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Composing the Composed Salad

My favorite recipes to create are by far composed salad recipes. I really think that layering and creating interesting salads are my strong suit. (I’m so damn humble.)

What the hell is a composed salad I hear you saying to your iPhone?

Composed salad. noun. a salad in which the components are elaborately put together or arranged, rather than tossed. Usage Note. cooking.

The NY Times describes it "from the French 'salade compose,' a composed salad is simply salad arranged on a plate rather than tossed in a bowl." They have a great article here that lists lots of ways to get creative in making and layering your own individual salads.

But what is a composed salad to me?

It's the mixing, the layering, the ingredients, the thoughtfulness, the complexity, the compatibility. It's anything that's dressed that has more than 2 elements to it. Which is ironic because that is not what the definition says at all. But who the hell wants a plate of 8 different elements sitting next to each other? No. It should be all done together. Don't make your guests do the work. It's not a DIY project.

Anyone who has eaten at my house or has been to a party that I have catered knows that my tables are filled with platters, bowls or plates of different and interesting salads. These are the foundation of my meals. All of my other dishes are usually built around this course.

I generally have people over in one capacity or another every single weekend. Whether I'm setting my table for 12 and using china with silver flatware, or doing buffet style on the kitchen island, or even a picnic style meal in the backyard with paper plates, I figure out a way to get the freshness of the salads into the meal. No matter how simple or casual the meal, I never do without the crispness of the salad.

I think outside of the box when inventing these salads. It's not just lettuce and cucumbers. No Dole here. I think about seasonal fruits to add. I think about nuts or seeds. Color, crunch, sweet, salt, bitter, and heat. The list is really endless- grains, pasta, potatoes, beans, lentils, fish, chicken, eggs, tofu, quinoa..... I can really continue here for a while.

But without a dressing the salad is a ZERO. So please, lets dress the salad. Buy a box of disposable gloves and get your dressing game on. Don't know what you're doing? Can't follow a recipe so well? Or just really freaking lazy?? (I hear ya.)

Follow these steps:

1. Pick an acid: Just take a splash of red wine vinegar, squeeze the juice from a lemon or just use some good quality balsamic

2. Seasoning: Sprinkle kosher salt and black pepper

3. Oil: My preference? Extra virgin olive oil - Cold first pressed.

Then just toss everything together with gloved hands.

Kale Protein Salad

This salad layers elements like- kale, lentils, farrow, cooked beets and peanuts together. What’s my favorite part about this salad?

  • Every element in here can be swapped out for something different. Don’t have farro? How about using brown rice or quinoa instead. Peanut allergy? Try using hemp seeds. Don’t like beets? Try strawberries as a substitute. Do what works.

  • I like how the lentils and peanuts up the protein in this salad.

  • Leftovers: Best part about kale is that it just about never wilts. Most dressed greens get soft and nasty- but not kale! This salad is just delicious as your lunch to the office the next day.

  • Fall colors. The beets add a nice deep red and the lentils and farrow contrast with a nice brown.


1/3 cup dry brown lentils

½ cup farro

2 large whole beets (I prefer the ones that still have stems), peeled and cut in small cubes

1 bunch green or purple kale, stems removed and cut into medium-large pieces

¾ cup salted shelled peanuts (optional)

4 tablespoons spicy mustard

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 ¾ teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons honey

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (or 375 convection).

Take your lentils and 1/2 cup of water and put them in a small pot with ¼ teaspoon of your salt. Cover and cook over a low flame until the lentils fully absorb the water. Uncover and set aside to cool.

Take your farro, ¾ cup of water, and ½ teaspoon of your salt in a small covered pot and cook over a low flame. When there is no more water in the pot the farro is ready. Uncover and set aside to cool.

Take your beets and put them in a pyrex. Toss them with 1 tablespoon of your olive oil and ½ teaspoon of your salt. Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes. Set aside to cool.

To make your dressing, whisk your mustard, balsamic, ½ teaspoon of salt and honey together. Slowly whisk in your olive oil until fully incorporated.

In a large bowl combine your kale, lentils, farro, beets and peanuts. Using a gloved hand mix your dressing over your salad. If you have very hard/tough kale, then dress the kale first and give it a good massage with the dressing for five minutes. Then add in your other salad ingredients and toss again to coat with the dressing.

Plan Ahead:

The lentils, farro, and beets can be made up to 2 days before serving. Your dressing can be made up to 1 week before serving. This salad lasts in the fridge (already dressed!) for 3 days!! Can I hear you say lunch?

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