a beet salad with greens

Make That Salad a Meal

Leafy greens get their turn as the main-course attraction.

It may not be the first thing you think to eat on a midwinter night, but a salad layered with protein and other good-for-you ingredients makes for a delicious dish worth tossing up this season.

Creating a delicious salad—one that doubles as a dinnertime option—is a quick and easy way to add more variety to the table. “Salads are a great choice for a weeknight meal,” says John Taylor, a member of the Panera Bread® Food Team. “There’s no end to the combinations you can create.”

Start with the basics. A little planning and prep is all that’s required to turn a basic salad recipe into a satisfying meal. “For the base salad, I like to use a combination of greens,” says John. “Arugula, kale, spinach, romaine, cabbage, and field lettuce are just right for this time of year.” (See “John’s Base Salad” recipe)

Make it a meal. To your base salad, layer on ingredients from each of the following categories: protein, grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, herbs and seasonings, and accents (such as croutons, chips, or crispy noodles; a drizzle of flavored vinegar; or a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime).

“If you plan accordingly, you can stock your fridge and pantry with ready-to-use ingredients,” says John, “and also put your leftovers to good use.”

Here are three ideas to try at home

(each begins with John’s Base Salad recipe):

1.  A Taste of the Southwest: Layer John’s Base Salad with shredded chicken, black beans, corn, diced red and green peppers, and sliced avocado. Add a spoonful of your favorite salsa to each plate, and garnish with tortilla chips and lime wedges.

2.  Asian Seafood Salad: Top Salad with a serving of poached salmon or cooked shrimp. Add edamame, bean sprouts, shredded carrots, water chestnuts, snow peas, and baby corn. Garnish with chow mein noodles, sliced almonds, and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

3.  Going with the Grain: Add a serving of cooked grains (couscous, wheatberries, brown rice, or quinoa) to each salad plate. Top with tofu or tempeh, roasted root vegetables (sweet potato, butternut squash, carrots, and/or beets), dried cranberries, and pepitas.

“The beauty of these salad meals is that anything goes,” says John. “If you group flavors that complement each other, or those that simply belong together—like fresh roasted turkey and cranberries; or pears, blue cheese, and walnuts—you can substitute and improvise depending on what you happen to have on hand.”

A word of advice from John: “Keep your dressings simple and remember a little goes a long way. You want to use dressing to enhance the flavor of your salad without overpowering the ingredients.”