Weeknight Cooking

Why You Should Eat Salads from Mixing Bowls

October  7, 2014

As a defiant response to Sad Desk Lunches, the Food52 team works to keep our midday meals both interesting and pretty. Each week, we'll be sharing our happiest desk lunches -- and we want to see yours, too.

Today: Toss that salad in a big bowl -- you won't know what hit you.

Lunch salads seem like a great idea. They're easy to pack, light enough to prevent that afternoon slump, and healthy (well, most of the time). But it’s easy for a salad to go wrong, too -- with too little dressing, you end up with a pile of bland greens; too much, and you have salad soup. Moreover, salads can be hard to toss properly, difficult to eat while working, and messy. Who wants to end up with greens in their teeth and oil stains on their clothes?  

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More: Make better salads -- without a recipe.

Luckily, there’s a way to make your office salads far more enjoyable. I avoid a big mess by making my salads in large mixing bowls. I first picked up this tip while working at a restaurant, where all of the salads are mixed in big metal bowls before being plated. The size of the bowl allows you to toss the salad well so that each bite is thoroughly coated with dressing. It also helps distribute all of the ingredients evenly, so you don’t end up with a clump of cucumbers at the bottom of your salad. It's fun, too -- you can even use your hands to mix it all up!

Here's how to make the perfect office salad:

  • Start with your greens. I’m especially fond of escarole and soft butter lettuce, but anything will work here. Not into lettuce? Just skip it and focus on your other ingredients.

  • Toss in some other vegetables. I like to include something with crunch, like radishes, cucumbers, or fennel. If your fridge is looking pretty bare, grated raw carrots or beets can go a long way. Don’t have too many veggies? Fruit can be a great addition to salads -- especially peaches and plums in the summer and apples or pears in the winter.

  • Add some substance. A meal of just vegetables will leave you hangry, which is never pretty. To add richness, I toss in cheese, avocados, chopped nuts, or seeds. Chickpeas and other beans also add nice heft to salads.  
  • Pour on the dressing. If I’m feeling lazy, I’ll just drizzle olive oil and some good vinegar over the salad and hope that I get the ratio right. If you’re not confident with your guessing skills, I’d recommend mixing the dressing in a small bowl instead.

    Making dressing is a great way to use up little leftovers, too. Last night’s pesto easily becomes a vinaigrette -- you can even sneak in some spices (za'atar and smoked paprika are my favorites).  

  • Get tossing. Grab two big spoons (or your hands) and start mixing the salad. Once your salad looks dressed, taste a bite. Too oily? Add more vinegar or lemon. Too dry? Add more dressing. If you keep a bottle of good olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper at your desk, it’s easy to correct.  

Once your salad is perfect, eat it straight out of the bowl. It will be much more satisfying than that flimsy plastic container.  

Tell us: What salad stops you from being hangry?

Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Hillary Pollak

Written by: Hillary Pollak


Helene October 1, 2016
I have a big-14" plastic plate I keep at work for desserts that I bring in & share with the staff. On salad days, I toss my salad in it & eat from it.
mscate January 7, 2015
Kohlrabi coleslaw is my favourite salad since last summer http://atravellingcook.blogspot.com/2014/08/kohl-rabi-coleslaw.html
Andrea Y. January 7, 2015
Here's my salad-tossing secret: I use food-safe plastic gloves to toss. You can get 100 for a few bucks at Walmart. You get all the gentle detail of a hand-tossed salad without the embarrassing trip to the bathroom down the hall with vinaigrette dripping from your fingers.... You'd be amazed how often those gloves come in handy for other kitchen uses, too.
Laura415 October 13, 2014
Love my big a$$ Salads. I use the biggest mixing bowl I have. Fill 'er up:) Lately I've been loving lots of juicy Nappa cabbage julienned along with fresh mint, Thai basil and cilantro leaves. Add other veggies like carrot, green onion. The dressing is a delightful concoction of oil, rice vinegar with peanut butter, lime juice and coconut sugar among other herbs and spices. It's so refreshing on hot days. Plus the cabbage holds up to dressing a lot longer than lettuce.
SJ October 12, 2014
I start with arugula, then add bagged chopped broccoli mix (then chop again in the bowl with the arugula), add chopped red onion, dried cranberries, chopped boiled egg,, sunflower seeds, grape-size tomatoes.....top it off with poppy seed dressing. Mmmmmm mmmmm!
Melissa M. October 12, 2014
I love eating my salad from the bowl. For some reason it just sits right and makes you feel that you had a meal. Weird I know but that's how I feel.
Joanne T. October 8, 2014
Great tip! I've been doing this for the last month or so, and it makes it so much easier to eat than from a plate or plastic container. Right now I'm digging romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas (or hummus), sweet pepper, with a dressing of olive oil, lemon, and tahini.
Sarah S. October 7, 2014
I have started doing this lately. I end up with huge, awesome salads. Great way to use up extras and leftovers from the fridge!
Sam1148 October 7, 2014
My father's ritual salad he made was a big stainless bowl. The dressing went in first..and was made in the bowl. Salt and garlic clove where mashed together. Then oil, vinegar, mustard. Then fresh greens, onions, bell peppers from the garden and cheese cubes. Then tossed to coat each leaf.
Mark O. October 7, 2014
One great tip that I never see: don't dump the dressing right on the greens. Instead, spoon it around just inside the rim of the bowl and toss. This will prevent "hot spots" with lots of dressing on some of the salad and nothing on the rest.
Linda October 7, 2014
Chicken or salmon, bleu cheese crumbles, cranberries, spring mix, red onion, croutons, raspberry balsamic vinegar dressing. YUM!
emilyt October 7, 2014
I'm confused. Make the salad at home and then bring to the office… in a giant salad bowl?
Lauren K. October 13, 2014
We're lucky at Food52 -- we have a ton of big bowls in the test kitchen to steal. But at my old job, I used to keep a bowl at my desk that I didn't need at home. During the day, I kept apples in it -- but at lunchtime, it was my salad bowl. But, if all else fails, just try this out at home for dinner salads instead!
ARay October 15, 2014
A giant bowl is a vital thing to stash at the office to make a Not Sad Desk Lunch possible; the commenter below has another excellent suggestion of the huge glass bowl with a tight lid. Pyrex makes a good / cheap one that is easily found, I got mine at the grocery store behind my house. The post is great, but Emilyt's point is very well taken that a giant mixing bowl is not exactly packable. I *adore* Not Sad Desk Lunch and read them all the time, but just a note that they are often not written with any detail on how to make sure whatever you're doing isn't destroyed by the time you make it to work, and are written generally for people who have space to stash sea salt & condiments & mixing bowls, would be good to include more ideas for we floaters and temps :) Cheers!
cbforesman October 7, 2014
I pack my salads from the ground up in a glass bowl w/a fitted lid. On the bottom layer are all the veggies, cheese and dressing. The greens go on top so they don't get smashed. Croutons or toasted nuts go in a separate little ziplock. When it's time to eat I add the crunchies and shake it up to toss w/the dressing (lid on, of course.) Voila, dressed salad, one bowl.
Susan W. October 7, 2014
My most recent obsession is chopped salad for dinner. I make in and eat it from a large stainless bowl. I put whatever greens in (usually Greenleaf, arugula, romaine and kale) and add bell pepper strips, green onions, black olives..whatever sounds good. Then I use my pizza cutter, which I bought for chopped salads, and run it back and forth until it's all the size and texture that I like. Then I add things that I don't want chopped like cubed cheese, avocado, garbanzo beans and steak or roasted shrimp which I prefer to cut up myself with a knife. On goes whatever dressing sounds good at the moment and toss lightly but well. For some reason, I like an herby ranch with this salad. The one on this site is perfect. Another of my favorites is homemade mayo, balsamic vinegar, roasted garlic and basil.
Susan W. October 7, 2014
I forgot to add...I eat my chopped salads with my fancy, guest chopsticks.
AntoniaJames October 7, 2014
Sounds so delicious, all of it, Susan W! ;o)
AntoniaJames October 7, 2014
I always use a large salad bowl, too (but I transfer the well-tossed salad to a plate). My order of operations is slightly different. Put juicy vegetables in the bowl first, along with cheese, if using, and immediately top with half the salad dressing I think is the right amount. Then prep other veg and lettuce and put them, along with croutons, if using, on next. Let sit just like that until ready to toss. This lets the juices from the vegetables mix with/flavor the salad dressing. (If there's something else to do -- prepare drink, make toast, get out silverware, etc. -- I do it now, to give that process a bit more time.) When ready to eat, toss 33 times -- I cannot remember where I picked up that tip, but I'm pretty sure it's from someone who is French or who lived in France for a long time. Taste. Does it need more dressing? Drizzle on a tiny bit more and toss again. Sprinkle with salt if necessary and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Nuts and seeds go on last, with one final toss to distribute. ;o)
Susan W. October 7, 2014
Yours sounds so good too and I am going to toss 33 times when I make a non-chopped salad (it may be too much for an already well kneaded salad) forever just because I love the idea. :)