Salads That Make a Meal

By Peggy Rynk

Salads that make a meal are terrific additions to our cooking repertoire. They're often super easy to put together — so easy that some almost seem to make themselves. Many can be made ahead of time, even the day before, and require little more than bread or crackers and a beverage to go with them. Dessert is optional.

One of the greatest joys of preparing a salad — besides the pleasure of eating it — is shopping for the ingredients. When choosing produce, whether you shop at a supermarket, health foods store, farmers' market, or roadside stand, get the freshest you can find — the crispest greens, the most succulent carrots and bell peppers, the juiciest tomatoes.

Many of these salads are built on beans and peas of various kinds — canned, dried, frozen, or fresh. Among the many possible choices are pinto, navy, Great Northern, lima, and black beans. Green peas, garbanzos, and black-eyed peas are versatile possibilities, too. Because dried beans and peas take a while to cook, it's often more convenient to cook them the morning of the day you'll need them or even the day before.

Grain choices include corn, pasta in various shapes, bulgur wheat, and many varieties of rice. Potatoes make an excellent base for main dish salads, too — not just for the side salads to which they're usually relegated. White, red-skinned, Yukon Gold, and russet potatoes, for example, all work well.

Although not all salads require them, greens make an important contribution. Sometimes they're incorporated into the salad. More often, though, they serve either as a bed for other ingredients to rest on or as a garnish. Parsley is perhaps the most common garnish, but you might want to try spinach, too, or a few celery leaves for variety.

There's a wide range of greens to choose from, some of which are not green at all. Commonly available ones are romaine, red- and green-leaf lettuce, radicchio, escarole, cabbage of various kinds, curly endive, spinach, and iceberg lettuce. Also worth trying are oakleaf lettuce, Boston (or butterhead) lettuce, and watercress.

Mixed salad greens come prepackaged in plastic bags and some, such as mesclun mix, are available loose in the produce section of well-stocked supermarkets. But whatever greens you choose — even prepackaged ones — should be rinsed thoroughly and dried well before use. A salad spinner is especially useful for drying, but if you don't have one, blotting the leaves well between clean dish towels or paper towels will work just fine.

Give attention to the colors in a salad, too. Contrast adds interest, whets the appetite, and cheers the soul. Picture black beans nestled against succulent kernels of yellow corn. Or plump green peas, chopped sweet onion, and rice mingled together.

Add a dressing you love, if any, and you're set for a memorable meal. There are many commercial salad dressings available or you can make your own. The type of dressing you choose will depend on the salad itself, what it needs to complete it, and what you have a taste for. Sometimes a creamy dressing made with vegan 'sour cream' or vegan 'mayonnaise' is what you'll want. Other times, a simple oil and vinegar dressing is just the right finish. And sometimes perfection is no dressing at all.

Experiment with various ingredients, even ones you may not have encountered before, and be prepared to make some fabulous discoveries. If there are any rules for making salads, they are these: use the best quality ingredients you can find, and equally important, choose what you like, and skip what you don't. Enjoy!

Cold Pasta with Vegetables and Peanut Butter Dressing

(Serves 4)

Bright, well-rounded flavor, color, and texture.

    ½ pound uncooked pasta of choice, such as spaghetti, penne, or spirals
    Salted boiling water
    1-½ cups diced fresh broccoli florets
    1-½ cups mini-carrots, thinly sliced into rounds, or regular carrots, halved or quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
    ⅔ cup sliced scallions (green and white parts)
    ¼ cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter
    ½ teaspoon garlic powder
    ¼ teaspoon ground ginger, or more to taste
    Dash cayenne (optional)
    ¼ cup additional boiling water
    2 Tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
    2 Tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
    Cucumber slices and tomato wedges to garnish, if desired

Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente. Drain well and put in a large mixing bowl.

While the pasta is hot, stir in broccoli, carrots, and scallions. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together the peanut butter, garlic powder, ginger, and cayenne. Add the boiling water, then the rice vinegar and tamari or soy sauce, and blend until smooth. Pour over pasta mixture and toss to coat. Chill thoroughly before serving. Serve garnished with cucumber slices and tomato wedges.

Total calories per serving: 335 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 53 grams Protein: 13 grams
Sodium: 510 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Bean and Tomato Salad

(Serves 4)

A pretty salad with an Italian flare. Serve with warm Italian bread, if desired.

    1 cup dried navy beans, picked over and rinsed, and cooked according to package directions (about 3 cups cooked)
    1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped (about ½ cup)
    1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
    ½ teaspoon salt
    Dash black pepper
    ½ teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
    1 Tablespoon crumbled dried parsley leaves
    ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
    ¼ cup canola oil
    2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir together the beans, tomatoes, and onions. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, blend together the salt, pepper, oregano, parsley, and garlic powder. Add oil and lemon juice and whisk together. Pour over the bean mixture and toss gently to blend well. Cover and chill thoroughly. Stir gently again before serving.

Total calories per serving: 312 Fat: 14 grams
Carbohydrates: 36 grams Protein: 12 grams
Sodium: 303 milligrams Fiber: 9 grams

Marinated Black-Eyed Peas

(Serves 4)

A simple salad with a Southern flavor.

  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • Dash cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • One 15-ounce can black-eyed peas, drained
  • Lettuce leaves to cover 4 plates
  • 2 medium-sized firm, red-ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced

In a 1-quart mixing bowl, blend together the salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder. Stir in the oil and vinegar and whisk together well. Add the black-eyed peas and gently toss to coat. Cover and chill thoroughly.

To serve, arrange lettuce leaves on plates. Arrange sliced tomatoes on the lettuce. Stir the salad one more time and spoon onto the tomato slices.

Total calories per serving: 256 Fat: 14 grams
Carbohydrates: 25 grams Protein: 9 grams
Sodium: 157 milligrams Fiber: 8 grams

Tabbouleh with Garbanzo Beans

(Serves 4)

Beautiful colors, flavors, and textures.

  • 1 cup uncooked bulgur wheat
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼-⅓ cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (Canned are fine.)
  • 1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • ¾ cup minced fresh parsley (leaves and delicate stems only)
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • Whole mint leaves and/or parsley sprigs for garnish (optional)

Put the bulgur wheat, water, and salt in a 2-½ to 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, covered and stirring once or twice, for about 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and bulgur is tender. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Stir in onions, garbanzos, bellpeppers, minced parsley, garlic powder, lemon juice, and chopped mint leaves. Chill well before serving. To serve, garnish with whole mint leaves and/or parsley sprigs, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 220 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 47 grams Protein: 9 grams
Sodium: 783 milligrams Fiber: 11 grams

Lentil-Vegetable Salad

(Serves 5)

A colorful salad that's just right for lunch or supper. It packs well into lunchboxes, too.

  • 1-½ cups dry brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 3 cups water
  • 1-½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes, or 2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar or plain vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • ¾ cup sliced scallions (green and white parts)
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped red-ripe tomatoes

Put the lentils and water in a 3-quart saucepan. Simmer, covered, for 30-35 minutes or until lentils are tender and water is absorbed. (If water is not absorbed completely, remove lid and allow remaining water to cook off.)

While the lentils cook, stir together the salt, pepper, parsley flakes (if using flakes, not fresh), and Italian seasoning in a small screw-top jar. Add the vinegar and oil. Cover mouth of jar with a double layer of waxed paper, screw on the lid, and shake well.

When lentils are just tender, remove from heat and stir in the vinegar mixture. Gently blend in the minced parsley (if using fresh), garlic, carrots, scallions, and tomatoes. Cover and chill several hours before serving.

Total calories per serving: 270 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 80 grams Protein: 17 grams
Sodium: 724 milligrams Fiber: 19 grams

Lima Bean-Tarragon Salad

(Serves 6)

This easy, flavorful salad disappears in a hurry.

  • One 2-pound bag frozen baby lima beans
  • Water
  • 1-½ teaspoons salt, divided
  • ¼ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • Dash pepper
  • 2 teaspoons granulated onion
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon crushed dried tarragon leaves
  • ½ teaspoon mustard powder
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • Mixed greens (optional)

Cook the lima beans with water and 1 teaspoon salt, according to package directions, until tender. Drain and set aside to cool.

In a 1 ½ cup (or larger) glass jar with a screw top, blend together the sugar, remaining salt, pepper, granulated onion, granulated garlic, tarragon, and mustard powder. Add the vinegar and oil. Cover the mouth of the jar with a double layer of waxed paper, screw on the lid, and shake vigorously. Pour over the cooled lima beans and stir to coat. Cover and chill thoroughly. Serve in one large bowl or on individual plates over a bed of mixed greens.

Total calories per serving: 409 Fat: 19 grams
Carbohydrates: 50 grams Protein: 12 grams
Sodium: 665 milligrams Fiber: 7 grams

Corn and Black Bean Salad with Fresh Jalapeños

(Serves 5)

Colorful and full of flavor, this salad can be served the day it's made or prepared ahead for the following day.

  • 2-½ cups (1¼ pound) frozen white or yellow corn or a combination
  • ½ cup water
  • 6 Tablespoons finely chopped, seeded fresh jalapeƱo peppers
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • One 15-ounce can black beans, drained
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 1 teaspoon adobo seasoning (availablein the ethnic section of well-stockedsupermarkets)
  • ¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce

Put the corn and the water in a 3-quart saucepan and cook according to package directions. Drain well.

Let corn cool a few minutes, then stir in the jalapeƱos, peppers, and beans. Set aside.

Put salt, sugar, and adobo seasoning in a small screw-top jar. Add the vinegar, oil, and hot sauce. Cover the mouth of the jar with a double layer of waxed paper, screw on the top, and shake vigorously. Pour dressing over the corn mixture and gently stir, blending well. Cover and chill thoroughly before serving.

Total calories per serving: 223 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 37 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 568 milligrams Fiber: 9 grams
Red Beans and Rice Salad (Serves 8)

A twist on the usual version of red beans and rice.

  • ⅔ cup dried red beans (about 2 cups cooked), or one 15- to 16-ounce can red beans, drained
  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 1 cup uncooked converted white rice (such as Uncle Ben's) or 30-minute brown rice
  • 2-¼ teaspoons salt, divided
  • ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground sage
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 1 cup thinly sliced celery
  • 1 cup chopped green pepper
  • ¼ cup sliced scallions (green and white parts)

Pick over the beans, discarding any broken or discolored ones. Rinse well and drain. Put beans in a 2-quart saucepan with 2 ½ cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, covered, for 2 to 2-½ hours or until beans are tender. About 30 minutes before beans are tender, put the rice, 1-½ teaspoons salt, and remaining water in a 3-quart saucepan. Cook according to package directions until rice is almost tender and most of water is absorbed.

In a jar with a screw top, blend together remaining salt, black pepper, sage, cumin, cayenne, and garlic powder. Add the vinegar and oil. Cover mouth of jar with a double layer of waxed paper, screw on the lid, and shake well.

When rice is done, immediately pour the vinegar and oil mixture over it. Add the beans and stir. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

Mix in the celery, green peppers, and scallions. Transfer to a large serving bowl, cover, and chill well before serving.

Total calories per serving: 159 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 19 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 636 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Peggy Rynk is a frequent contributor to Vegetarian Journal.