Salads too often are underestimated — relegated to the side and given a costarring role supporting the main attraction. But they do just as well as the star of the show, especially at dinner.
“Salads can be very hearty,” says Jeanne Kelley, author of Salad for Dinner: Complete Meals for All Seasons and the forthcoming Vegetarian Salad for Dinner. “It really depends on what you put in them. If you’re thinking salad is just a combination of lettuce leaves and a couple of fruits and vegetables, there’s a whole world of ingredients out there” to discover.
Warm weather is usually the time when cooks transition from heavy comfort food to lighter, easy-to-assemble salads. But the truth is salads can be satisfying enough to be in your year-round meal-planning rotation.
Try these three recipes for main-course salads from food experts who know how to take a bed of greens to the next level.
Seared Salmon Salad With Warm Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette
This salad comes from Ivy Manning, food writer and author of cookbooks including The Adaptable Feast: Satisfying Meals for the Vegetarians, Vegans, and Omnivores at Your Table.
Manning says this recipe is on a regular rotation at her house. “I like to do main-dish salads for dinner because it’s a great way to get in a few of the ‘five a day’ vegetables I aim to eat daily. This one is great for busy weeknights because the wild salmon cooks quickly and gives us a good shot of heart-healthy omega-3s. The peppery arugula is balanced with the sweetness of quick sautéed cherry tomatoes that transform into a warm, chunky vinaigrette. The toasted pine nuts add a bit of crunch and fanciness to what’s really a throw-together dinner. Because of the richness of the fish and the fact that the vinaigrette is warm, it doesn’t feel like a ‘salad’ in the conventional sense.”
• 4 (6-ounce) skin-on wild sockeye salmon fillets, pin bones removed
• 1 tablespoon safflower oil
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 6 cups (5 ounces) baby arugula
• ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
Warm Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette
• 1 tablespoon minced shallot
• 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
• 3 tablespoons safflower oil
• ¼ cup pitted Greek olives, chopped
• 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1. Put shallot, vinegar and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl and set aside for 10 minutes. Whisk in mustard. Gradually whisk in 3 tablespoons oil. Stir in olives and set aside.
2. Sprinkle fish on both sides with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in large non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat.
3. Add fish, skin-side down, and sear until golden brown, approximately 3 minutes. Use spatula to carefully turn over fillets and cook on second side until fish is just cooked through, about 4 more minutes. Transfer fish to plate.
4. Wipe out pan with paper towel, add remaining oil, and return to medium-high heat. Add tomatoes and sauté until they soften and begin to collapse, 4 minutes. Transfer tomatoes to bowl with vinaigrette and toss to combine.
5. Divide arugula among four plates and top each with fish fillet. Spoon ½ cup of vinaigrette over each salad, sprinkle with pine nuts, and serve.
Chicken, Farro and Arugula Salad With Lemon and Vegetables
This recipe comes courtesy of Jeanne Kelley, who notes that this salad “is especially suited for being adapted to what you have in your larder and garden. Farro can be replaced with quinoa, brown rice or tiny pasta. Shaved fresh fennel can stand in for the radishes or peas; chives and green garlic would be great in place of the green onions; and pistachios and pine nuts and goat cheese or feta would make good substitutions for the marcona almonds and Parmesan cheese, respectively.”
• 1 cup pearled farro, rinsed and drained
• 2 cups shredded cooked chicken, about 1 breast
• 16 asparagus spears, ends trimmed, thinly sliced on a diagonal
• 4 ounces sugar snap peas, thinly sliced on a long diagonal
• 8 radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced into rounds
• 1 cup coarsely grated Reggiano Parmesan, divided
• 3 green onions, thinly sliced
• 6 cups arugula
• ¾ cup coarsely chopped marcona or other roasted almonds
For the dressing:
• ⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 1 garlic clove, very finely grated or pressed
• ½ teaspoon salt
1. Cook farro in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still chewy, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make dressing by whisking olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt in a small bowl until well blended.
2. Drain farro well. Transfer to a large shallow bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons dressing. Cool completely. (Can be prepared one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
3. Add chicken, asparagus, peas, radishes, half of Parmesan, green onions and ⅓ cup dressing to farro and mix well. Divide arugula among four plates and drizzle greens lightly with dressing. Top arugula with farro mixture and drizzle with remaining dressing. Sprinkle salads with remaining Parmesan, almonds and coarsely cracked pepper, and serve.
Steak and Salsa Verde Salad
Courtesy of Emily Connor, whose recipe can be found in Food52 Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad Into Dinner.
Connor notes that this salad makes use of “herbs and greens that are abundant at farm stands. Salsa verde’s piquant ingredients — herbs, anchovies, garlic, lemon and capers — are a perfect match for the brash, charred flavors of grilled steak. But instead of whirring the ingredients together to make a green condiment, I decided to flip the script and use the herbs as the salad’s base and the other ingredients for a bright lemon-anchovy vinaigrette that ties everything together.”