Looking for ways to pimp your salad? Keep reading to find out how to make your salad delicious, while keeping it healthy and nutritious.
I am always trying to convince people that a big salad can be a satisfying meal. Yes, there are some of those fast food chains that sell big salads, but have you looked at the list of ingredients? Lots of fake bacon, fried chicken, fried onions, and fatty, nutrient deficient dressings that can leave you with a 1000 calorie meal! You would probably be better off having a burger.
The only way to ensure that you are getting the healthiest meal possible is becoming more acquainted with your kitchen and the grocery store. That is really the best way to know what is going into your food.
But salads are boring, you say? Not so! Here are some useful tips to help you pimp your salad!
Don’t try and douce your salad with too many flavors. Try picking a theme for your salad. Do you want Asian flavors? Try mixing spring mix salad leaves with some bok choy, cashews lightly coated in ginger and agave nectar, scallions, tomatoes, and a homemade orange-ginger salad dressing.
Have a taste for Mediterranean flavors? Try romaine lettuce with briny olives, creamy feta, juicy grape tomatoes, topped with a bit of oregano, olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and a bit of fresh cracked black pepper. The possibilities are endless!
Many of your lower end fast food chains use iceberg lettuce because it is cheap and lasts a long time in the refrigerator. This variety of lettuce is mostly water with zero flavor, and very little fiber.
It’s not that iceberg lettuce is bad for you; it’s just that there are so many other varieties of lettuce that have a much higher nutritional content and are much more flavorful.
What I do like about iceberg lettuce is the added cool crunch. If you have ever had a burger topped with iceberg lettuce, then you know what I mean. However there are other varieties of lettuce that can produce an even greater effect. Try green leaf or romaine lettuce.
Green leaf lettuce is packed with vitamins A, K, and C. Romaine lettuce has that and more with protein, iron, calcium, and even omega 3’s.
If you are really hardcore, you can try using the darker greens like kale or collard greens. These greens have a much tougher texture, requiring the leaves to be massaged in an acid like lemon juice or vinegar with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Doing so will break down the cell walls of the greens, giving you a much more pleasant chewing experience and it will be easier on your digestion.
There is more to a salad than just lettuce, tomato, and maybe a little cucumber. Try adding okra (one of my favorites during the spring and summer), fresh sweet corn off the cob (raw or grilled!), chopped zucchini, jicama, crunchy sprouts (gives your body SOOOOO much energy!), etc.
Visit some of your local ethnic grocery stores and spend some time in their produce section. You are sure to find some veggies you may have never seen before. Ask one of the workers how to prepare it.
Use the greens as a base. What other colors do you like? Add a little red or orange pepper (much sweeter than the green variety), purple cabbage, carrots, etc. Even edible flowers can create an elegant element of surprise to a beautiful presentation.
Before a morsel of food touches our lips, we have already begun eating with our eyes. A beautiful presentation of fresh, vibrant colors in a salad sends a message to our brains to prepare for a great meal. Our mouths begin to salivate and our digestive system gets ready to receive and process this extraordinary, yet simple meal.
Strawberries, blueberries, pomegranate seeds, apples, kiwi, clementine and pineapple slices. All of these juicy ingredients give your salad a burst of color and sweetness.
If you regularly purchase your salad dressings at your local grocery store that are filled with unhealthy sugars, adding fruit to your salads will give you a natural source sweetness with the fiber you need to lose or maintain your weight.
There is nothing wrong with adding meat or fish to your salad. The problem with buying salads in fast food joints and restaurants is that they are often cooked in heart clogging oils. If you prepare the meat at home, you can cook with much healthier oils like olive, grapeseed, or coconut.
A simple way to prepare your salads for the week is to make enough chicken, steaks, or another kind of protein for several days. Then you can take a few slices and add them to different salads throughout the week. This will make packing lunch to take to work much less time consuming.
Fresh herbs can make a simple lettuce, tomato, and cucumber salad pop in your mouth. Herbs like mint, tarragon, parsley, basil, cilantro, rosemary, sage, etc. can all be used as part of the leafy greens in your salad, as well as part of your salad dressing. Herbs like cilantro and parsley have a detoxifying affect on your body, an added plus when preparing your salad.
Try a fresh cucumber and tomato salad with chopped mint leaves. Divine! How about some fresh tarragon leaves with orange slices and a bit of your favorite vinegar? Simply delicious.
I suggest going for fresh herbs as opposed to using dried and bottled varieties as the best flavor has often dissipated well before you bought the spices. You can use the remaining fresh herbs during the week to go in rice, pasta, and meat dishes so nothing will go to waste.
I love tasting a little something creamy in my salad! What can I say, creamy textures are like a big hug! But how can you get that creamy texture without the use of oily, mayonnaise laden dressings? Avocado is one way to add that creamy texture you crave. You can dice it up and eat it whole with your salad leaves.
It also is great massaged in kale greens with a bit of lemon juice, salt, and pepper. You can also create a great vinaigrette by adding the avocado to your blender along with vinegar, a little lemon juice, a touch of good olive oil, and your favorite spices.
Another added plus is that avocadoes will not spoil your waist line like fatty mayonnaise. Healthy fats like avocado have been shown to be packed with omega 3’s that will support weight loss.
Don’t think that you have to sacrifice crunch when eating a salad. There are loads of ways to get that crunchy sensation going!
First, you can try creating your own croutons. It really is not that hard. You can buy some crusty bread from your favorite grocer or baker, chop it into small pieces, add melted butter or olive oil, spices, and bake until crunchy.
Baking your own croutons is more preferable to buying pre-made croutons. Have you seen the ingredient labels for many of them? The ingredient list is often as long as the side of the box! Keep it simple and make your own.
You can also try nuts and seeds to add some crunch to your salad. You can lightly toast them in your oven for three to five minutes. Try adding some of your favorite savory or sweet flavors like ginger, cinnamon, or agave nectar to add another flavor dimension.
Even with all these tasty greens and toppings on our salad, there is nothing like a great dressing to pull the flavors all together. I spent several years looking in stores for the best salad dressings (does that make me weird?). My favorite store brought brand is Annie’s Goddess Dressing (I swear I could bathe in this stuff…).
However, if you stop and read the labels of many other brands of dressings, you will see that they are full of processed sugars, soybean oil (often genetically modified), and preservatives. I learned that I can very easily make my own salad dressing in about 3 minutes.
Here is the recipe for my own Maple Mustard Dressing:
* measurements are approximate
1. Put all the items in a small, leakproof container. Close the lid and shake.
2. If you like it spicy, try adding a little cayenne pepper. For a more savory flavor, add some chopped up rosemary leaves.
You can double or triple the measurements if you want to make dressing to last you 2 or 3 days. You can also add more or less of some ingredients to suit your own tastes.
Cover photo: www.forumresep.com
Halona Black, M.Ed., is a Culinary Nutritionist and owner of Garlic & Lemons, LLC, a nutrition education and training company. Halona teaches cooking classes to youth and adults. She's a supporter of whole food nutrition and finds that people who eat egg whites annoy her.
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