The joy of cooking for one is that it's a judgment-free zone.
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salad chopped vegetables, lettuce, nuts and seeds, croutons, fruit, eggs on countertop
Credit: Dotdash Meredith

My kitchen sink salad may not bring any boys to the yard, but that's OK because I have no interest in sharing my masterpiece with anyone. In fact, throwing together a humble salad with the food that I already have in my fridge and pantry is one of my greatest passions. It's cost-efficient, convenient, quick, and easy. All that to say, anyone who frequently cooks for one or two people should always be ready to assemble a kitchen sink salad dinner. Here's how I throw mine together.

The Base

The first component I consider when making my kitchen sink salad is the base. Contrary to popular salad belief, it doesn't need to be lettuce (though, it certainly can be). Any leafy greens in the fridge will probably be my go-to base option because time is money in the world of romaine and arugula, and I want to make sure I put those more delicate greens to use before they spoil.

If I don't have leafy greens, it's time to get creative. I like to strategically stock my fridge with heartier greens that won't wilt and turn to slime in a few short days. I like to keep a bunch of kale or chard in a mason jar with water at the bottom (basically a bouquet) to prolong its life in the fridge. I also recommend getting in the habit of buying a small head of cabbage or Brussels sprouts, which you can thinly slice to create a slaw-like salad. You can even thinly a couple of stalks of celery or whole carrots for a crunchy salad base.

If you're fresh out of leafy and hearty veggies, don't worry. That means you're going to turn to your pantry and pick out a grain or canned bean. Any cooked grain, such as rice, farro, quinoa, or barley, will act as a tasty salad base, or you can have fun with legumes and drain and rinse a couple of cans of garbanzos, white beans, kidney beans, or black beans. Of course, you can always use a combo of greens and grains as the base of your salad. 

The Mix-Ins

Once you've established the base (or bases) of your salad, start picking out what you're going to add to the bowl. If you have any other random vegetables in the veggie drawer (looking at you, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, avocados, and onion), go ahead and chop them up for extra texture. 

Another easy consideration for your kitchen sink salad is something briny – pickles, olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, or marinated artichoke hearts are pantry-friendly options that add more interesting flavors to your dinner. Chop 'em up and slide 'em on in.

While it may seem counterintuitive for a savory, salad dinner, I always consider adding something sweet. Dried fruit (raisins, dates, or apricots) are a good shelf-stable item to keep in stock, or you can always chop up an apple or any fresh fruit that may be in season.

garbanzo bean salad with tomatoes, cucumber, shredded carrots, purple onions, and pita
Credit: Dotdash Meredith

The Protein

Once I've selected a base and some mix-ins for my prized kitchen sink creation, I like to peruse my fridge, freezer, and pantry for some sort of star protein. Leftovers always top my list so I can go ahead and use them up, but if I don't have any, canned beans, hard-boiled eggs, shredded rotisserie chicken, tinned fish, or deli cold cuts do the trick.

If I happen to have an open packet of bacon or prosciutto, I'll crisp that up for added fun. The star protein is certainly not necessary for kitchen sink salad success, but if you have something that fits the bill, there's no reason why you shouldn't go ahead and add it.

The Dressing

OK, so now that we have a base, a couple of mix-ins, and the main protein, let's think about the dressing. I like to incorporate acidic components, like fresh lemon juice, my favorite vinegar, a teaspoon of mustard, or any combo of these. I'll then add in something sweet like honey, maple syrup, or pomegranate molasses. I'll mince a shallot if I have it, but if I don't, I'm not sweating it. I'll finish it with a few guzzles of olive oil, plus a pinch of salt and a few cranks of black pepper.

I like easy dressings that I can shake together in a sealed mason jar, but you can whisk yours in a bowl if you prefer. Once it's all combined, give it a taste. Is it bright and flavorful? Is it properly seasoned? Once it tastes exciting, I drizzle it all over the salad.

The Toppings

No kitchen salad is complete without a few fun toppings to finish it off. Now is the time to add in your favorite grated or crumbly cheese. A handful of toasted nuts easily amps up any salad. Have some toasted breadcrumbs in your pantry? Sprinkle some of these on top and don't be shy, OK? Crush up a handful of tortilla chips for some salty action. Sunflower or chia seeds are a quick way to get a lil' crunch on top, too.

There are no rules. If you're having fun and using up what you've got in your kitchen, you're definitely doing something right. Kitchen sink salads are a great way to put off a day of grocery shopping and use some fridge and pantry staples you've already bought.

Experiment with different flavor combos! Be creative! This salad is for you and only you. Your fridge will certainly thank you.

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