With the warmer weather already here, I often don’t want to cook. My go-to is to make salads that include protein, even if it’s just a can of tuna dumped on top.
But putting just a bit of thought into a full-meal salad can result in something really wonderful.
And because we’re in the tropics, we can easily add things like mangos, papaya, fresh or dried coconut, avocado and shrimp.
There’s actually a basic formula that will make your salads look and taste like something you’d order in a restaurant and not leave you hungry in an hour.
- First, choose your base: greens or grains. Using a mix of either adds texture, flavor and eye appeal, or just stick to one. Cooked grains like quinoa, couscous or brown rice add bulk (and B vitamins!). And of course, there’s always pasta — either as the main ingredient or in a more supporting role.
- Be generous with fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill, or basil and some edible flowers or microgreens (different than sprouts).
- Think about adding some veggies: raw, grilled or pickled; cut into matchsticks; julienned; spiral-cut or in bite-size wedges or chunks.
- Fresh or dried fruit adds a burst of sweetness, color and flavor — just don’t add too much. Slivered avocado, any kind of berries, thin-sliced apple or pear, tiny cubes of mango, papaya or fresh coconut meat from the vendor at the beach (which can be sautéed in a bit of coconut oil for added deliciousness) will all add pizazz to any bowl of greens.
- You also want some “crunch.” Think nuts (always toasted!), croutons (super easy to make in a skillet with some olive oil) or seeds, toasted or raw. Again, don’t overdo it; these are accents, not the main actors in the show.
- Now for the protein! Fish (grilled, poached or smoked). Cheese (soft and crumbled, hard and grated or sliced paper-thin. Eggs, hard-boiled or poached. Don’t forget about cooked or canned beans — garbanzos are especially tasty sautéed in a little oil, salted and then added just before serving so they stay crisp.
- A homemade salad dressing will always taste better than store-bought; my trick is to make it first, or even the day before, so it’s done. Choose a vinaigrette or creamy style, depending on your salad ingredients. A vinaigrette is good for more delicate greens and ingredients, while a rich, creamy dressing works best for heartier salads.
Chilled Shrimp and Creamy Dill Salad
- Zest from 1 lemon, plus juice
- 1 cup white wine or rice vinegar
- 3 Tbsp. sugar
- 3 Tbsp. salt, plus more
- 1¼ lb. jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 white onion, slivered
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 3 Tbsp. minced fresh dill, plus more
- 1 head Boston, Bibb or baby Romaine lettuce
Combine zest, vinegar, sugar, 3 Tbsp. salt and 6 cups water in a large pot; squeeze in juice from 1 lemon half. Bring to boil, remove from heat, add shrimp. Let sit about 3 minutes till shrimp are cooked through. Drain. Cool in freezer about 10 minutes.
Combine shrimp, celery, onion, cream and 3 Tbsp. dill in large bowl; squeeze in juice from remaining lemon half. Season with salt. Toss gently. Arrange lettuce on platter, spoon shrimp mixture on top, sprinkle with dill.
Chicken in the Tropics
- 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ⅓ cup lime juice
- ½ cup chili garlic sauce OR 3 garlic cloves and 1 serrano chile, minced
- 4 cups shredded cooked chicken
- 2 mangos, diced
- 2 avocados, diced
- 1 cup sliced almonds, chopped roasted peanuts OR cacahuates Japones
- 1 (10 oz.) package spring lettuce mix
In a saucepan over medium-high heat, mix brown sugar and water. (Add fresh garlic and serrano chile at this point, if using.) Bring to a boil. Pour into medium-sized bowl.
Stir in garlic chili sauce and lime juice; set aside. In large bowl, toss chicken, mangos and avocados.
Arrange salad mix on serving plates; top with chicken mixture. Pour dressing over all, sprinkle with peanuts/almonds, and serve.
Apple Couscous Salad
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 cup couscous
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 Gala apple
- 1 Granny Smith apple
- ¼ cup fresh lemon/lime juice
- 2 Tbsp. minced shallot
- 4 oz. feta cheese
- ¼ cup. toasted pine nuts
- ¼ cup fresh mint, chopped
- 1 tsp. oregano
- Black pepper
Cook couscous as directed on package; set aside. Core and thinly slice both apples. In large bowl, toss apples and 2 Tbsp. citrus juice. Add shallot and couscous. Transfer apple mixture to serving dish; top with feta and pine nuts. In food processor or blender, pulse mint, oregano and remaining lemon juice until finely chopped. Stream in oil until blended. Season with pepper. Drizzle over salad, gently toss and serve.
Steak and Potato Salad
- 1 lb. small new potatoes, halved
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tsp. canola oil
- 1¼ lb. New York strip steak
- 5 cups arugula OR mixed baby lettuces
- 2 scallions, sliced
- ¼ cup fresh dill, parsley or cilantro
- 3 oz. goat cheese, crumbled (about ¾ cup)
- Dijon Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Cook potatoes in salted water until tender but firm. Drain. In a bowl, toss with ⅓ cup vinaigrette. Let sit, stirring occasionally.
Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Season steak with salt and pepper. Cook, partially covered, until medium-rare, 5–7 minutes per side or to desired degree of doneness. Remove from heat; rest 5 minutes before slicing.
Mix greens, scallions, fresh herbs and goat cheese; arrange on plates, add potatoes and steak. Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve.
Vinaigrette: Whisk together ¼ cup olive oil, 2 Tbsp. red wine or champagne vinegar, 1½ tsp. Dijon mustard, 1 minced garlic clove and ¾ tsp. sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- 8 slices bacon
- 2-4 pieces bread (any kind), for croutons
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice
- Salt and pepper
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- Pinch sugar
- Small handful of chives
- 2 Romaine hearts
- 1 lb. tomatoes, in bite-size wedges OR 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 avocado, sliced
Cook bacon in oven or toaster oven; drain on paper towels. Reserve pan with bacon fat.
Cut crusts off bread; discard. Tear bread into irregular 1-inch pieces to make 2 lightly packed cups. Scatter bread on reserved baking sheet; toss with tongs until evenly coated in bacon fat. Bake croutons at 425 F, stirring once, until pieces are golden and crisp, 10–15 minutes. Cool.
Whisk together mayonnaise and citrus juice. Add salt and pepper. Whisk in oil until dressing is thick and emulsified. Add pinch of sugar and 2 Tbsp. minced chives; set aside. Cut remaining chives into 1-inch pieces.
Arrange lettuce on platter or individual plates. Drizzle with a third of dressing. Scatter tomatoes, avocado and croutons on top. Break bacon into rough 1-inch pieces and distribute over salad. Drizzle with remaining dressing and chives.
Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. A retired journalist, she has lived in Mexico since 2006.