Substantial salads

Big hearty salads are great! They can:

  • form a main meal, on their own or by combining a few of them, serving them with soup or with grilled meat/fish/mushrooms,etc.
  • be made in advance to dive into at any time
  • last a few days in the fridge, covering several meals
  • make great packed lunches and picnic foods
  • pad out a feast when you have a last-minute panic that you won't have enough food for everyone
  • be just the thing for really hot weather
  • boost your health
  • be easily adapted to suit your tastes

For most of the recipes below I haven't specified exact ingredients or amounts, as you can adjust the composition to suit yourself. If you are after a great salad cookbook, The Moosewood Daily Special is dedicated solely to fabulous salad and soup recipes. 

Notes on salad vegetables

Softer salad vegetables like tomato, cucumber and avocado don't keep well once chopped. Salad greens keep well in a separate airtight container, but tend to go mushy when mixed in a salad with dressing. If you want your salad to last a few days, minimise the use of these or add them at the time of serving. 

The following have better staying power:

  • capsicum (red and yellow are sweetest)
  • cherry tomatoes
  • green beans
  • snow peas or sugar snap peas
  • frozen or fresh green peas, lightly cooked
  • corn (particularly delicious if you cook whole cobs then slice the kernels off)
  • celery
  • carrot
  • broccoli and asparagus, lightly steamed
  • fennel
  • mushrooms
  • red onion or green onions/spring onions
  • Italian parsley (think of it as a salad green rather than a garnish, and use liberally)

Nuts and seeds can also add extra flavour and nutrition.

Pasta salads

These can be made with any short pasta (curls, penne, etc), with teeny pasta such as risoni, or even with pearl couscous. Any Italian-style dressing can be added, or stir through a few dollops of pesto. In addition to any of the salad vegetables listed above, you might toss in:

  • pine nuts
  • olives
  • capers
  • chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • cannellini beans or chickpeas
  • chopped marinated artichoke hearts
  • grated cheese or crumbled feta
  • tinned tuna

Grain and bean salads

By adding any of the following to a mix of diced or finely sliced salad vegetables, you can quickly create a hearty salad:

  • brown rice (white rice gets mushy and doesn't keep well)
  • brown lentils 
  • quinoa
  • chickpeas, red kidney beans or cannelini beans (or the good ol' four-bean mix)
  • other grains such as barley or buckwheat 

Of course, you can cook up dried beans or grains, but to save time you might like to grab some tinned beans and lentils, and check out the pre-cooked grain options. My local supermarket sells a sachet mix of brown rice, quinoa, lentils and chia seeds that needs only 90 seconds in the microwave. Combined with a tin of 4-bean mix, a few chopped vegies and some Paul Newman's Classic Dressing, I've got a delicious healthy dinner ready in 5 minutes! 

Rice and grain salads generally need a generous amount of dressing to prevent them from being too dry. Any good quality salad dressing can be used, but here is one that I like: 
Mix 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil with 1/3 cup of white wine vinegar. Add 1 teas Dijon mustard (or to taste), chopped fresh tarragon and salt and pepper. This makes enough for several salads, and keeps for a few days. 

The Daily Special cookbook features a brown rice salad containing this dressing along with brown lentils, seedless grapes, chopped apple (tossed in lemon juice), red capsicum and celery. Delicious! 

It also has a curried rice salad, mixing brown rice with tomatoes, celery, red and/or green capsicum, chopped apple and raisins / currants, and topped with plain yoghurt, chopped mango and cashews if desired. For the dressing, mix 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, 1 tab brown sugar or honey, 1 tab grated fresh ginger and 1-2 teas of garam marsala.  

Roast vegetable salads

One of my favourite salads for entertaining is a roast vegetable salad, comprising chopped pumpkin, orange sweet potato, carrot and beetroot. The vegies are roasted beforehand and served at room temperature, topped with crumbled feta or blue cheese and chopped fresh herbs, and drizzled with red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. It looks spectacular served on a large white platter. 

This salad is also excellent for everyday eating. The vegies last a few days in the fridge, but add the cheese and herbs just before serving.

A Mediterranean roast vegetable salad can be made by roasting or grilling any of these: eggplant, zucchini, red onion, Roma or cherry tomatoes, red capsicum, asparagus, mushrooms and fennel. Again, these will last for a few days in the fridge so it is worth making a big batch. They are delicious as a side dish, or served with crumbled feta or grilled haloumi, salad greens and bread they can make a whole meal.

Potato salad

The simplest of potato salads can be made by boiling or microwaving potatoes, and combining them with finely chopped red onion or spring onions, some really good mayonnaise, and fresh herbs; mint, fennel or tarragon can give it an interesting twist. Or leave out the herbs and add a bit of curry powder instead.

If you want to make it more like a complete meal, any of the following can be added:

  • cooked orange sweet potato
  • chopped hard-boiled eggs
  • chopped capsicum
  • corn kernels
  • chopped green beans, raw or lightly steamed 


The watery mush served in fast food restaurants has spoiled coleslaw for many people, but a well-made fresh coleslaw draws compliments every time I serve it to friends. It tastes even better if made ahead, as the dressing softens the cabbage and the flavours mingle. You can use the classic drumhead cabbage, but for a tastier version use savoy cabbage or radicchio/red cabbage (or a mix of both); if you prefer a milder cabbage taste opt for Chinese cabbage. 

The basis for coleslaw is very finely sliced cabbage, grated carrot and finely chopped red onion, mixed with a good-quality mayonnaise or coleslaw dressing. Any of the following can be added for extra deliciousness:

  • sliced celery
  • diced red capsicum
  • finely chopped green beans
  • pine nuts, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds 
  • dried thyme and/or oregano
  • fresh herbs; try tarragon, fennel leaves or basil for added zing!

I hope this list inspires you to experiment with salad ideas. I'd love to hear of any brilliant creations you invent! 

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