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Choose your own adventure work day salad

Favorite lunch salad | RISING*SHINING

I am a fierce believer in packing a lunch and lately I've been toting giant salads to work. Mornings go infinitely more smoothly when we prep the night before so this weekday salad is made ahead of time and patiently waits until lunchtime the next day.

I used to find that I enjoyed eating hearty salads when I went out to eat but could never recreate such enticing salads at home. And then I figured out the magic salad formula! There are several components but flexibility within each to use what you love or have on hand. It's a choose your own adventure salad!

Here's what I throw together:

+ crunchy lettuce. Weedy, wilty lettuce need not apply. Don't even think about it, field mix.

+ two or more chopped veggies. I love red bell peppers, edamame, carrots, celery and cucumber to name a few.

+ cheese. Feta has my heart.

+ a grain. Barley is my favorite followed by farro and quinoa. I love the 10-minute barley, farro and bulgur from Trader Joe's.

+ nuts. Toasted pistachios are my jam right now. I've also been swayed by rosemary and thyme maple toffee sunflower seeds.

+ optional extra protein. Sometimes I add a chopped hard-boiled egg or some chickpeas.

+ great dressing. Always plentiful, never low fat. Lately I reach for Trader Joe's Romano Parmesan Caesar, but I also love to make my own mustard vinaigrette with a one to one ratio of red wine vinegar to olive oil and a hearty squeeze of brown mustard.

My salad assembly goes like this:

In the bottom of a large lunch container I pour 1 - 2 tablespoons of dressing and add a spoonful of artichoke bruschetta topping (a recent addition). Then a layer of cooked grain is added, followed by feta, frozen edamame (they thaw by lunch time!) and any other veggies. Next I pile in chopped romaine and, finally, sprinkle on some nuts. I used to bring a separate small jar with my dressing but I've found that secreting the dressing at the bottom of the salad prevents sogginess and saves me a container.

When lunch time rolls around I just shake my salad container with abandon to mix everything with the dressing and lunch is served.