Meatless Monday – Composed Salad


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What is a composed salad?  It is a salad that has been artfully arranged and drizzled with vinaigrette rather than tossed.  Why, you might ask, would you go to the trouble to arrange your veggies instead of just tossing everything together?  Well the obvious answer is aesthetics.  Composed salads elevate what would otherwise be a simple salad into  an artistic centerpiece.  The other benefit is that each ingredient maintains it’s integrity so you can taste each individual flavor.  Of course it all ends up mixed together eventually but each person gets to ‘create’ their own personal salad by hand picking from the tray of goodies.  Composed salads are usually hearty enough to be main courses, think Cobb Salad, but the possibilities are endless.  If you don’t have a rectangular tray, go circular like this Rainbow Chopped Salad by Fueled By Vegetables.

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You can even take the vertical or 3D approach like this layered Southwestern salad from Kitchen Excursions

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I love composed or arranged salads, perhaps for the same reason I like to stack food and make edible ‘towers’ like my Crab Quinoa Tower or Polenta Towers. It must be the wanna be artist hidden deep inside me. Don’t worry I’m sticking to food. I recently went to my friend, Nicole’s birthday party where we  attempted learned to paint flowers and owls. Lets just say that my sad little flower went quite happily to it’s demise in the dumpster. I guess my artistry only goes so far…

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My friends know that I rarely make the exact same salad twice, but I do use the same techniques over and over again, changing the ingredients to use what I have on hand or meet the situation. If I need a main course salad, I use heartier ingredients like chopped egg, beans and avocado to fill up hungry bellies. For a side salad I might do a combination of veggies and fruit with just a sprinkle of feta or goat cheese. The beauty of a composed salad is that it is visually striking and completely flexible.  Just layer the bottom of a wide container with greens and top with rows of any vegetables (or fruit), beans, cheese or nuts that you would normally put in a salad.  Voila, you have a visual feast!  It’s not more work, it just looks like it.

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The amounts will vary depending on the size of your tray or bowl (A low platter works better than a deep bowl).  Amounts listed here are what I used for this particular salad in a 14×14 square tray.  Round works too, just put the ingredients you want the most of in the center rows, arrange them in triangles or concentric circles like a bullseye.  In arranging the rows, take advantage of the variations in color to provide a contrast.  I also put the cheese and egg on the sides so they are easier to avoid for those that are allergic or don’t eat them.  Be creative!  Use beets, artichoke, hearts of palm, strawberries, nuts or raisins.  Adding grains like quinoa or rice help make it a hearty main course.

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Composed Salad

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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 5-6 oz mixed lettuce
1 cup cooked, or 1 can garbanzo or black beans, drained and rinsed
2 large, ripe tomatoes, diced
1 large avocado, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
3 hard boiled eggs, diced (optional)
3 oz feta, crumbled

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  • Spread a layer of lettuce to cover the bottom of the container

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  • Arrange each diced vegetable in rows, taking care to put allergens like cheeses and eggs on the outer rows.

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  • Drizzle with your favorite vinaigrette or mix up a simple fresh one by whisking together 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 Tbsn balsamic vinegar, 1/2 tsp dry mustard, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper.  Serve with more dressing on the side.

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