Tired of salads that are made mostly of lettuce? Here are 5 nutritious options that don’t rely on lettuce.
Sure, salad is healthy and a lettuce-based salad tends to be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re considering your options. The second is usually something about rabbit food, and the third is wondering how many hours you’ll be able to last before starvation kicks in and it’s time to eat again.
A nutrient-dense salad doesn’t have to be bland or boring. It’s also easy to make a nutritious meal that’s packed with protein, quick to make and easy to take with you on the go.
Basically, the salad world is vast. It’s hard to define what a salad really is, but I’ve formulated my own basic rule: it’s anything that has an acidic or mayonnaise-based sauce. It doesn’t even have to be served cold (exhibit A: German Potato Salad) and it certainly doesn’t have to include lettuce (see: egg salad, chicken salad, grain salad, bean salad, fruit salad, lentil salad, pasta salad, potato salad, coleslaw, etc.).
Salads are a great way of repurposing leftovers, featuring seasonal ingredients, eating a varied diet that includes every color of the rainbow and mixing and matching your favorite foods to form new combos that cover all of your bases (i.e. nutrient-dense carbs, proteins and fats).
Many of you are probably scratching your heads right now, wondering how fat could possibly be important in a salad. Isn’t fat the enemy of salad? News flash: it’s not. Healthy fats like olive oil are actually really important when you’re serving yourself a salad because they help to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) from all of those veggies.
If you’re used to eating plain lettuce with a squeeze of lemon, the truth is you’re actually doing a nutritional disservice to yourself. Lube that salad up, baby! A little bit goes a long way, but healthy (read: unsaturated) fats are an important part of every diet. Fats contained in olive and avocado oil, lean meats, nuts and seeds are key to superior health.
So, armed with all of this important and amazing information about salad, I bring you 5 delicious salads that don’t include lettuce to help you change up your routine and find a little inspiration (and perhaps, true salad nirvana).
Whether you’re using cooked quinoa, freekeh or bulgur wheat, many varieties of cooked grains are packed with healthy protein. As the base of a salad, grains are satiating (meaning you’ll stay full for a while), and they can provide you with the oh-so-necessary energy to get through the rest of the day.
I like to cook a big pot of my favorite grains and let it cool. Then, I combine this plain salad base with chopped fresh herbs and diced raw vegetables like cucumber, bell peppers, carrots and onions. I add grape tomatoes, toasted nuts or pepitas, feta or goat cheese and a fresh lemon vinaigrette made with olive oil to finish it off, plus a few grinds of sea salt and black pepper.
Chicken salad is a classic, and it’s not just for sandwiches. Serve it on a bed of watercress, frisee or arugula for a touch of peppery bitterness (true, these are still leafy greens, but the chicken is the star of the show!). Grill, poach, bake or pan-fry plain chicken breasts in a little bit of olive oil, let them cool, and then chop them into bite-sized chunks.
One of my favorites is a Waldorf chicken salad made with toasted walnuts, diced apples (with the skins on, since that’s where you’ll find most of the nutrients), chopped celery, halved grapes and mayonnaise. I also love to make a curried chicken salad with curry spice or garam masala (or a combination of turmeric, coriander, cayenne and paprika), celery, onion, fresh cilantro, mayonnaise and mustard.
Fruit Salad isn’t just for dessert; it can be made heartier with the addition of yogurt or granola. I like to use fresh fruit that’s nutrient dense like persimmons, pomegranates, berries, papaya, mango and pineapple, and mix it up with seeds, nuts, and fresh mint. A fruit and veggie salad is also delicious. Try adding cucumber, jicama and maybe even a few thin slices of fresno chili or ginger to your salad before dressing it with lime juice.
Yes, a slaw is a salad. You can go the traditional way with cabbage, carrots, and onions, or shake things up a bit with Brussels sprouts, Granny Smith apples, aged cheddar cheese, kale and toasted hazelnuts. Both are delicious with a mayonnaise- or vinegar-based dressing.
There are so many delicious opportunities for variation here. You can use fresh or canned beans, pre-cooked or dried lentils and mix and match to your heart’s content. I like to make a salad with cooked Beluga lentils, roasted eggplant and peppers, thyme, goat cheese and a red wine vinaigrette.
I also love a bean salad made with a mixture of fresh wax beans, purple haricots verts, green string beans and canned chickpeas and kidney beans, plus some chopped onion and parsley and a sherry vinaigrette.
Many of these salads taste better if they’re made a few hours before you’re ready to eat since that gives the flavors some time to meld. Use your imagination, pick up whatever looks good at the farmers market, and feature the flavors of your favorite cuisine. When in doubt, remember: you can always throw an egg on it. You’ll be a salad master in no time.
With a master’s degree in gastronomy, this girl’s got food on the brain! Allison’s a Philly native and recent transplant to LA. When she’s not exploring the local food scene, she loves snacking on homemade goodies in front of the TV with her husband.
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