The wonderfully versatile nature of a salad means it works as any meal, from breakfast to dessert, and with any ingredient combination, from hot or cold to pickled or raw. You can make a salad with vegetables, fruits, meats, cheeses, and beans all in one bowl to guarantee a perfectly balanced main meal or just throw juicy fruits together to make a light summer snack. Winter holiday potlucks, summer picnics, gourmet dinner parties, or school lunches, there's a salad to suit every need.
Salad ingredients are also versatile. While it's true that every ingredient provides a special taste, there are ways to substitute a similar item if you need to change a recipe. As long as the ingredients have the same texture and relative flavor, there's a chance you can substitute one for the other. For example, if a recipe calls for Pink Lady apples, you can try different kinds of sweet apples or pears instead.
Tomatoes are popular in salads now, but they're native to South America and were not available to the rest of the world until the 1500s. The British colonists in America suspected tomatoes, which are related to poisonous nightshade, were themselves poisonous. It took Italy's love of tomatoes to make the fruit popular in Europe, and eventually popular in the United States.
The easiest salad ingredients to switch around and play with are leafy greens. Lettuce greens break into four categories; Romaine, butterhead, crisphead, and looseleaf. Romaine lettuce, also known as Cos, is crisp with a strong and slightly sweet flavor. Butterhead lettuces, including Bibb and Boston, are soft with a mild flavor. Crisphead lettuces, including iceberg, are extremely crisp with a light and refreshing flavor. Looseleaf lettuces, including red leaf and green leaf, are delicate and crisp with a mild to medium flavor.
Other leafy greens break into three general categories; bitter, sweet, or peppery. Bitter greens include chicory, endives, mustard greens, Swiss chard, dandelion greens, and kale. Sweet greens include green cabbage, red cabbage, lamb's lettuce, baby spinach, baby greens, and baby lettuces. Peppery greens include arugula, watercress, red mustard, and radicchio. Generally, baby greens are slightly sweeter than the adult version. Micro greens are tender, sweet, newly sprouted greens only a few inches big.
While many salad items are highly versatile, some ingredients are far from versatile and cannot be replicated fully. If a recipe calls for baby carrots, for example, you can only replicate the texture and not the taste. However, some ingredients you never want to switch or substitute.
Red, yellow, and orange bell peppers have a similar sweet flavor and are easily switchable. When it comes to green bell peppers, though, their flavor is much sharper than the others and it will significantly change the taste of the recipe. Red, green, and white onions have relatively similar sweet undertones, but yellow onion is much stronger and may overpower the recipe if used.