No longer simply a spread for bread, ham salad has moved from the sandwich list to the full meal deal. You can cut ham into strips, ground or dice it to combine with a variety of vegetables and fruits as well as tender salad greens. Move beyond mayonnaise and create your own ham salad dressings and vinaigrettes to celebrate textures and elevate flavors.
Roasting a whole, bone-in ham allows you some control over the flavor of the leftover meat. Complement ham’s saltiness with a slightly sweet sauce or rub during baking, and the resulting flavors will also enhance your ham salad. A simple glaze of brown sugar or honey, cloves, herbs or a fruit sauce make a savory ham. Even if you opt for precooked ham that requires little or no actual baking, you can personalize the flavor later with your choice of salad ingredients and dressing.
Your personal preferences rule when making ham salad. A bed of spring greens, baby spinach or colorful mesclun mix makes a visually appealing presentation for any ham salad. Other choices might be rice, quinoa or couscous topped with a colorful blend of fresh produce tossed together with diced ham. Use favorite vegetables such as briefly steamed and chilled grated carrots, baby peas or snow pea pods, tiny broccoli florets, corn kernels, raw bell pepper tidbits or cherry tomatoes. Incorporate fresh fruits to bring out the flavors of a fully cured, smoked ham. Diced apples, pears, grapes, apricots or pineapple chunks add color as well as taste. Another option is pasta salad. Pasta provides extra nutrition and flavor, especially whole grain and rainbow pasta made with vegetable powder. For pasta salad, combine the ingredients, and refrigerate for an hour before serving.
Depending on the spices or baking sauce cooked with the ham, choose salad additions with flavors that mingle. Add some heat with thinly sliced hot peppers, or cool down the flavors by serving the salad over a bed of paper-thin cucumber ribbons. Black olives, celery, fresh sliced mushrooms and scallions each contribute a different flavor profile to a ham salad mixture. Onions can be overpowering, so choose sweet, mild varieties such as Vidalia onions, sweet red onions, pearl onions, or shallots or chives.
Bind together the salad components with a special dressing you make yourself. A simple buttermilk dressing consisting of buttermilk, Greek yogurt and a touch of lemon juice whisked together with snipped chives, dill and parsley is a cool and creamy alternative to mayonnaise. Another choice is a fruity vinaigrette that adds sweet and sour notes. Stir together about a cup of fruit juice, about 1/4 cup of sesame oil, and honey and spicy mustard to taste. Use lemon or orange juice and add zest from the peel to make a citrus dressing.
To keep brown bag or picnic sandwiches from getting soggy, make them on the spot. Take bread separately, with the prepared ham salad in a container in a cooler. Fill pitas with chunky ham salad; spread a soft ham mixture on flat bread then roll it; or pile the salad on a toasted crostini. For a change of pace, spoon ham salad into a hollowed out tomato or sweet pepper.