We’ve covered lettuce (and other salad greens) at great length — and when I was growing up, that was nearly all you needed to think about when making salad. All that was left to do was cut up a tomato or two and set out a bottle of commercial dressing. Well, if you were taking salad to a potluck, you could add some strips of ham and cheese and impress everyone with the trouble you’d gone to. But that was about it. Then someone invented salad bars . . . now everyone expects more than just greens, tomatoes, and dressing.
Still, greens and dressing are pretty much required, and if you don’t add tomatoes, as in a Caesar salad, you’d better put in a whole lot of extras to make up for them. (When I make a green salad without tomatoes, I feel compelled to add something red — sliced red pepper maybe — to make it look right.) But once you’ve got your required base ingredients, there are plenty of cold foods you can toss in.
Those old standbys, strips of cold meat and cheese, are still options. On the meat side, somewhere in there, premade bacon bits became popular, then were out again.The best thing to do these days is fry your own bacon, cool and crumble it. Shrimp are about the only cold fish that work in green salad, but they work very well. The exception is tuna in Salade Nicoise, but that’s almost more like a one-dish cold dinner. For cheese, we’ve got more choices than ever — strips, shreds, cubes, crumbly feta. Only a couple don’t really work: Parmesan, which tends to drift to the bottom of the salad bowl (yes, restaurants use it in Caesar salads, but they hold it up with way more dressing than you’d use at home) and wet/heavy stuff like ricotta, that weighs down the greens.
While we’re on protein, cold hard boiled eggs, cut in quarters or slices, are still great. And plain old canned (not baked) beans, just rinsed and drained, are great for vegans and everyone else. Garbanzos (chick peas) and black beans are best for this.
Vegetables, of course, are at the heart of a salad, and here are a few you can add to yours: Sliced radishes, red onion rings, olives, drained bottled artichoke hearts, cold asparagus, the classic cucumber, sliced avocado (take the skin off; I didn’t know to do that till I got married), grated zucchini (yellow squash doesn’t work so well), raw cauliflower broken into florets, sliced raw mushroom, raw carrot.
Finally come the croutons — you can make them at home, by the way, just try to give them plenty of flavor and keep them off the salad till you’re ready to serve — they get soggy quickly.
Salads can go a long way not only beyond greens, but beyond greens, tomatoes, and dressing.