Salads for Every Course

Salads fit the bill when you don’t have the time or the desire to cook. But you don’t have to limit them to the typical salad course. After all, nearly any cold dish served with a dressing constitutes a salad. Plus, these dishes can make intriguing and almost effortless appetizers, accompaniments, and even desserts! All they take is a little imagination.

The easiest and tastiest way to start your salad is by picking up some seasonal fruits and vegetables as ingredients. To add a variety of colors or textures, have some canned, dried, or frozen fruit on hand. Dried fruit and fruit canned with juice or water will add flavor and color. Fruit frozen without sugar and unsweetened fruit juice concentrates are great options for those who wish to limit their sugar consumption. Canned or frozen vegetables are easy to add as well. If you are concerned about your sodium intake, select frozen vegetables rather than canned ones.

Then, use these basic ingredients to prepare unusual cold food combinations. For example, make a strawberry and spinach salad. Simply combine fresh baby spinach with sliced fresh or thawed frozen unsweetened strawberries, and toss with oil and vinegar flavored with ginger and lemon juice. Or try adding Tofurky cold cuts to a fresh, ripe pear Waldorf salad.

But it’s not just what’s in your salad that counts. It’s also when and how you present your dish that will make it intriguing. Whimsy in the name can captivate your family and spark their interest in the salad portion of their meals, whether that comes at the beginning, the middle, or the end. For example, one local school district named its spinach salad with vinaigrette “Popeye and Olive Oyl Salad” and its broccoli and cauliflower floret toss “trees and clouds.” Your creativity shouldn’t stop with your ingredients.

Appetizers

Why wait until the salad course to start enjoying salads? Start with the beginning of your meal! For a high protein appetizer that’s sure to tide you over until the next course, combine sliced fresh carrots or cooked, chilled carrots, some canned garbanzos or kidney beans, a little dill, some vinegar, and some chopped onions. Stir in some plain vegan yogurt or silken tofu and completely purée to make a cold dip for veggies and breadsticks. It will resemble Middle Eastern hummus.

Or how about a new twist on a four- or five-bean salad? Choose from a selection of fresh or frozen green beans, wax beans, green peas, lima beans, kidney beans, white beans, red beans, garbanzos, and black beans to create pantry bean salads. Combine the beans with plain vegan yogurt or vegan sour cream instead of the traditional oil and vinegar. Purée this salad, and you have a lowfat dip for vegetables or breadsticks.

Bean Salads As Side Dishes

Why serve a hot side dish with your summer entrées when you can serve the coolness of a salad instead? Fresh or frozen green beans, wax beans, and beets are great starter ingredients for hearty side salads. Try combining some lowfat, sweet-and-sour green beans, wax beans, or beets with a cornstarch, vinegar, orange juice concentrate, and soy sauce dressing. Or toss green beans with a small amount of chopped smoked tofu, teriyaki tempeh, or diced vegan cheese. Then, toss with fresh or canned mushrooms and silken tofu. This will yield a soft and savory salad. Try the same salad with green beans, carrots, chopped parsley, and plain vegan soy yogurt for a different color and flavor. The yogurt adds creaminess and extra calcium.

“Texas Caviar” is another name for cold black-eyed pea salad. Drain and rinse fresh, frozen, or canned black-eyed peas. Then, toss them with chopped onions and green bell peppers, and add a light splash of an oil and vinegar dressing. This salad goes well with Southern delights, such as cornbread and greens.

Speaking of home-cooking, how about a corn salad? This dish can be served as a cold side or used as a cold condiment instead of high-fat gravies or sauces. Start with fresh corn cut from the cob or cooked and chilled frozen corn. Add some canned sliced pimentos, chopped parsley, chopped scallions, and diced bell peppers. Then, toss with vinaigrette, and voilà! A perfect pick for picnics or veggie barbeques.

Another great choice for the basis of a crunchy salad is fresh English peas. These are naturally sweet and crunchy. Simply toss them with plain vegan yogurt or vegan sour cream, garlic powder, and canned water chestnuts for a unique side dish.

Veggies Make Good Salad Starters, Too!

In the mood for more traditional, produce-based side salads? You still have plenty of interesting options from which to choose. How about fresh yellow squash and/or zucchini? Slice thin and toss with a soy yogurt, sour cream, or silken tofu dressing sprinkled with chopped fresh parsley for a lightly flavored combination.

Peeled and seeded cucumbers can be finely chopped and tossed with soy yogurt, onion powder, lemon juice, and black pepper for a cool salad. Mix with chopped ripe fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes for extra color. Use a low-sodium vegetable juice cocktail combined with soy yogurt to make a creamy tomato dressing with lots of added nutrients.

Or how about stuffing a salad? A vegetable stuffed with salad makes an impressive side dish. Simply scoop out a tomato, onion, pepper, or small zucchini and use it as a serving dish for vegan ‘tuna’ salad, eggless salad, or diced flavored tofu salads. Instead of vegan mayonnaise, try soy yogurt, soy sour cream, or puréed tofu for different flavors and textures. No matter how you dress your stuffed salads, they are sure to be a hit!

Desserts

And, yes, salads can even become desserts! Just chill a combination of your favorite fruits and add a sweet or tangy dressing. For example, you can stuff fresh or canned peach halves and pineapple rings with soy fruit-flavored yogurt and chopped fresh or thawed frozen strawberries, seasonal fresh berries, or cherries. This will make for a sweet—but still nutritious—treat.

Or try the recipe below. It will be such a fabulous way to end a meal that most people won’t even believe that they’re eating a salad!

Banana Split Salad

(Serves 6)

  • 1  1/2 pints crumbled firm tofu
  • 1  1/4 cups fresh berries, such as blueberries or raspberries
  • 1/4 cup chopped strawberries
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 6 small bananas

Raisins, dates, or pineapple to garnish (optional)

Place tofu, berries, and walnuts in a bowl and combine well.

Peel bananas and split lengthwise. Line six salad plates with two banana halves each.
Top with tofu-berries mixture.
If desired, garnish with raisins, dates, or pineapple.

by Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

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