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Salads Don't Have to Suck

What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of salad?  Probably some iteration of a traditional side salad. Am I right?  Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, maybe some red onion or carrots. Packaged dressing. Pretty standard and gets boring soon after the first bite. Maybe you think about being hungry an hour after eating it? (I can’t be the only one!) Or you’re thinking about pre-packaged, mediocre quality salads you’d find in fast food or convenience stores and they’re ice cold with soggy croutons. And maybe it’s 20 degrees outside so you want something warm. All of these salads suck. It’s not inspiring to want to eat them.

And then there’s your favorite salad chain that’s practically on every other block in cities or a great deli that has a wonderful salad bar.  But both of these options can get expensive at easily $16 a salad.  Before you know it, you’ve being weighed out at the register and it’s $11.99 a pound… and your salad is a pound and a half because you want it to fill you up!

Salads are great for so many reasons but there’s no reason you have to eat a boring salad.  They’re great not only as a vehicle to eat cheese more veggies, but to use leftovers, make a nutritionally complete meal, are so adaptable to any dietary needs and palate, and can be as budget friendly- or fancy as you like.  Here are some delicious combinations:

  • Blood orange, arugula, pistachios, and pickled onions (extra fancy: fried goat cheese)
  • Chickpeas, quinoa, avocado, and almonds
  • Grilled halloumi cheese with cucumber, tomatoes, and herbs
  • Winter veggies with parmesan, candied walnuts and pears
  • Niçoise- roasted potatoes, high-quality canned tuna, green beans, and niçoise or kalamata olives

And here’s how to build a salad that doesn’t suck: 

  1. Think out of the box (or bag)- it doesn’t have to be just lettuce and some vegetables. Incorporate sweet fruits, cheeses, and nuts. You can have a base of grains, or a base of vegetables. A salad doesn’t need to have lettuce! Having a variety of ingredients, textures, shapes, and sizes is key to making a bomb ass salad. Diversifying these components will help you develop a more complex flavor and texture profile on a seemingly bland dish. 
  2. Use seasonal ingredients. This gives you a variety to change it up and using seasonal food is fresher, tastier and more nutritious than food consumed out of season.  It’s also more likely that the seasonal food you get will be local food, which supports local farmers and the local economy. Whenever you can, buy at a Farmers Market so you know where your food comes from and who grew it, making that connection with where you food comes from.
  3. A salad doesn’t have to be cold. Think warm salads like veggies medleys with vinaigrette. You can take salad greens and mix in warm ingredients like cooked rice, pasta, lentils… hang in there with me. If you’ve never tried it, it’s so delicious. The crunch of cold lettuce or veggies with the warm bit of rice, covered in a tangy dressing.  Just don’t let it sit, especially covered, for too long since then the steam will cause wilting. But when you get it right, honey… it’s an unlikely combo that deserves a chef’s kiss.
  4. Chopped salads = more yummy per forkful. The smaller each piece is, the more different items are able to fit onto one bite Again, more components mean more flavor which equals a happy salad! Also, learning to chop things into different shapes and styles will give you that Instagram worthy salad that inspires you to eat more salad. (Or at least looks good in my feed!) Use a potato peeler to make vegetable zucchini ribbons, grate some carrots, mince some celery. This is a good time to learn knife skills for different cuts or use other kitchen tools.A mandolin is perfect for salad making and is a versatile tool but needs to be used with a lot of care and safety as it is SUPER sharp.
  5. Use a mix of greens. Mixing types of lettuce not only makes your salad less boring but diversifies the nutrient content. Adding some chopped cabbage can go a long way in terms of texture and substance.
  6. Season your greens. Season your greens with salt and pepper before adding dressing or any toppings. Just like when you are cooking, you should be seasoning your food at every level to develop a more complex flavor profile. 
  7. You either hate it or love it. If you hate it, you might not have tried it when it’s prepared well. First, cut it into smaller pieces not the gargantuan sizes in the pre-cut bags. Ribbons or chopped into bite sized pieces will be easier to chew. Letting your kale marinate in the dressing will make your leaves very tender and if you want to eat your kale immediately, massage it! This makes a big difference between a great kale salad and one that is dry and tough.  Take two minutes to smush the kale, really macerating the dressing with the leaves. Also, Dinosaur/Lacinato kale is more tender than curly kale, so you may want to try that in thin shreds or torn pieces as an introduction to raw kale.
  8. Brighten up your salad by adding in fresh chopped herbs and citrus zest. A little goes a long way. In fact, herby salads are so satisfying and bold that you should definitely try recipes with herbs as the main green in the salad. Ex: Thai basil salad with veggies and protein, yum!
  9. Lightly dress your salad - most salads don’t need more than a tablespoon or two of dressing if tossed well enough. Remember that since we already seasoned our greens, we do not need to go overboard on the dressing. But if you like it saucy, go for it! I have a friend that loves the extra juicy part at the end of a salad and calls it salad juice. She would then take the bowl and drink the remnants dressing with the little bits of veggies or tomato seeds. Which leads me to my next point…
  10. Make your own dressing.  It can be so convenient and tempting to just buy a bottle of pre-made dressing, but I promise that homemade dressing is worth the (little bit) extra effort.Packaged salad dressings tend to be very high in sugar and salt and have long ingredient lists packed with unnecessary emulsifiers and chemicals. With a homemade dressing, you can control what you put in it. Just make sure your dressing has all the necessary components: salt, fat, acid, tangy, sweet.  Take a small Tupperware or mason jar to add your ingredients and shake.  A quick go to recipe for me is: 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon honey, 3-4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and about ¼ cup of olive oil with pinch of salt and pepper, then shake. If you’ve got shallots, slice them up thinly and adding them will also be a delicious addition.

Putting It All Together

I know this is a lot information and it can be overwhelming as it seems like there are a lot of steps. But just remember that leftovers serve as the best salad toppings. Had tacos for dinner on Monday? Later in the week use your leftover ingredients to make a taco salad. A leftover roast chicken and vegetable dinner can be chopped up and mixed with lettuce, a few more crunchy veggies or herbs, and a great vinaigrette.

It also helps to be prepared ahead of time. You can meal prep salads using mason jars.  I absolutely LOVE this.  It’s so easy and can keep for a few days if you layer the wet ingredients at the bottom and leave the lettuce or base for last. Also, this is the perfect way to pour it out on a plate. Everything will be properly layered.  I’ll be exploring more about this method on my blog, so check back for more.

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