I got a request to write a post about building up your pantry to be prepared to make a power salad any day. There are virtually unlimited different salads to make, but these are some general things I try to always keep on hand to be able to make a super power house salad at any time, without having to plan ahead to buy ingredients. I would recommend choosing at least one from each category to start, and build up from there. Fruit, veggies and sprouts will vary depending on what’s in-season, but the rest are things to just slowly build up in your pantry while experimenting and trying out different recipes and combinations. :) Using this guide you will be able to use your creativity in endless ways! I apologize for the length of the post, it somehow turned in to a novel when I started writing…
I like to add grains of all sorts to salads, whether it be sprinkled on top of a bed of greens, or used as the base of the salad. Grains are great for adding protein, but also add variety with texture and flavour. There are all kinds of grains to use, still many I hope to experiment with! But here are a few to start with.
- Quinoa (an ancient grain with lots of protein, similar to couscous but a bit nuttier in taste and texture, great as a healthier replacement for pasta in pasta salads, in garden salads, in warm salads, etc)
- Cous Cous (kind of like a tiny version of rice, opt for whole wheat if possible, again great for all kinds of salads)
- Rice: wild, brown, basmati (I generally use brown or wild rice, great in bean salads with corn)
- Barley: pearl, pot (again opt for whole wheat, goes great with steamed beans or other cooked veggies mixed with greens, but also has a ton of options for use)
- Amaranth (high in fiber in protein, very small and fine, can be used as a rice replacement or added to general salads)
Nuts and Seeds:
Nuts and seeds are generally my favourite part of any salad, I rarely make a salad without roasted nuts. I love pairing a fruit with a roasted nut on a bed of greens with sliced red onion topped with a balsamic vinaigrette for a super quick and simple, but still delicious salad. Nuts add a nice crunch, and when roasted (I always roast mine), their flavours are enhanced and bring a whole new punch to the salad. I always make sure I have nuts in my house, as they have a long shelf life and they are super easy to sprinkle on top salads to add extra protein and variety. Seeds are also super easy to sprinkle on top as a finishing touch without the extra step of roasting. I always opt for raw, unsalted nuts and seeds, to avoid the extra unnecessary sodium. There are obviously many others, but these are some of my favourite nuts and seeds to use in salads.
- Walnuts: whole, chopped (great paired with apples or strawberries)
- Almonds: slivered, sliced, whole (I use slivered almonds the most, but I do enjoy sliced almonds sometimes, as well, great in both warm and cold salads)
- Pecans: whole, chopped (great with orange or mandarins, apples, peaches)
- Pine (they are very expensive, so I don’t use them as often, but they go excellent in warm salads)
- Cashews (awesome in cabbage salads, or salads with a sesame oil-based dressing)
- Pepita Seeds (pepita seeds are no shell seeds of a squash or pumpkin, I love adding them to pretty much any salad)
- Sesame Seeds
- Hemp Seeds (very fine, great sprinkled on green salads)
I’ve only started experimenting with sprouts recently, but I think they make a great addition to cold salads. If you’ve never tried growing sprouts at home I highly recommend giving it a try! It’s super easy and inexpensive, and there are tons of different things to sprout. All you need is a mason jar, mesh to cover the top, and an elastic band to hold. These are the most common seeds I’ve heard of sprouting, but I know there are tons of others as well.
Many salads use a bed of greens as the base, or greens chopped or shredded and mixed within. Even this alone provides so many options for experimentation and variability as there are multiple varieties of greens. Simply just changing up which you choose to use will completely change the overall taste of a salad. I like to mix it up quite a bit and change what I buy from week to week to avoid boredom and repetition, but these are what I generally use regularly.
- Spinach: Baby and Regular (Super versatile, can be used as a base, wilted and cooked with warm salads, chopped and mixed into grain-based salads)
- Arugula (very distinct taste, can be used like spinach in most cases)
- Cabbage: Red or Green (super easy to shred, can be used for both warm and cold salads)
- Swiss Chard (soft texture, similar to spinach but known for having a beet-like flavour)
- Kale (the “nutrition powerhouse”, endless options for use, but make sure to rinse thoroughly before using)
- Lettuce: Iceburg and Romaine (I use lettuce the least as it’s the least nutritious and mostly water, but I do enjoy the crisp-ness every once and a while)
Beans are a vegetarian and vegan’s best friend! Full of protein and fiber, beans are an awesome nutritional addition, or even base of any salad. Warm salads, cold salads, grain salads, green salads, beans go with it all. I love changing it up and using different beans from salad to salad, but I do admit to having an obsession with chickpeas… I tend to buy canned beans (however I would like to start cooking my own from dried), but I always make sure to check the sodium levels and opt for zero sodium added varieties. These are some beans that are awesome for salads.
- Black Beans
- Navy Beans
- Edamame (I buy them frozen)
- White Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Mixed Beans (I usually buy a can or two of mixed beans for the times I can’t decide or am not quite sure which type would go best.. :)
I use dried fruit sparingly because most dried fruit has a ton of added sugar. That being said, I still love adding a few here and there to sweeten or add flavour to a salad, too. They are also easy to just keep on hand in your cupboard alongside nuts, without worrying about using them up for a specific time.
- Dried Cranberries
- Raisins: golden, sultana, dark (I don’t really have a preference in type, but I prefer raisins in warm salads)
- Currants (awesome in quinoa or cous cous salads)
Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
This area is obviously the largest with the most variability, however I do have a few staples I tend to keep on hand at all times. These include:
- Red/White onion (I use white more for cooking, and red in raw salads)
- Tomatoes (cherry, field, and heirloom varieties)
- Peppers (red, yellow, orange, and green)
- Celery (not as much for salads, but they are one of my staples)
Other vegetables I try to buy depending on the season, or just switch up from week to week. Unfortunately I don’t have room to buy every vegetable every week, otherwise I would.. but this way I can focus on working with different veggies from week to week. Either way, I always have a fridge stocked full of them! These are some I buy at least once a month (sometimes two), or depending on the season.
- Broccoli and Cauliflower
- Mushrooms (all different varieties)
- Green Beans
- Squash (all different varieties)
Fruits are something I find a lot of people shy away from using in salads, but I personally love fruits in salads! They go great paired with nuts in both warm and cold salads, acting as a natural sweetener. These are some fruits I would recommend trying at least once.
- Berries: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries (great in spring salads)
- Apples (different kinds will bring different flavour, I like to switch it up, try pairing with walnuts or pecans)
- Oranges (awesome paired with almonds and balsamic vinegar based dressing, but can really be used in a variety of salads)
- Peaches (best when in-season)
- Pears (I prefer using them a little less ripe in salads, they go great with cranberries, red onion, and pecans for a simple salad)
Herbs are also something I notice a lot of people skip, but I promise you, once you start adding fresh herbs to salads, you’ll wonder how you ever went without them! Whether you grow them at home (ideal), or buy them fresh at the store (note: you can freeze leftovers to avoid them going bad), fresh herbs can completely transform a salad adding a powerful punch, while bringing out the flavours of the existing fruits and veggies as well. These are my favourites to add to salads, but I’m still getting familiar with using and cooking with fresh herbs, myself!
- Cilantro (I’ve learned you can never, ever have too much of it, and it will pretty much go good in anything)
- Basil (Very strong flavour, can make an otherwise bland salad spectacular)
- Parsley (light and versatile)
- Dill (For a while I was using dill thinking it was parsley when I was just learning about fresh herbs.. But it stuck because I still use it in salads! Strong flavour, so a little goes a long way)
- Mint (Wonderful in summer salads!)
Last but not least, is the dressing. There are millions of dressing recipes that are crazy complex and wild, and sometimes I do love to follow one and give it a try, but in general, I prefer simple dressings that won’t overpower the flavours of the salad itself. These are some easy go-to recipes that will work for a variety of salads.
- Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil (Standard, I use 1 part water 1 olive oil 1 part balsamic vinegar to cut down on the olive oil. I also tend to add a teaspoon or two of dijon mustard and lemon juice if I want a more powerful dressing, and a few drops of maple syrup for a sweeter dressing)
- Avocado Tahini Dressing (Great healthier alternative to a cream based dressing, and super easy to prepare. You can use the recipe on my blog, “Avocado Topped Tomato with Green Onions and Cilantro” and add a bit of water to thin it out.)
- Asian Dressing (Olive Oil, Soy Sauce, Ginger, Maple Syrup, water)
- Apple Cider Vinegar Dressing (basic ingredients are apple cider vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard, garlic, lemon juice, water, maple syrup, I usually just taste as I go and play around with the measurements until I like it if I don’t feel like following a recipe)
Salads are one of my favourite things to make because there is so much room to be creative and change things up. I try not to make the same salad twice, because I know there will always be another one to try or create! I find I need to remind myself that sometimes the simplest salads are the best salads. It’s so easy to get carried away with all sorts of ingredients, but I’ve learned from experience that it’s not as much what you choose to include, as to what you choose to exclude that will make or break a salad. I hope you have fun creating, and building up a pantry prepared and ready for anything! :-)