Thursday, January 9, 2014

Salad Additions On A Budget

We've been trying really hard to incorporate veggies as at least half of every meal.  And salads in the winter time seem such a luxury that we've been gobbling them up by the head-ful!  My biggest advice for saving money on salads is to buy heads of lettuce and prep it yourself at home.  A salad spinner helps you wash the lettuce, as well as keep it nice and fresh for up to 3 days in your refrigerator.  I've found that the bags or containers of lettuce simply don't keep well once you've opened them and we end up (even with as much salad as we eat) wasting some of it. 

Obviously for a punch of flavor, lettuce alone doesn't do it.  So, I like to add carrots, tomatoes (we buy some local grape tomatoes that have been tasty), red onion, and bell pepper.  But dressings can be where it starts to go downhill.  You want a dressing that is delicious, inexpensive and easy to make, but that doesn't overpower everything else.  For me personally that means a simple balsamic dressing I can whip up into an old dressing bottle and keep in the fridge.  Here's how I do it:
It looks a little off on the ratio because I already has some in the bottom.

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing 

• Olive Oil (You want to use a robust one, in my opinion)
• Balsamic Vinegar
• Onion Powder
• Salt
• Freshly ground pepper
• Herbs and/or spices, to your preference  (I like oregano lately, but herbes de provence works well)

Here's where it gets a little complicated and G tells me I'm worse than a little old lady.  It's hard to give exact measurements of the seasoning, because it's really to taste.  The most important rule is to do a 3:1 ration of olive oil to vinegar (no matter if you're making a red wine dressing, champagne dressing, or balsamic).  So, for my bottle of dressing, I pour in my olive oil, and then add in the vinegar to equal approximately 1/3 of the oil. (easier in a straight up and down bottle).  Then I add in the seasoning to taste, a little at a time until it tastes right.  It keeps easily in the fridge, but it never lasts long around here.  This dressing is also great on chicken, grilled veggies, and a caprese salad. 
We haven't been eating much carbohydrates with our main meal (we start out the day with slow cooker oatmeal), so I wanted croutons to add to the salad.  But if you've ever looked at most boxes of croutons you know the ingredients aren't usually the best, and any good ones seem pricey for how little you get (we'd need a bag of Trader Joe's croutons for 2-3 meals...and at $2.99 that seems a little ridiculous).  So instead, I've been making my own for years.  It's easy, tasty, and they make a ton from one loaf.  This recipe leaves me with a quart sized bag full, even after one meal. 
Croutons (for salad and soup)

• Loaf of ciabatta or a baguette, cut into 1/2 - 1 inch chunks.  (chunkier works better for soup)
• Olive oil
• Salt
• Oregano (or other seasoning, base it off your tastes)
• Onion powder (I like the way the powder seeps into the bread and flavors it)

Pre-heat oven to 375F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper for easy clean up.  Mix together the oil and seasoning, whisking to combine well.  Then pour over your bowl of bread chunks and mix with your hands, really making sure they are coated well.  Then spread on the lined baking sheet and bake for 10-20 minutes, checking for when it turns golden brown. 

So, two recipes to help improve your salad on a budget that always seem to get rave reviews.  I'd love to hear your suggestions for salad toppings, or if you have a great dressing recipe!  


  1. I think I'll give your salad dressing a try. Usually when I attempt a homemade vinaigrette
    it is bland, so I've been using a Newman's Own Caesar dressing. The champagne vinaigrette dressing from Trader Joe's is fairly tasty too.

    1. I've never tried the champagne vinaigrette from Trader Joes, but I do love their Greek Style Feta Dressing (that's actually what the bottle I now use originally held). Mine is a simple recipe (and is just as good without the onion powder or oregano). I also love a good dijon and red wine mix, so perhaps I'll have to write up that recipe soon!

  2. French ladies, besides being good at wearing scarves, are universally masters of the vinagrette and as I learned from my very chic scarf-wearing MIL, you NEVER use onion powder. Finely chopped shallots, my dear. Or, you grab a handful of chives from the kitchen garden and snip them into your salad.

    1. Wow, how condescending ("my dear?"). This blogger didn't say anything about trying to make the dressing as french as possible. Her recipe sounds delicious.

    2. Nicole, I think shallots are a great option! I've used them when I had them on hand. Chives currently would not do well in the artic east coast (actually a lot of herbs don't do well here once the cold hits....I need a greenhouse). This recipe is a simple one using things from a pantry. Personally, I'm fine with onion powder, because it's still better than the ingredients in store bought dressings! Thanks for the suggestion of chives though, I'd never have thought of them in the dressing and I'll have to try it this summer!

  3. A few days ago I made a vinaigrette similar to yours but I used raspberry balsamic vinegar. I took it to a dinner party and the hostess asked me to leave the remaining dressing (which I had intended to do anyway) and wanted the recipe. In other words, it was a hit. I like to add raisins or dried cranberries to salads.

  4. Your recipes sound wonderful and I've bookmarked this post to refer back to later. Thanks for sharing.