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Simple Elegant Salad for a Crowd

In the next two weeks, I'll need to bring salads to several parties (book club, birthday party and potluck.) I'm stumped for ideas that are easy for me to throw together yet looks really nice and appetizing. What's your favorite simple dressing and what are your favorite salads that people go wild over? Best lettuce mixes, cheese and other yummy things do you throw in?

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  1. I'm a huuuuuuge fan of baby romaine, thinly-sliced tart green apples, toasted walnuts, sliced green (or spring) onions, not-too-salty Feta, and lemony olive oil vinaigrette. Another nice, classic salad is avocado and sliced grapefruit with a chopped green-olive vinaigrette. And if you want to go all retro, layered salad: shredded iceberg, tomato cubes, bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, green onions, green bell pepper,frozen peas, and chopped egg: layer it in a straight-sided clear glass bowl. Now mix 1&1/2 c. good mayo with 1/2 c. shredded parmesan, and pour over top, sealing it completely. Refrigerate overnight; when ready to serve, toss well. People go crazy for this. Chopped panzanella salad (tomatoes, cukes, onions,cubed provolone cheese, basil, croutons, rough-chopped) tossed w/ vinaigrette is great served in hollowed out med. tomatoes.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mamachef

      I do the layered salad as well. I add a layer of diced celery and one of diced water chestnuts as well as they give it an extra crunch but don't use egg. My last layer is always the peas. I've also been know to add diced red pepper for color. For the topping, I spread on the mayo first just like you would icing, then a layer of parm, then sprinkle with about a tablespoon of sugar. I am always asked for the recipe and I never have any to take home.

      1. re: boyzoma

        I LOVE your additions, what a nice crunchy layer of munchable goodness. And you know, the sugar is a pretty brilliant touch. It would totally bring out the flavor of the parm without being overkill. And diced red pepper; I think I'd combine green and red just for another layer of contrast. And A good sharp grind of black pepper too, just before tossing. Yeah, baby.

        1. re: mamachef

          I've actually done all the different types of peppers. Depends on what is in my fridge. Sometimes it is a combo of red, green, yellow and orange. Good call on the grind of black pepper too. I usually have left that to the guests if they need it. But the best thing is being able to make this the day before. Sure saves time for the day of.

    2. Mamachef's suggestions are awesome. One of my favorites consists of mixed greens, chopped walnuts or pecans, chopped fresh mango, crabmeat, feta & a raspberry vinigarette. If you have wonderful fresh heirloom tomatoes, a simple caprese is always good.

      1. If you can still get good peaches, I highly suggest a salad of arugula and/or mixed baby lettuces, shaved red onion, seeded cukes and fresh sliced peaches with Vidalia vinaigrette; it's been my suummer go to salad. You can slice peaches just before serving.

        I also like to do a pasta salad with small pasta like shells, bow ties, etc. Roast off some tomatoes, onions & garlic for a vinaigrette. Toss pasta with frozen & thawed peas, blanched broccoli, grated carrot, diced seeded cukes, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped raw onion, thinly sliced celery, some shredded smoked gouda and the tomato vinaigrette. Serve in a pretty bowl lined with lettuce.

        Finally, a lot of people love my Caribbean Coconut Jerk Chicken Salad with Sweet Potatoes... Season chicken breasts with jerk seasoning blend & grill then cool & thinly slice or dice. Peel, dice & simmer sweet potatoes until fork tender then drain & cool. Toss the sweet potatoes & chicken with diced celery, cilantro, red bell peppers, red onions and a coconut vinaigrette. Garnish with lightly toasted coconut & cilantro.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Cherylptw

          OK, Cheryl, your meals are always amazing, but you're killing me with that Caribbean Coconut Jerk Chicken Salad with Sweet Potatoes -- would you mind posting proportions/instructions? Thanks!

          1. re: Cherylptw

            Cheryl how do you make your coconut vinaigrette. I would like to make this for a Christmas Dinner next week.

          2. I love a great panzanella but prefer mine to be tomatoes, celery, cilantro, shaved parm, red onion and stale bread cubed - dressed with fresh squeezed lemon juice and olive oil. Many times will also add chopped port mushrooms, left over corn off the cob, shaved carrots for lil more color.

            One day (when my kitchen is done) I want to hold a big potluck where everyone just brings a salad - I just love them and find they can be so diverse. I also enjoy a great couscous salad loaded with roasted veggies.

            I think it's epicurious that has a fantastic grilled salad, and dressing to die for:

            1. Make a cherry tomato and green bean salad with some light salad dressing of rice wine vinegar, lime juice, EVOO and some diced garlic (with s/p to taste).

              The color contrast between the tomatoes (red) and the beans (green) makes a stunning presentation, and if you use a deft touch with the salad dressing the herbal flavors of the beans and sweet/tartness of the tomatoes really play off each other like a well-orchestrated Mozart symphony.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Second this....especially if you still have access to multi-colored tomatoes to throw into the mix!

                Also, I'll often use lemon juice instead of lime, and add in the lemon zest so that lovely yellow bits are running throughout. You may want to add a drop of honey to the dressing if the tomatoes seem overly acidic.

                1. re: 4Snisl

                  I've made this salad with grilled corn, thinly sliced red onions and nectarines with the Caesar vinaigrette I posted below. DE-LIC-IOUS! A truly beautiful summer farmer's market salad.

              2. Perhaps this is a little too simple, but have you considered a basic tomato salad? A simple shallot balsamic vinaigrette, some salt, and some pepper is all it really needs. If you're concerned about color, you could substitute out some heirlooms to mix it up a little. If you really want to jazz it up, you could always add cheese (shaved Manchego, Parmesan, or Romano, or perhaps even feta, ricotta, or mozzarella), but in my opinion, it doesn't really even need that.

                1. There are some really great sounding salads here. I am also a big fan of the tomato and green bean salad. My favorite entertaing salads are bacon wrapped warm figs, Californian Salad or a pear and proscuitto salad.

                  Bacon Wrapped Warm Fig Salad
                  Slice fresh figs in half and wrap with thin slice of pancetta (or proscuitto.) Place on a baking tray and pop in oven at 425 until pancetta is crisp and figs are warm. Nest in a plate of fresh, spicy arugula or mache and drizzle with a sweet balsamic dressing.

                  Calfornia Salad
                  This salad has fresh goat cheese and dried apricots which is a lovely mix. http://www.ebfarm.com/Recipes/recipeV...

                  Pear and Proscuitto Salad
                  Combine one head of radicchio, one endive and one bunch of arugula together. Add in thin slices of juicy pear and torn pieces of proscuitto. Drizzle with balsamic dressing. This salad has great texture and color.

                  Balsamic Dressing
                  I got this from a caterer I used to work for before they closed.

                  1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
                  1 cup olive oil
                  1 tsp pressed fresh garlic
                  ¼ tsp cumin
                  2 tsp Dijon mustard
                  2-4 tablespoons honey (to taste
                  )¼ tsp salt
                  1/8 tsp black pepper

                  Mix all ingredients except oil in a blender. Slowly whisk in oil as a steady stream until fully incorporated into other ingredients.

                  And for good measure here is one of my favorite dressings. It is like a caesar vinagrette; goes great with romaine, tomatoes and most green salads.

                  3/4 C olive oil
                  1/4 C lemon juice
                  2 cloves garlic, minced
                  1 t. salt
                  1/4 t. black pepper
                  4 t. sugar
                  ½-1 t. Dijon mustard

                  Earthbound Farm's website has lots of great salad ideas, most with pictures too. Finally, I also have a great Chinese Chicken Salad that is always a hit with women but it is much more complicated to prepare. Just let me know if you would like that recipe.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: AmandaCA

                    Bring it on! I'm loving all the replies so far and I especially appreciate the recipes. Sometimes I don't quite trust my palate so I'll use the original recipe and adjust from there.

                    1. re: IndigoOnTheGo

                      Chinese Chicken Salad


                      About 4 cups canola oil for deep-frying
                      1 package thin wonton wrappers, about 3 ¼ inches square
                      Kosher Salt

                      1 large yellow pepper seeded, deribbed, and julienned
                      1 large red pepper seeded, deribbed, and julienned
                      1 carrot, peeled and julienned
                      2 ribs bok choy, greens trimmed and stems cut crosswise into crescents ¼ inch thick
                      1¼ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked, seasoned with salt and pepper, and julienned
                      1 can (11 ounces) mandarin orange segments, drained
                      1 head romaine lettuce, trimmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
                      10 ounces mixed baby greens

                      1 C Ginger-Sesame Dressing
                      ½ bunch cilantro
                      1 C slivered almonds, toasted
                      1 T sesame seeds, toasted

                      Fry wontons in oil at least 3 inches deep. Place oil over medium heat and heat to 325 degrees. Have ready a rimmed baking sheet lines with a double thickness of paper towels

                      While the oil is heating, cut the wontons into strips ¼ inch wide and gently toss to separate the strips. When the oil is ready, add the wonton strips in small batches and fry them until cooked through and light golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer the wontons to the prepared baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper.

                      To assemble, place the peppers, carrot, bok choy, chicken, mandarin, romaine and baby greens in a large bowl with half of fried wontons and toss with dressing. Season with salt and pepper.

                      Arrange the salad in chilled bowls. Garnish with cilantro, remaining fried wontons, and toasted almonds and sesame seeds.

                      Ginger-Sesame Dressing


                      1 C canola oil
                      2 T sesame oil
                      ½ C rice wine vinegar
                      ½ C sugar
                      ¼ C soy sauce
                      ½ t ground ginger
                      1 ½ t dry mustard
                      1 t ground pepper

                      Whisk together until thoroughly blended.

                  2. I love shaved fennel and orange/grapefruit salad. It is especialy good with a rich meal. i love to make this in the winter with a rich pasta dish. It is light and refreshing. If you have a mandolin, slice the fennel on it, supreme whatever citrus you are using and toss with olive oil and arrange on a platter. Shaved parmesan on top.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: cassoulady

                      I've also found that a simple shaved fennel salad never fails to please. They also keep up well if you dress at the last minute.

                      1. re: asiansupper

                        My one qualm with this salad is that sometimes the fennel is too thick. I think the key here is "shaved" because I've had this at dinner parties when the fennel was in crunchy, hard to chew chunks. The combination of flavors is lovely though.

                        Do you guys think that the slicing blade on a food processor would be thin enough?

                    2. Here is one that is 1) tasty, 2) easy to make 3) holds and very well and 4) most people like it.

                      I wish I knew its name, but I read the recipe years ago, and I know how to make it but I don't know what it's called.

                      Boil rotini or similar pasta, and drain.

                      Dress generously with pesto (any kind you like, home made or store bought).

                      Add: steamed tiny red potatoes (or slightly bigger ones cut in half); green beans steamed just until crisp-tender but still bright green; add extra toasted pine nuts or walnuts, as you like. Mix them all together.

                      There you go! There is nothing fancy about this, but it is very very good. Works great as a salad, as a packed lunch, as a picnic or potluck dish, goes very well with dozens of main dishes, etc etc. Impossible to screw up.

                      1. Some of my faves are:

                        Baby greens w peaches, berries and a chili-lime dressing

                        Roasted mushroom salad w mustard dressing

                        Cantaloupe and Spinach Salad w Pistachio-lime dressing

                        Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad

                        Apple, Endive and Stilton Salad

                        1. This is a beautiful salad from Shuna Lydon:
                          Naked Salad
                          4 Fuyu persimmons 
1 1/2 cups pomegranate seeds
                          1) Cut top out like a tomato. Slice bottom off, being careful not to take too much fruit
2) Peel persimmons, cut four pieces off core the way you might an apple
3) Dice persimmons into a shape slightly larger than the pomegranate seed
4) Mix pomegranate seeds and diced persimmon gently with a spatula
This salad will keep refrigerated for about three days but is best eaten fresh.

                          1. All of these ideas look great. A really nice idea that adds alot of impact is to add some edible flowers to a salad. You can buy little packages at some markets, or maybe you have some in your garden. The bright blues, yellow, and oranges really make a big difference in a nice grean salad and generally get lots of oohs and aahs.

                            1. -baby spinach, sliced strawberries, almonds, feta and chopped mint with a champagne vinaigrette.

                              -cucumber, wakame and crab seasoned with garlic, dashi, vinegar, sugar and sesame oil

                              -thai green papaya salad with grilled shrimp. I would forego the dried shrimps and go lighter on the chili peppers if I was making it for a crowd

                              1. Williams-Sonoma just came out with some Autumn themed salad recipes. Some of them look really good and seeing as we are heading into fall, these might work too. I've listed the salads they have along with the link at the bottom.

                                Endive Salad with Persimmon and Pomegranate
                                Roasted Mushroom and Shallot Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
                                Cabbage, Asian Pear and Grape Salad with Cider Vinaigrette
                                Apples and Walnuts with Stilton Cheese
                                Trout, Watercress and Apple Salad
                                Pear, Endive and Walnut Salad
                                Fig Salad with Cabrales Cheese and Marcona Almonds