• Posted by Califia Suntree on July 22nd, 2014, 1:25 PM

    It goes without saying that there is no better time than summer to make and eat salads—cool, refreshing, requiring no heat to prepare, and light enough to keep you feeling good. Salads are particularly welcome at lunchtime in the hotter times of year, but lunch salads also present a huge challenge. Namely, the dreaded limp lettuce syndrome, combined with leaky tomato-itis, browning and pervasive sog. For my forthcoming book, Bring Your Lunch!, I tested countless systems and ingredients for lunch salads, and came up with a few hard truths. It’s easy and quick to make salads for lunch, but you do have to follow the rules. Here’s what I learned, plus an easy, lunch-friendly salad to try.

    * Get your container dialed. You need a spacious, leak-proof container plus a teeny one to put in there that holds your dressing, if you are needing to dress last-minute (more on that later). I mostly avoid plastic (just in case!) and use either a lightweight stainless steel or glass container with a snap lid; for dressing I like a baby food jar or a 4-ounce canning jar.

    * Keep it cold: The enemy of crispness is warmth. If you have a standard-length commute, throw your container and an ice pack into an insulated bag (there are oodles, but I love the classic/classy Gourmet Getaway Tote by Built). If it will be more than an hour, or if you don’t have a fridge at work, you’ll need a legit cooler. (How cute is this mini Playmate?!)

    * Forget lettuce. If you are dressing in the morning and eating mid-day, which is greatly more convenient than transporting salad dressing, you can’t make that arugula and tomato salad with balsamic vinaigrette. It will be inedible, watery mess after 4-6 hours. What you need is a salad base that withstands–nay, welcomes–marination. Raw kale or chard, green or red cabbage (my personal favorite), mature spinach, fennel and Brussels sprouts are rather potent freshly shredded, but delightful after a few hours soaking in salad dressing. And who says it has to be leafy? Build your salad on shredded carrots, beets, shaved raw zucchini, or grains. (This farro salad from Tasting Table would make a superb gourmet lunch.) On days that you simply must have a tender pile of raddichio, baby spinach, or red-leaf, tote the dressing separately (see above).

    * Sliced tomatoes and avocados get gross. But that doesn’t mean you have to eschew them entirely, just think ahead (that goes for all your toppings). Consider whole grape tomatoes instead, or bring that tomato or whole avocado to work in a rigid, airtight container and slice it come lunchtime. Lean towards salad fixings that taste good, rather than compromised, when soaked in dressing: nuts, cubed hard cheeses and cooked meats, citrus, roasted vegetables, raw corn, big chunks of cucumber (not wimpy slices). But leave the raw onions for dinner, for the sake of workplace civility.

    Here’s a salad to try that’s my current lunch favorite. This is an excellent use for grapefruit that is a bit past its prime and a little dry. Wrap 1/2 an avocado tightly in plastic wrap or put it in an airtight container for transport; cube it at the last minute, right before eating. The Toasted Sesame dressing is a preview recipe from Bring Your Lunch!

    Cabbage, Grapefruit & Avocado Salad with Toasted Sesame Dressing

    Makes 1 serving

    1 1/2 cups thinly shredded cabbage (red or green)

    1/2 large ruby red grapefruit, pith removed, in segments

    1/2 avocado

    2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

    2 tablespoons Toasted Sesame dressing (below), or to taste

    1. In your airtight container, combine the cabbage, grapefruit and sunflower seeds. Drizzle with dressing, seal and shake vigorously. Keep chilled until ready to eat (up to 5 hours).

    2. At lunchtime, cube the avocado and toss it gently with the salad.

    Toasted Sesame Dressing

    Makes 1 cup

    ¼ cup apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar

    1 tablespoon soy sauce

    2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

    1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

    Pinch of red pepper flakes

    2 teaspoons honey

    ½ teaspoon garlic powder

    ½ teaspoon ground ginger (or 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh)

    ½ cup vegetable oil (not olive)


    Whisk the ingredients together until smooth and emulsified, or shake vigorously in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator (it will keep up to a month). Store in the refrigerator in an airtight glass container. Shake before using.


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