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A Simple Guide to Assembling a Salad

As a person with a gluten intolerance, I find that when I eat out in places that are unfamiliar with the condition, the server will always suggest a salad. Now, I enjoy a good salad but when I eat out I like to have a dish that I cannot so easily prepare at home. Recently at a particular restaurant that I rarely go to due to limit gluten-friendly choices, I was swayed into an $18 salad. Ridiculous! But what do you do, when the only other choices for a gluten free entree were a half-chicken or steak. Although overpriced, I have to admit that the salad was fantastic and it got me thinking that at home I have been slacking by making salads that come in a bag. Salads are a simple healthy and easily gluten-free entree or side.

Salads can be broken down into four simple parts, protein, greens, toppings and dressing. If you want to air on the lighter side, skip the protein, if you are looking for a satisfying meal keep it in there. Here are a few ideas:

Proteins for Salads Go Beyond - Chicken or Shrimp?

Although, chicken, shrimp, salmon, tuna, and even beef make wonderful salad toppers, if you are interested in leaner options try:

a hard boiled egg,
garbanzo beans,
kidney beans,
pinto beans,
red beans, or

Prepare and set aside your protein to place on top of your creation hot or cold.

Greens - Lettuce, Spinach and So On...

There are several types of lettuce that extend beyond iceberg and Romaine (and there is nothing wrong with either of those). Here are a few greens that are worth giving a try:

Dandelion Greens,
Butter Leaf Lettuce,
Red Leaf Lettuce,
Green Leaf Lettuce,
Lollo Rosa,

Choose two or three of the above-listed greens, wash, dry, chop or tear.

Toppings - Think Outside the Box (or Fridge)

Salad toppings can go beyond the vegetables that are in your refrigerator. When it comes to topping your salad think of flavors and textures that you like and don't be afraid to try new things. My husband used to hate eating coleslaw, that was until I made it with a chopped up apple in it, now he can't get enough. I personally enjoy the salty with sweet, such as dates and chickpeas. Here are a few toppings to choose from (add three or four to your salad):

From the Fridge:
Bok Choy,
Bean Sprouts,
Alfalfa Sprouts,
Beets (be careful these can be messy),
Peas (snap or sugar),
Berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, etc.)
Pickles (onions, cucumber or beets),
Cheese (pick your favorite or try something different like feta or blue)

From the Pantry
Nuts (raw, toasted, roasted, etc.),
Seeds (sesame, poppy, sunflower),
Canned Fruit, (mandarins, pineapple, pears etc. - try for ones packed in juice not syrup)
Croutons (if you are up for it make your own)
Jarred olives,
Dried fruits (figs, apricots, raisins, cranberries, to name a few)

Dressings - Beyond Store-Bought

Although it is easy to reach into the fridge, grab a bottle and squeeze, it is not the healthiest and really not the tastiest either. Most dressings take a mere minute to put together and consist of very simple flavors. Here are a few to get you started:

Basic Balsamic
3 TBS Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Shake, stir or whisk.

Honey Dijon
add 2 tsp honey Dijon mustard to the above basic balsamic.

Buttermilk Dressing
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
2 TBS Cider Vinegar
2TBS Mayonaise
Shake, stir or whisk.

Sweet Vinaigrette
3 TBS White Vinegar
1/4 Vegetable Oil
2 tsp sugar
Shake, stir or whisk.

Tried and Tested Combos

Although it is great to experiment, it helps to have some direction. Below are a few tried and tested salad combos including a knock-off of my $18 salad:

Mama_em's Salad Knockoff
Protein: Grilled (with cajun seasoning) Chicken Breast
Greens: Arugula
Toppings: Pickled Beets, Candied Pecans, Parmesan
Dressing: Basic Balsamic (also Buttermilk is great)
Toss only the Arugula in dressing then top with chicken and other toppings.

Baby Romaine with Chicken and Vegetables
Protein: Grilled Chicken Breast
Greens: Baby Romaine and Watercress
Toppings: Radishes, Bococinni Cheese, Red Grapes
Dressing: Honey Dijon

Mandarin Almond
Protein: Optional
Greens: Butter Leaf Lettuce
Toppings: canned mandarins, slivered toasted almonds
Dressing: Sweet Vinaigrette

Chickpea, Beet, Carrot
Protein: Rinsed Can of Chickpeas
Greens: Mixed Lettuce or Romaine
Toppings: Grated Carrot, Grated Beet, Chopped Date
Dressing: Basic Balsamic

Radicchio, Orange, Mushroom
Protein: Optional
Greens: Radicchio
Toppings: Mushrooms (raw or roasted), Peeled and Segmented Orange, Walnuts and Parmesan
Dressing: Basic Balsamic or Honey Dijon

Baby Spinach
Protein: Pepper Seasoned Steak
Greens: Baby Spinach
Toppings: Mango, Toasted Almonds
Dressing: Basic Balsamic with a splash of Maple Syrup

Butter Leaf with Goat Cheese and Berries
Protein: Grilled Chicken
Greens: Butter Leaf
Toppings: Mixed Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), Pecans, Goat Cheese
Dressing: Sweet Vinaigrette with a splash of lemon juice