Lettuce in, it’s cold outside! A Chicago chef and salad-maker extraordinaire shares tips for creating hearty winter recipes.
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Sarah Russo
Credit: Courtesy of Salad Club

On a hectic evening a couple of years back, personal chef Sarah Russo stopped at a chain salad restaurant. She wanted to stash a healthy dinner in her fridge for later in the week—so she asked for the dressing and wetter ingredients to be separated for longer storage. An entrepreneurial flame flickered. If I like knowing that I'll always have at least one hearty, delicious meal on hand, no matter how busy my week gets, she mused, other people might too. And thus was born Salad Club, Russo's Chicago-based local meal subscription service. Each week, her crew assembles a menu of salads loaded with diverse proteins, grains and seasonal produce. (And sometimes potato chips. The goal is healthful, not ascetic.)

"Being an '80s kid, eating steamed veggies from the microwave, I hated vegetables," Russo says. "But going to culinary school and learning how to heal myself and others through food made me fall in love with them. That became my mission: How to make people fall for vegetables, again or for the first time."

In that spirit, you'll find four of Russo's complete salad recipes here. Then, on the following pages, she offers make-ahead tips, defines unusual ingredients and outlines her basic salad formula, so you can improvise more creative, satiating meals, using what you like or have on hand. Salad Club might not be in your city—but your kitchen can be a satellite outpost.

How to Build a Better Salad

Sarah Russo's salads sound wildly different from one another, but she follows one basic formula.

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four different salads on table
Credit: Carson Downing

The Idea

When we create salads on Salad Lab days, we bring an inspiration. For instance, I love Argentinian food, so this month we're doing a chimichurri Cobb. But you don't always have to be so inventive. An idea can be, "I want to use up leftover sweet potato."

bowl of winter greens
Credit: Carson Downing

The Base

We nearly always have two kinds
of greens, for a variety of nutrients and textures. It brings interest to your eyes and
palate. Sometimes we'll use a grain instead of one of those greens, like kale plus quinoa.

cooked vegetables
Credit: Carson Downing

The Veggies

Then we layer in three or four other kinds of vegetables, so you're getting vegetables on top of greens. This ties into our mission of getting people to eat 80 percent plants. We might have two roasted and two raw, and we cut them differently. You want diversity of shapes, sizes and textures.

bowl of crispy chickpeas
Credit: Carson Downing

The Protein

We have an animal or plant protein, like grilled chicken, salmon, braised pork or seasoned tofu. A plant protein doesn't have to be a fake meat. You can mix a grain and a legume to create a nutritionally complete protein, so we'll do rice and beans, or chickpeas and buckwheat.

bowl of hemp hearts
Credit: Carson Downing

The Crunch

You have to have a crunchy finish. It can be a nut or seed, or even some crumbled potato or plantain chips. We also make homemade savory brittles.

pure maple syrup
Credit: Carson Downing

The Dressing

The most important part of any salad is the dressing, and homemade really tastes better. In my house, we always have four or five different dressings in the fridge. You can put vinaigrettes on anything, but I recommend a heavier dressing for heartier greens to really coat the leaves and to start to pre-digest and tenderize those fibers.

Members of Sarah Russo's Salad Club choose how many meals they buy each week, whether they want animal proteins, and delivery versus pick-up. The menu changes monthly. Live in Chicago and curious to try? Enjoy a $10 discount on first orders with code MIDWEST10. And get excited: She hopes to add a cafe this year.