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Main Dish Salad is a great way to use up whatever’s left in the fridge or stashed in the freezer. These wonderful, adaptable salads are perfect for a busy day or when you just can’t bear to turn on the oven and heat up the house. They are also fabulous road trips or travel meals.
This Main Dish Salad features greens as the base, but we also love Main Dish Salads featuring legumes or grains as the base. Both types assemble very easily—perfect for a quick meal.
Over the last few years, Nourish Bowls or Buddha Bowls have made headlines as the new, trendy health food. A quick breakdown of these bowls show they’re really just a salad…in a bowl! Enjoy your Main Dish Salad in a bowl or on a plate. Call it whatever you wish. All the goodness is still there.
The following ingredient list is just a suggestion. Use it only as a guide for your Main Dish Salad. Don’t feel you need to add everything on this list, it is ideas only. This salad is a great way to use up small amounts of produce, cheese, and/or meats. Use any combination of the suggestions below or other items that sound good to you.
- 4 to 5 cups greens (spinach, cabbage, lettuce, or a mixture—use less or omit if you want beans and/or grains as the focus of this salad)
- 1 to 2 cups assorted vegetables, diced (see below)
- 1/2 to 1 cup cooked or sprouted and cooked beans or legumes (use more if you want beans to be the focus of this salad)
- 1/2 to 1 cup cooked or sprouted and cooked grain (use more if you want grains to be the focus of this salad)
- Desired meat or egg, fully cooked (you could skip this if using beans and/or rice as your focus)
- 1 to 4 cups mix-ins
- Dressing of your choice
Prepare the produce by cutting them into bite-sized pieces, if necessary. Tip: I’ll sometimes combine fresh, raw produce with cooked or roasted produce. Delicious! These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. Feel free to go wild when creating your Main Dish Salad.
- Sweet pepper (green, red, yellow, etc.)
- Tomatoes (regular or cherry)
- Onion (green, red, white, etc.)
- Broccoli (fresh, boiled, or roasted)
- Mushrooms (fresh or sautéed)
- Asparagus (roasted, boiled, or even pickled)
- Potatoes (roasted or boiled)
- Any flavor of hard cheese, cut into chunks or shredded
- Blue cheese, crumbles or chunks
- Goat cheese, crumbles or chunks
- String cheese, cut into bite-size pieces
Nuts, Seeds & Dried Fruits
- Any combination you are partial to
- Leftover (or fresh cooked) roast, steak, burger, chicken, etc.
- Salmon (fermented, canned, smoked, or leftover)
- High-quality lunchmeat
- Eggs (hard-boiled, poached, fried)
When my garden lettuce is abundant but the I’m short on anything else fresh, I check my pantry. These items are also perfect for salads on the road.
- Marinated artichoke hearts
- Olives (black, green, or a combination)
- Water chestnuts
- Hearts of palm
- Roasted red peppers
- Canned beans (your choice of variety)
- Quick-cooking grain (I’m partial to quinoa)
- Canned fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, etc.)
Main Dish Salad At Home
I rarely buy commercial salad dressing, choosing to make these at home. If you make your own dressing, mix it up first so the flavors have time to blend. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Tomato-y Salad Dressing
- Blue Cheese
- Five-Ingredient Salad Dressing
- Big Mac Special Sauce Dressing Copy Cat (Big Mac Salad is a family favorite)
- Easy Ranch Dressing
Once your dressing is mixed up, get out your favorite large salad bowl. If making a green salad base, prepare those first. Use your favorite lettuce—romaine, iceberg, green or red leaf, or a combination. Add a little baby spinach if you’d like. Thinly sliced red or green cabbage gives a wonderful crunch. If you’re focusing on beans and/or grains for this Main Dish Salad, they should be precooked (or sprouted and then cooked or steamed) and cool.
With your base ready, take a look in your fridge. What vegetables, meats, and cheeses do you have that can be used up? Pull out a large cutting board. I cut all of the fresh vegetables, cooked meats, and cheeses on this board, which then becomes the serving board.
If I don’t have any cooked meats lurking in the fridge, I’ll hard-boil some eggs and/or mix up salmon or tuna salad from a can and set it alongside the cutting board in a bowl. Beans and legumes (either freshly cooked, sprouted, or from a can) are also a welcome addition to a green salad base and can stand in as protein for meat, especially if you add a grain too (and maybe a nice crusty bread).
We add small bowls of shredded cheese, olives, sunflower seeds, peanuts, etc. Then everyone fills their plate with salad greens and whatever toppings they want. Finish it off with a homemade dressing. Yum!
Main Dish Salad On The Road
A Main Dish Salad is so adaptable it can be made in a rented home with a full kitchen, a hotel room without any cooking facilities, or even camping. Salad really is the perfect travel food!
It’s so easy to buy a bag or container of prewashed greens in just about any supermarket. If you prefer your greens whole, instead of precut, I’ve found a sprout bag to be the perfect item for drying the greens. Give them a good wash, move them to the bag, and take them outside and spin them dry. A sprout bag is also the perfect way to sprout grains or legumes while on the road. This bag is so handy, I rarely leave home without it!
In addition to a sprout bag, my travel kitchen includes a collapsible bowl (similar to this one), a sheathed kitchen knife, a rollup cutting mat, and a pair of salad tongs. These items take up little space and give lots of meal options.
Please note: spinach and kale, both popular salad greens, are on the Dirty Dozen list put out by the Environmental Working Group, indicating excessive levels of pesticides. Consider purchasing these as organic or growing your own. On the flip side, cabbage is on the Clean Fifteen, with low to no detectable pesticide residues.
Protein is sometimes a challenge on the road. I’ve taken along my Instant Pot, crockpot, or rice cooker when space allows. I’ve even used a waffle iron to cook strips of steak or omelets to cut into strips as toppings for salad.
If cooking is not an option, canned fish such as salmon, tuna, or sardines work great in Main Dish Salads. You might also consider purchasing a rotisserie chicken or fully cooked shrimp from the fish counter. High-quality luncheon meats, such as Hormel Naturals, are tasty and widely available.
Or skip the meat entirely. If you’ve been on the road a few days, you may have sprouted some lentils—the perfect addition! You could use a whole or partial can of drained garbanzo or other bean and/or microwavable rice. Add olives, avocado, nuts, and/or seeds to bulk it up a little.
Keep it Simple
On the road, I mainly follow the same method as I do when making a Main Dish Salad at home, but I tend to focus on simplicity. I’ll often take advantage of local ingredients and search out farmers’ markets or similar venues. I try not to go too crazy with ingredients, choosing to stick with only a few additions to shorten my kitchen time—I am on vacation after all!
I also choose to keep the dressing simple, sometimes buying it at the store but often mixing sour cream and salsa for a creamy dressing or mixing up a simple vinaigrette.
Instead of spreading everything out on the cutting board like I do at home, I mix everything but the protein and dressing in my collapsible bowl and then give it a good toss. After moving to individual plates or bowls, top with protein and dressing. I love this set of curved plates and bowls for eating on the road, plus they’re unbreakable and easy to clean.