Personal Salad Bar – the Easy Salad Lunch
As you may have noticed, I like salads. I particularly like them for lunch in summer – they’re light and cool, and a perfect way to use a wide variety of vegetables. They can be a nuisance to make, though, especially with that variety of vegetables – who’s going to chop up three radishes and a quarter of a carrot for one salad? On the way out the door in the morning?
A few years ago, I was working out of the house 5 or even 6 days a week, usually with a short lunch break, and very few options in the area. I needed to carry my lunch… I freelance, so I was working in different places. Sometimes I had access to a microwave, but usually I didn’t – and sometimes I was even eating in a park, between clients. A salad lunch was the solution, but… I wasn’t going to do a big production in the morning before work.
Then I remembered this cute Tupperware set I had (which, alas, they no longer make.) Each wedge shaped container holds a cup, and they fit on a lazy susan that was designed to hang from a bracket in the refrigerator. The idea was that you’d fill them with salad fixings, pull the lazy susan out of the fridge, put it on the table, and the family could have their own salad bar.
There isn’t room in my current fridge for the lazy susan. The containers themselves still stack nicely, though. And I think the one cup size is good for one or two people – for the sake of freshness, I don’t want to cut things up too far ahead, but this gives me a couple of days worth of most vegetables. I try to stagger them so that I empty one container each day – and only have to fill one each day – though that doesn’t always work out. (If you’re prepping salad for a whole family, you probably need larger containers.)
The vegetables in them vary by the season. I started with radishes and some carrot. Now, in June, I’m adding snap peas, trimmed and cut in pieces. They’ll end soon, but then I’ll have thin slices of summer squash, chopped celery, and bell peppers. (I don’t precut tomatoes, though I do add them.) Later, I’ll have brocolli and cauliflower, either raw, or blanched and marinated in dressing. (I usually put them in larger containers as the pieces themselves are large.) As the season progresses, the salad will change.
When I was making lunch in the morning to carry, I even washed my greens ahead, to save time. That does risk the edges rusting a little – but I was willing to give up a little freshness to actually make a salad every day. Now that I’m at home most of the time, though, I wash my greens right before eating. Then I take out my stack of containers, and add the vegetables.
When I do this for a side salad I’m done, then. (And this makes me so much more likely to remember to make a side salad for dinner, once I’m getting enough lettuce!) For a salad lunch, though, I also need a source of protein, and one of complex carbs. I try to vary my proteins, and have small amounts of two or three with each salad, rather than a big chunk of one thing. I usually have some combination of beans, meat, other animal protein, or soy.
I may cook chick peas, kidney beans, or other firm beans and add a splash of vinegar (both for flavor and because it helps them stay fresh) or I may make hummus or another bean spread. When I cook chicken, I make sure I have some extra to keep that I can shred and add. Ham works well, too – or even roast pork or beef. Rich makes a good salmon salad, or plain tuna can be added. I can get good feta cheese here, or I may add cheddar. Other cheeses I’m more likely to serve on a rice cake or slice of bread, on the side. I keep hard cooked eggs on hand, and often add one of them. And I sometimes bake tofu.) I find that I am happiest with a mix of animal and vegetable proteins – you do what works best for you. I try to have at least three choices available – so that one day I’ll have marinated beans and chicken, the next day, beans and feta, the next, a little chicken with a cooked egg and hummus… and so on. Again, this keeps variety in my meals. I usually keep these foods in pint containers, as I use more of each in each meal.
When I was carrying my lunch, I preferred creamy salad dressings – I found they were neater. At home, I most often use an oil and vinegar dressing, which is very easy to make, though I also do sometimes make creamy ones. (When I was carrying my lunch, I didn’t have access to refrigeration so I either avoided mayonnaise based salads and dressings, or used a thermal container with a cold pack.)
Then I most often eat rice cakes (I like them, they’re easy, they crunch…) or bread on the side. I may eat them plain, I may butter them, I may add cheese, a bean spread, or peanut butter. Or, if I put a little more effort in, I may make a rice salad, a pasta salad, tabbouleh, potato salad – again, there are many variations. They also make a salad lunch feel a little heartier – which can go a long way for the family. Luckily, RIch also likes salad, and is happy to eat that now that he’s home, too (though when he was working out of the house I usually packed him a lunch of leftovers to reheat.)
It is fast, it is easy, I don’t have to do much preplanning, once I get in the rhythm – and it is the perfect lunch for a hot day.