I’m somewhat obsessed with salads at the moment. Some day recently I came home to a close-to-empty refrigerator, or empty by my standards anyway. I think it was after I got home from PA, so I’d been away for a good chunk of the previous two weeks. I had plenty of things that normal people, aka my son, could have eaten — pasta and rice, eggs, even some chips and cookies. But for my needs, it was pretty barren, because there wasn’t much in the way of vegetables or fruit. Some mixed greens still looked edible, though, and I had part of a leftover red onion. I wound up eating greens topped with chopped dates, goat cheese, smoked trout, red onion, and balsamic vinegar. It was crazy delicious.

My previous favorite salad had been arugula, smoked trout, avocado, and strawberries with balsamic. The date salad came close to knocking it out of its place. I’ve also been very big on salads with cucumbers, radishes, and kalamata olives this summer. Also salad with anything as long it also includes a honey salmon from CostCo which is yum, yum, yum. And when I was in PA, I was topping a lot of my salads with blueberries because my brother grows lots of them.

So, yeah, I think I’ve become a salad aficionado over my almost-year with AIP. And I’ve learned a lot, so I’m developing a set of salad rules. A theory of salad, in fact.

First rule, the perfect meal salad — the one that you’re going to eat to sustain you for hours, not a side salad or just a little extra color on a plate — has to include a reasonable amount of protein. Back when I ate grains and legumes, the difference between a meal salad and a side salad was usually whether it contained beans, chickpeas, pasta, quinoa, or some other similar ingredient. But when I’m making mixed green salads my main course, they need to include protein.

My favorites are the fish: smoked trout from Trader Joe’s, flaky smoked salmon from CostCo, leftover sauteed trout or salmon, even canned tuna or salmon. I’ve tried anchovies and sardines, too, but… let’s just say, they aren’t regulars on the meal plan. Leftover chicken from a roast chicken, slices of leftover grilled pork chops, roast beef, all also good options.

Second rule, the ideal salad needs a mix of textures. It wants something creamy. I used to get that from dressing, but now I can’t, so my perfect regular choice for that texture is avocado. Goat cheese is a good runner-up. Salad also wants something with crunch. Radishes are great for crunch. Celery, carrots, nuts (which I can’t use)… all also good for the crunch. Cucumber isn’t either creamy or crunchy, but it’s definitely a texture food. So are artichoke hearts. I’d call them slimy, really, but they add a different texture to the salad.

Third rule, the mix of tastes. A salad where all the ingredients are from the same flavor family is a very boring salad. It’s one of the reasons why I seldom eat a salad with greens, celery & carrots. It’s not like those three things really taste alike, but they fit together. All the bites have a sameness to them. That’s comforting in soup but deadly in salad, in my opinion. And some foods, like avocado, obviously have a flavor, but it’s more bland, less distinctive. I’m happy to eat to avocado for lunch, but generally with added salt or lime juice. I don’t know that I’d call it a flavor as much as a delightful base for different dressings.

So for me, the best mix of flavor options seems to be sweet plus tangy plus … well, I think I want to describe the final flavor as having kick. It can be salty like smoked trout or have the zing of a radish or red onion, maybe even the bitterness of arugula or roasted brussels sprouts, but it’s the surprise flavor, the one that wakes you up when you taste it.

Some options, then. Sweet: dates, pears, mango, strawberries, blueberries, apple, raisins, dried cranberries? Tangy: goat cheese, kalamata olives, pickled anything? Kick (spicy, salty, bitter, umami): radishes, red onion, smoked fish?

And, at last, my theory of salads. The perfect meal salad (based on greens) should include one protein, at least two textures, and at least three distinct flavors. But not necessarily six ingredients, since some foods, like goat cheese, can be both a flavor and a texture. And more has potential too, of course. Our Key West salad had double sweet — both mango and strawberries — which just made it doubly delicious.

Hmm, but maybe the sweetness of the mango made the strawberries seem like the tangy flavor? Because flavors do kind of change in relation to one another. Heavens, I’m finding loopholes in my new theory already. But that’s okay — the only purpose of my theory is to use the base concept to find some new and interesting mixes. Trying to eat ten cups of greens a day means eating an awful lot of salads. That’s fine when the salad is yum, delicious, different, but much less cool when it’s the fourth plate of greens with cucumber, radish, & kalamata olives in two days.

So anyway my quest is to find other foods that fit the characteristics of things I want in my salad (creamy, crunchy, sweet, tangy, kick) but that it hasn’t yet occurred to me to try in salad. I’m pretty much at the stage where I’ve tried most anything in my fridge on greens (sauerkraut, yes, capers, yes, finely-sliced lemon, yes… although note that none of those ingredients are included in any of my favorite salads, ha!) but the unexpected deliciousness of salad with dates has inspired me to look farther afield.

Alas, all the things immediately occurring to me aren’t AIP-friendly. I can’t eat nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs (or, technically, goat cheese, but it’s so good that I’ve been pretending I don’t notice that I’m more congested than I used to be). Still, I’m going to wander my grocery store with my goal in mind and see what else I can discover!