The Accidental Nutritionist

3 Eaters, 1 Mission

Garden Salad with Variations

Salads do not have to be boring. Below we include the basics to get you started, and inspiration to point you towards the endless variety of meals you can build off this simple starting place.

(Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash)

Base Salad Hands-On Time: 10-15 minutes // Time from start to finish: 10-15 minutes + Variation Time

(AND Diet, Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Paleo, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Vegan, Vegetarian)

Ingredient List: Greens (examples: spinach, baby kale, arugula, romaine), Vegetables (examples: cucumbers, carrots, celery, sweet peppers)


We all get the salad concept, right? I mean, at its most basic. 

Start with greens of some kind. I vary between different blends of greens (one of my biggest time savers is snagging a box of prewashed mixed greens instead of getting the different lettuce varieties individually), but this week I went with a mix of baby spinach, baby chard, and baby kale. 

Add a layer of chopped veggies of your choosing. I like to cut the veggies on the smaller side. Drew usually helps with the prep and she does it a little different every time which is a great way to mix up the experience of having a salad, texturally speaking.

For Charlie, we keep the base veggies simple: carrots (she can only have a few), celery (again, only a few because her mouth goes numb when she has too many), and cucumbers. Occasionally some sweet peppers, too, when we have some, but they’re not Charlie’s favorite, so they’re mostly for visual appeal.

For the dressing:

I make dressings from scratch every time, and they’re always a little different. This time I was trying to hit a flavor note that would work with the salad by itself or with either of the variations below.

Whisk a good olive oil with cabernet vinegar, Dijon mustard, freshly chopped garlic (or garlic powder, if that’s what you have), and add dried savory, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, dill, marjoram, sage, tarragon, and a dash of salt. 

Variation 1: Pinto Beans

Additional Time: 5 minutes

(AND Diet, Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Vegan, Vegetarian)

Ingredient List: Canned Pinto Beans, Yellow Onion, Olive Oil, Mexican Oregano, Chili Powder or Cayenne Pepper (optional)

Rinse a can of pinto beans. 

Dice ¼ of a yellow onion and cook with a little olive oil until translucent and fragrant. (I did this when I was prepping for the white beans to go with the Portuguese Pork. I diced ½ an onion and cooked it, then took ½ out for my pinto beans.

Add the cooked onion to the pinto beans, add Mexican oregano, and toss together. Charlie can’t do spice, but if you can, I would add a bit of chili powder or even a dash of cayenne pepper.

Add to the salad!

Variation 2: Tuna Salad

Additional Time: 5 minutes

(AND Diet, Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Pescatarian)

Ingredient List: Canned Tuna Fish or Salmon, Cucumber, Olive Oil, Citrus Champagne Vinegar, Dijon Mustard, Basil, Oregano, Parsley

Dump a can of high-quality tuna or salmon into a bowl and loosen it with a fork. I use the ones packed with water, and I drain them partially first—but not all the way; a little moisture is good.

Finely dice around ⅓ of a cucumber and 1 stalk of celery (sometimes I choose just one or the other and double it) and fold into the fish. 

Add olive oil, citrus champagne vinegar, Dijon mustard, basil, oregano, and parsley. Mix well.

Add to the salad!

Variation 3: Lemon Chicken Salad

(Pic by Jamie)

Additional Time: 20 minutes

(AND Diet, Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Paleo, Specific Carbohydrate Diet)

Ingredient List: Chicken Breasts, Celery, Red Onion, Lemon, Citrus Champagne Vinegar, Olive Oil, Dijon Mustard, Thyme, Parsley, Salt

Slice chicken breasts into strips and add salt, lemon zest, and juice.

Bake at 350F for 8-10 minutes, then sear in a hot cast iron pan—just for a few minutes until you get a little caramelization. 

Dice a few stalks of celery and about ⅛ of a red onion (per 2 chicken breasts). 

Chop the chicken finely and fold them together, adding the citrus champagne vinegar, olive oil (use the good stuff here!), Dijon mustard, thyme, parsley, and salt to taste.

Variation 4: Seared Ginger Chickpeas

Additional Time: 10 minutes

(AND Diet, Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Vegan, Vegetarian)

Ingredient List: Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans, Olive Oil, Ground Ginger, Ground Coriander, Garlic Powder, Salt

I often go for richer flavors when making seared chickpeas, but I wanted to give Charlie something different, so when I went lighter and brighter.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Drain a can of chickpeas and add to the pan. 

Toss quickly to fully coat the chickpeas in a thin coating of olive oil.

Let brown briefly, tossing frequently, before adding ground ginger, dried ground coriander, garlic powder, and salt. 

Let the chickpeas stay on the heat, tossing frequently until toasted and crispy.

Variation 5: Three Bean Salad

Additional Time: 5-10 minutes

(AND Diet, Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Vegan, Vegetarian)

Ingredient List: Green Beans, Kidney Beans, Chickpeas, Red Onion, Balsamic Vinegar (from Italy), Cabernet/Red Wine Vinegar, Citrus Champagne/White Wine Vinegar, Parsley, Salt

The traditional Three Bean Salad uses apple cider vinegar and sugar to create its classic flavor profile.

Sugar not being an option, I took a different route. 

Blanche green beans for a few minutes in boiling water until bright green. I used frozen because that’s what I had, feel free to use fresh, broken into 1-½ in pieces. 

Thinly slice about ⅛ of a red onion (I use this amount or less for Charlie, feel free to use more).

Pull the green beans out of the water and add to a bowl with drained kidney beans and chickpeas, and the sliced red onion.

Season with salt, parsley, and equal amounts of cabernet/red wine vinegar, citrus champagne/white wine vinegar, and real, good balsamic vinegar from Italy with no additives. (This is important because in the US they just add sugar to “save time,” but our bodies process it differently.)

Variation 6: Smokey Salmon Salad

Additional Time: 5 minutes

(AND Diet, Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Pescatarian)

Ingredient List: Canned Salmon (pay attention to labeling regarding mercury), Cabernet/Red Wine Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar (from Italy), Cumin, Smoked Paprika, Olive Oil, Mustard (Dijon or Stone Ground), Salt

Drain the salmon juice, but make sure it isn’t dried out. Mash into a consistent texture. Add the cabernet/red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and mustard of your choice (I used dijon for Charlie, but would use black truffle stone-ground mustard for myself), cumin, and smoked paprika. 

Stir to combine, then add olive oil, salt, and more of any of the above ingredients to get the flavor/texture combo just right!

For extra crunch, celery, carrots, fennel, or cucumbers will all play well here.

Variation 7: Spicy Broccoli Dip

Additional Time: 25-30 minutes

(AND Diet, Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Paleo, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Vegan, Vegetarian)

Ingredient List: Broccoli, Red Onion, Garlic, Cumin, Chili Con Carne, Cilantro, Olive Oil, Salt

Chop a head of broccoli into floret size pieces and steam over boiling water until fork tender (a little more than if you were making cauliflower rice).

Dump into a food processor and blitz until getting smooth, then add about ⅛ of a red onion, a clove or two of garlic, cumin, chili con carne, and cilantro, and blitz again. Drizzle in some olive oil and sprinkle in some salt (and pepper, for those of us who like it) to get the flavor just right. 

To use as a dressing, thin it out a bit with water or olive oil. You can also use it as a sauce or a dip. Cold or warm—however you like.

Variation 8: Crispy Green Beans

Additional Time: 15 minutes

(AND Diet, Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian)

Ingredient List: Green Beans, Olive Oil, Garlic Powder, Salt

Toss in olive oil, salt, and garlic powder, and air fry at 400F for 10 minutes.

Variation 9: Cumin Black Beans

Additional Time: 5 minutes

(AND Diet, Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Vegan, Vegetarian)

Ingredient List: Black beans (low sodium), Cumin, Epazote

Drain, rinse, and toss the black beans with cumin and epazote.

Variation 10: Citrus Cannellini Beans

Additional Time: 5 minutes

(AND Diet, Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Vegan, Vegetarian)

Ingredient List: Cannellini beans (low sodium), Lemon, Herbs de Provence

Drain, rinse, and toss the cannellini beans with freshly squeezed lemon juice and herbs de Provence.

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