which is readily available in better grocery stores. If you're buying just for one or two, you're probably better off just buying small quantities at a time. Cheese will eventually go bad, and although you pay more per ounce on small quantities, you may be saving money by not throwing away funked cheese all the time.

Make your own grid

You could create your own grid, too. There's another 180 salads waiting to be made by swapping out all the fruits with vegetables and all the fruit infused oils and vinegars with herb-based infusions.

That being said, here's the basic recipe. Mix and match any way you like and be sure to tell your loved ones and guests that you created the recipe all yourself.

Basic Recipe

Serves 2

  • 2 TBS oil
  • 2 TBS vinegar
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 TBS nuts
  • 1 cup of chopped fruit, or 1/3 cup of dried fruit
  • ½ cup of cheese
  • 2 handfuls of lettuce

To make a single serving, simply cut the recipe in half.

1. Toast the nuts.

2. Mix the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper together in a large ramekin and set aside.

3. In a medium-size mixing bowl, add the nuts, fruit, and cheese, then place the chilled lettuce on top.

4. Stir the dressing and pour over the lettuce.

5. Toss the salad well and serve.

Tom Mehren/March 2018


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