Best Refrigerator Non-Essential: Ready-to-eat salad

Lettuce, kale, thinly sliced zucchini, carrots and tomatoes - all came from my garden last year.
Lettuce, kale, thinly sliced zucchini, carrots and tomatoes – all came from my garden last year.

It’s tempting to call this a refrigerator essential instead of a non-essential.  Ready-to-eat salad is a tired, chubby, overworked momma’s salvation.

This Matron is a bit of a rabbit.  I grew up with a very large garden, which my parents tended to with incredible dedication.  They spent the winter nurturing their steaming compost pile with yard waste.  In the spring they tilled the soil and then unleashed their small flock of chickens into the garden patch to feast on worms and bugs (while simultaneously fertilizing the soil with their droppings).  They planted spring crops of radishes, carrots, peas, and rhubarb, summer crops of corn, peppers, tomatoes, broad beans, beets, lettuce, and cucumbers, and fall crops of squashes, cabbages, grapes, and potatoes.  Vegetables, and especially salad, were a way of life.

Last summer I gardened like a mad woman, but now that we’re in the dead of winter I have one droopy basil plant in my window that has been begging me for a merciful death, and the antiseptic bounty of my closest supermarket to quench my thirst for veggies.  As often as possible I try to keep a big bowl of salad in my refrigerator so that if I need a snack I can have one already made.  It’s a good thing to keep around, simple to make, and relatively inexpensive.

You will need:

A cutting board
1 large chef’s knife
1 small paring knife
A large, non-metal bowl
Whatever vegetables you can find in your fridge, but the standards are lettuce, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, celery and carrots
Veggie add-ons: canned garbanzo beans, black beans, artichoke hearts, avocado, etc. (optional)
Non-vegetarian protein: Tuna, cooked chicken, hardboiled egg, sliced deli turkey, etc (Optional)
Vegetarian protein: A piece of hard parmesan, crumbled blue cheese, feta, cottage cheese, tofu, cooked quinoa, etc. (optional)

Wash and spin your lettuce (if using any).  Chop your veggies relatively small. Do NOT add the following until you are ready to eat: salad dressing, cheese, croutons, tomatoes.  Why?  Well, cheese makes everything a little funky.  Croutons will get soggy.  Salad dressing makes your salad limp and watery. Tomatoes lose their flavor in the fridge, but they can be especially unappealing if they have been chopped up and left to take on a mealy and bland texture in a salad for three days.  I make my salad on Sunday nights and it usually lasts through the week.  Whenever I am feeling peckish I always head to the salad bowl first.  Generally I am too busy to make elaborate meals, and I am always more inclined to grab the quickest, easiest thing.  If there is a ready to eat salad in my fridge I will eat that instead of cold pizza slices or sugary cereal.

You can make your salad out of anything.  Sick of lettuce?  Garbanzo bean, green onions, tomato, and purple cabbage make a great, hearty salad with some olive oil and red wine vinegar.  Try water packed tuna with hearts of palm, tomato, green onion, and a splash of lemon juice and olive oil for a protein packed salad.  In the summer time I love to eat fresh sliced cucumbers and ripe tomatoes with some cilantro and a small dollop of sour cream mixed in instead of a vinaigrette.  Just remember – go easy on the cheese, never add dressing until just before you eat your salad, and don’t be afraid to get creative!

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