Salads without Lettuce:

Don't Like Making Salads? Try a Salad without the Lettuce

by Josh Day

Let's be honest for a moment.

Raw vegetable salads. They're not the most fun thing to make, especially when you've been cooking for an hour or more and have prepared a main course and several sides. I know after I've been making a meal for a couple hours the last thing I want to do is break out the cutting board, wash and scrub and then peel some vegetables, and then go to town chopping.

Fortunately, I discovered a trick to escape the doldrums of salad making.

Before I share my secret, here's a recipe for your standard salad, with all the frills:

1 head of Romaine lettuce, torn
1 kale leaf, julienned
Handful or two of baby spinach leaves
1 large carrot, chopped
1 radish, chopped wafer-thin
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cucumber or zucchini, sliced finely
1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
4-6 sweet basil leaves, torn

1 medium onion, cut intro strips
Extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar, to taste
Celtic sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Dried oregano or Italian seasoning, to taste

Mix all ingredients together in large bowl. Add olive oil and vinegar and season. Stir thoroughly (two bowls together works great for shaking).

Let's simply things and remove the lettuce and spinach. This will save time and effort; no rinsing the leaves and tearing them up.

It's a funny thing, making a salad without lettuce. Almost like making ice cream without ice. However, you'll find lettuce is not a foundation of the salad, unlike the ice in ice cream. And this revelation will open up all kinds of possibilities.

While we're removing the lettuce, let's also remove another key ingredient: the carrot. Only recently have I realized I absolutely hate carrots in their raw form. They're too crunchy and after a few bites they turn me off to the entire salad. I don't think I'll make a raw salad with carrots ever again, in fact.

And you don't want to get me started on pure carrot juice.

I do enjoy cooking with carrots, especially when they make up a base of a dish. This trinity is prevalent through cooking, and it's even got a name: mirepoix. More on that in a future article.

Here's a basic recipe for a refreshing, raw, and lettuce-free salad:

Easy Chopped Salad

1 cucumber
1 large red tomato
1 red onion
1 green bell pepper
3 Tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Chop veggies into tiny cubes and toss with oil and lemon juice. Add a dash of sea salt and pepper to finish.

Well, it doesn't get easier than that, does it?

To make things even easier, track down a quality food chopper, like the one I've written about here.

Here's a list of veggies and herbs I like to have on hand for lettuce-less salads. Some are pretty exotic, but trust me, they make for some good eats. I start with those that I use more prominently.

  • Onions (red and sweet onions are my favorite raw)
  • Tomatoes
  • Green onions
  • Parsley
  • Green bell pepper
  • Red bell pepper
  • Cilantro
  • Radishes
  • Cucumbers
  • Celery
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Fresh corn
  • Avocados
  • Tomatillos (little green Mexican tomatoes with a husk)
  • Turnips

You can add pretty much any of those to our easy chopped salad above. Try experimenting with the basic recipe until you find flavors you love.

My favorite cuisine is Mexican food, so here are a couple Mexican inspired sautéed and fresh salads.

Southwestern Corn Salad

1 1/2 cups corn kernels, raw
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 Jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
3 Tbs chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbs olive oil

Dice veggies to about twice the size of corn kernels. Heat olive oil in skillet under medium low heat. Add everything but cilantro and lime juice. Cook until the corn softens. Add fresh cilantro and lime juice, tossing rigorously.

Pico de Gallo

4-6 plum tomatoes, deseeded
1 red onion
1/2 Jalapeno, deseeded (or a whole one if you want it HOT)
1 cucumber
Juice of one lime
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

The best way to make pico de gallo is in a vegetable chopper. But you can slice the vegetables manually too; just be prepared to spend half an hour getting everything minced.

Chop all vegetables as finely as you can.

Cut Jalapeno in half and remove seeds. The seeds are the true source of the pepper's heat and can overpower the pico de gallo.

Squeeze the lime, add the garlic and cilantro, and season to taste. Stir well and let sit in the refrigerator for an hour before serving.

Some folks don't care for the soapy taste of cilantro. Personally, I love it and can't get enough. You can always substitute Italian parsley -- never curly parsley which is bitter and only used as garnish.

We can't talk about Mexican salads without mentioning salsa.

And you know what salsa is? It's salad in sauce form!

Fresh Salsa Salad

4-6 on-the-vine tomatoes, quartered
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
1 Jalapeno pepper, deseeded (or 1 Tbs Jalapeno from a jar)
1/4 tsp sea salt

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.

This "salad" can obviously be a dip for chips but can also coat raw radishes, turnips, carrots, and celery.

Speaking of sauce, let's discuss dressings for a moment.

My favorite dressing is simply a sprinkling of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You can also make your own dressings. Try the above salsa as a dressing on a salad and you'll be in for a treat.

Here's yet another Mexican recipe:

Veranilla's Cilantro Sauce

1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and destemmed (ideally you want just the leaves)
1 28 oz can tomatillos, drained
1/2 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 Tbs sour cream
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
1 tsp jarred Galapagos

Toss everything into a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. You may add more sour cream if desired.

This sauce goes great on bitter and onion-based salads. It's perfect for the salad below.

Josh's Bitter Salad

1 bunch radishes, leaves and roots, destimmed and rinsed well
1 turnip, peeled
1 red onion
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 cups parsley leaves
2 on-the-vine tomatoes
1 Tbs olive oil

Roughly tear radish leaves. Dice everything into cube-sized pieces, except garlic which should be finely minced. Sauté in pan with olive oil until vegetables give off a powerful aroma. Serve warm.

There are countless variations of salads you can make without lettuce. They all can be just as healthy and delicious. So next time you take down your cutting board and dread making a pre-dinner salad, why not skip the lettuce and try something different?

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