Too often, the salad is considered a delicate dish, not able to go the distance or withstand the heat. Sometimes it is relegated into the realms of merely a side dish or worse, a token garnish.
Sure, many salads need to be consumed straight away for fear of slimy lettuce languishing in a pool of vinaigrette or brown avocado.
However, there is a whole other world of salads that can not only stand the test of time but can even get better the longer they sit. Salads that might also be bold enough to take centre stage at your picnic spread.
Sustainable and Lightweight Picnic Accessories
Don’t let life deal you a soggy salad. These simple picnic salad tips will help you navigate a world where salads not only rule the picnic feast, some mature like fine wine, becoming more delicious with time like this Asian coleslaw.
Tips for Salads That Travel Well
Choose Your Greens Wisely
Choose salad greens that don’t have to be added at the last minute for fear of perishing against other ingredients.
Steer away from leaf lettuce such as, romaine, iceberg, butter lettuce or those delightful mesclun mixes that don’t stand a chance when pre-prepared.
Even my favourite, arugula, especially baby arugula, will struggle under the wrong conditions. Rule of thumb – steer clear of young, micro, or baby greens.
Head for robust greens such as curly kale, Swiss chard, spinach – baby spinach is ok but not too young. You want nice thick waxy leaves.
Curly kale is so robust it almost needs to be marinated in its salad juices for optimum tenderness. The longer you leave it in a vinaigrette, the better it gets.
When buying dark meaty greens, be mindful of buying the pre-cut leaves in the packaging they have in supermarkets. Other than not being eco friendly, they are often already on their way out as soon as you open them so check use-by dates if you must go this route. These packaged salad leaves are also washed in chlorine before packaging.
If possible, choose fresh bunches for longer-lasting leaves which are ultimately better for you.
Choose Your Vegetables Wisely
If preparing in advance, opt for whole cherry tomatoes over chopped. However, greens such as kale will relish the thought of bathing in the sweet acidic juices of chopped tomatoes.
Sun or semi-dried tomatoes are also a great early addition to any salad. They slowly rehydrate in the salad imparting their own flavours.
Crunchy and hardy veg such as radishes, carrots, beetroot, fennel, cabbage, and even cucumber will hold up well in make-ahead salads. Our Quinoa beet salad with carrot is testament to this.
Add Blanched Salad Veg
Vegetables such as broccoli, beans and peas are a great addition to a salad when quickly blanched and chilled and don’t mind a soak in a good dressing.
Choose a Hardy Salad Foundation
Not all salads have to be built on luscious leaves. Go for grain salads such as quinoa, farro, rice or bulgar.
Chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils make the basis for great picnic salads as does cabbage, beetroot, pumpkin and potatoes.
These kinds of salads are often best made in advance as they get better with time.
You can always stir some greens such as spinach or arugula though at the last minute or add a final sprinkle of crushed nuts or feta cheese.
Dress for Success
Avoid creamy dressings wherever possible. (Coleslaw and potato salad may be the only exception to this rule)
Stick with vinaigrette style dressings and put the required spin on it by adding fresh herbs & spices.
There is no doubt, soaking hardy greens in vinaigrettes will often be advantageous (as in the case of kale) but can also be added last minute, perhaps in the case of spinach or arugula, knowing your other wet ingredients haven’t killed your gorgeous greens leaves.
You can also go with salads that don’t need a dressing like our spiced pumpkin quinoa salad. A worst, you may wish to add a drizzle of olive oil as a preference.
Sensible Picnic Salad Storage Accessories
These stylish 2 in 1 containers (16 oz | 450 gm and 21.5 oz | 610 gm) are perfect for picnic salads. Triple-Layered Vacuum-Insulation keeps salads cold for hours and they can double as a serving bowl. They come in a range of gorgeous colours and designs to suit your picnic style. See here for more tips on how to keep food cold for a picnic.
Save the Best Till Last
Don’t be scared to hold some ingredients back until the last. It would be sad to deprive your salad of a salty sprinkle of feta, some creamy burrata, or a few slices of fresh avocado for fear of them not holding their own.
Make your base salad and leave the delicate trimmings until later. Combine your hardy greens, veg – cooked or raw, cooked grains, hard cheeses (shaved parmesan gets better in a salad with time), nuts, or grilled meats at will and allow them to work their magic. Even certain croutons can benefit from a soak in the salad bowl.
Leave things like soft cheeses or avocado to be added to last. If you don’t trust it to go the distance, add it later. You’ve done the hard work with your base so it won’t be a chore.
Don’t add salt to your salad until you are ready to serve. Salt draws water from vegetables, especially lettuce leaving it soggy and lacklustre.
Make Your Salad at the Picnic
If you want to opt for a lighter, more delicate salad or don’t have the time to pre prepare, make your salad there.
Chop and prepare your salad ingredients and place into small reusable zip lock bags to keep them fresh and crisp. Once you arrive at your picnic place of choice, simply assemble in situ. Ou deliciously elegant smoked duck, fig & grilled pear salad is a great one for this. Prepare the day before and pull it together on the day – so simple. Always remember, picnicking should be a simple pleasure, never a chore.