I'm always surprised when I go to restaurants and see the same selection of salads time and time againand most of them are far from calorie-conscious. You know what I mean: Caesar, chef, crispy chicken, and once in a while a salad with goat cheese and a toasted nut for some real flair.
This is an area where you can very easily come up with something interestingand healthyin no time at all. Just the other day, for example, I paused for a lunch break while cleaning out my fridge. All it took was some raisins and dried cranberries in a bowl of leftover lettuce, a sprinkling of goat cheese, and pecans and walnuts. I topped it with a raspberry vinaigrette, and voilàa star was born.
When preparing any dish, I look for the biggest "wow" factor with the least work. Next time you make a salad for your guests and yourself, look in your kitchen and jazz it up with what you have. Here are a few ever-so-simple suggestions.
Use your favorite greens (try mesclun, arugula, or a mixture) plus drained canned tuna, steamed and chilled green beans, capers, and boiled small potatoes cut in half, and you have an impressive hearty salad that works as a meal. Top it with salt and pepper as well as a combination of lemon, olive oil, and Dijon, and you're set.
On a bed of baby spinach, create rows of color: halved pear tomatoes, chopped orange peppers, corn kernels (raw or grilled), halved sugar snap peas, shredded red cabbage, and chopped hearts of palm or artichokes (found in cans or jars in water). Bonus: When it comes to fruit and vegetables, more color means more antioxidants. Season with salt and pepper and top with a mixture of light ranch and light vinaigrette (sometimes I cheat and use Newman's Own).
I buy roast chicken, remove the skin, and shred the white breast. I top a bed of chopped romaine hearts with the chicken, followed by sliced water chestnuts (buy them in cans for a dollar or two), toasted almond slivers (try Sunkist's Almond Accents Original Oven Roasted flavor, in a handy resealable package), mandarin orange slices, black sesame seeds, cilantro, and a light Asian dressing (if you have time, whip up my favorite marinade recipe).
...or make it Mexican
Use the same hearts of romaine and shredded chicken and add rinsed canned black beans, shredded reduced-fat cheddar, corn kernels, and cilantro and tomatoes, and then finish it off with a light ranch dressing. Now you have a Mexican salad. Serve with a Skinny Girls Margarita and some baked tortilla chips as croutons, and you will impress with very little effort.
You can't go wrong
These are just ideas, of course; use what you have and what you love. Start to look around your kitchenand the produce section of your supermarketand think about what ingredients would work well on top of a bed of greens. (That's what's great about salads...it's very difficult to mess up when combining ingredients!)
If you like shrimp, use shrimp. If you don't like cilantro, add chopped scallions. Replace almonds with walnuts. Greens are blank canvases for you to decorate. Add chickpeas to a basic salad, or use nuts from your cabinet with whatever cheese you have in your refrigerator. When you have extra parsley, basil, dill, or any fresh herb, throw those in too; in fact, I've made salads composed only of herbs and tomatoes.
Think outside the salad bag and make it your own. There are no rules. In no time, you'll be a pro.