A friend of mine recently asked for my help after she decided to change her eating habits from mostly carb filled-easy to make packaged and frozen foods, to whole and healthy ingredients. The truth is, it really can be difficult for someone who is very busy, someone who maybe doesn’t know how to cook or perhaps grew up eating anything just to act as fuel to not care about what they consume everyday. The problem with this is that it can cause a long list of health and issues long term that of course I want to make sure my friend avoids (but I will not delve into that today).
During this process, the shocker for me was the moment my dear friend said to me that she didn’t know how to make salads. I couldn’t believe it at first, but after laying down for a moment and a glass of water to calm my nerves, I realized that this could very well be possible if she didn’t understand ingredients. When I went vegetarian years ago my creativity kicked in when it came down to making salads that were delicious and exciting. I remember watching a lot of Food Network and seeing ingredients that I wasn’t familiar with or understood like saffron or sauerkraut. I wanted my salads to look as good as a plate with meat or better! So I bought the unknown ingredients and experimented. When I went to a restaurant I tried the meals that had stuff I wasn’t familiar with to determine how I could incorporate to my own meals. This is how I was able to make my dishes better and my salads more exciting and fulfilling. Thanks to this, now back to my carnivore eating habits, I still love salads and are a big part of my life.
So today, I want to share a little bit about the construction of a salad. A salad doesn’t have to be boring, in other words a salad IS NOT just pieces of iceberg lettuce and slices of carrots and cucumber drowned in ranch dressing (bleh). A salad can be anything you want it to be and more!
These are my key components to make a delicious salad:
|Chipotle Chicken Salad|
- Greens (Ex: spinach, kale, arugula, mixed greens)
- Color (Ex: tomato, orange, red, green or yellow peppers, carrots, beets, red or white cauliflower, brussel sprouts, jicama, squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, avocado, broccoli, red onion)
- Crunch (Ex: almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, cashews, croutons, tortilla chips)
- Cheese(Ex:feta,blue cheese, parmesan, gorgonzola, romano, mozzarella)
- Acidic (Ex: lemon juice, olives tangerines, strawberries, pomegranate, peaches)
- Sweet (Ex: dried cranberries, raisins, watermelons, mango, apples, grapes)
- Protein (Ex: meat, egg, tofu, quinoa, beans, couscous)
- Herbs & More (Ex: cilantro, parsley, chili flakes, farofa, basil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, oregano, mint, hummus, olive oil, grapeseed oil, sesame seeds, balsamic vinegar)
All I am providing today are some examples of what you can use for a yummy salad. I suggest using a minimum of 3-4 components (any combination of them) to create a greens salad. The first and only rule is to always use greens, the darker the leaf the more nutritious and 50% or more of the plate should be greens. Unless you are making a pasta salad, quinoa salad or non-greens salad. Also, use colorful vegetables and ingredients that make sense to make the kind of salad you want. For instance, we’re all familiar with the ingredients that make a burrito taste amazing right? Beans, meat, pico de gallo, guacamole, rice, cheese and sometimes on the weekend when we’re being really bad we add sour cream (or is that just me?) Anyway, think about what types of ingredients you could use to make a delicious burrito or taco inspired salad. For sure I’d use tomatoes, red onions, beans (no, not refried!), grilled chicken or steak, avocado, cilantro and I’d crumble 1-2 tortilla chips top that with some feta cheese or queso fresco. In the picture above of the Chipotle Chicken Salad, I used some leftover brown rice that I had because I was out of quinoa, but it was only about 2 tablespoons. All of this in a bowl of mixed greens and there you have it! The dressing can simply be some olive oil mixed with lemon, salt and pepper. Or let some cilantro or oregano sit in some olive oil so the herb flavor can transfer to the oil, mix with some lemon, salt & pepper and that’s it. If you have a special love for spicy, then why not use your favorite homemade salsa as your dressing!
|Summer Berry Salad|
Personally, I’m not a fan of those store bought dressings full of sodium and sugar (ranch, blue-cheese, goddess, poppy seed). These dressings overpower all the other flavors and you can’t really appreciate the salad taste you create. I can do a lot with just some basic olive oil or balsamic vinegar in my pantry. Balsamic vinegar I like for salads like my Summer Berry Salad that have sweet ingredients like strawberries or blueberries, but it’s also great with some savory salads. The thing to remember is that salads can be anything you want them to be. I’ve taken leftover dinner meals, tossed over some greens, added some veggies and yum! Also, salads do not have to be cold! I once made a warm salad by quickly sauteing kale, mixed with some fresh baby spinach, cut up some avocado, couscous, sprinkled some hemp seeds and chia seeds, feta, kalamata olives and grilled chicken on top. It was amazing.
Some people associate salads with lunch more than they do with dinner. Whenever I feel like I need some carbs for my dinner, I throw together a pasta salad. Just last night I cooked some brown rice penne pasta, let it cool. Using a mortar and pestle I crushed some chopped mint leaves in with some olive oil and let those flavors marry a bit. I mixed the pasta with some pitted kalamata olives (as you can tell I really love these!), feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, parsley (but it’s also delicious with basil), added some the mint-olive oil to dress it and we were so happy together.
So to my friend I say, be brave and taste different foods and ingredients. Let your creativity flow! A salad does not have to be boring. It should be colorful, fun, interesting and fulfilling – like a good first date! It should also be full of ingredients that fuel your health and love for yourself, not just as fuel to get through a busy day. You deserve so much more love than that!