Making the Perfect Salad
The sun is finally shining around here! Which means farmer's markets, and farm stands are open with fresh, delicious, local veggies ready to be enjoyed, and it's the perfect weather for my favorite food: Salad.
Salad, it's the meal you love to hate, the first thing you think of when someone says "diet", and the most boring thing on the menu at just about any restaurant. It's got a pretty unfortunate reputation, but I think we can change that.
I love salad.
Seriously, I could eat it every day, forever. Even the little ones that I watch will tell you "Leesha's favorite food is salad." But, I'm not talking about that plate of iceberg lettuce that has two cucumber slices, and a cherry tomato or two, that most restaurants call "house salad." No, that "salad" is offensive to salads, f*ck that salad.
I'm talking about the kind of salads that I like to make, the ones that are satisfying, the ones that have become the number one request at just about any pot luck occasion I attend, the ones that people who hate tomatoes enjoy even with tomatoes in them - the perfect salads (yeah, maybe I'm biased). Today I'm going to tell you how to make these, so that next time you think about making a salad, it will be because you enjoy salad, not because you're on a new diet.
I don't follow recipes.
Sorry everyone, this isn't going to be your typical recipe. I'm pretty rebellious when it comes to recipes, and by that I mean I literally never do exactly as they suggest, and I always change things up at least slightly to suit my preferences (except in baking - baking is science, if you want it to come out right, following the recipe is highly recommended...I've tried otherwise). So, I'm just going to provide you with a few keys to making the perfect salad(s).
Key #1: Knife
You definitely want to invest in a good quality knife, if you don't already have one. This is my number one kitchen necessity, not just for salads but for just about everything I make on a regular basis. Cutting vegetables can be quite the task with the wrong knife. So start yourself off right, with a good one. For more kitchen things you should consider owning, click here.
Key #2: Dice it*
This is why we need the nice knife. Dicing up the vegetables for your salad makes it so that you can get a variety of veggies into each bite, instead of just one. Salad is not nearly as delicious if you only taste one thing at a time, and the whole point is to be delicious! Most people won't take the time to do this, but trust me, it's so worth it and after a few salads you'll get the hang of it, and it won't seem tedious at all. I've been making my salads like this for years, I could never go back.
If there's just no way you'll do this try investing in a mandoline and doing "match sticks" instead, I personally don't like this as much but it could be the answer for you.
*Dicing is a culinary term, I know, and I've used the term a little inaccurately, but it's the word that makes the most sense for the idea I'm trying to convey. If I just said chop, it wouldn't fully articulate my point. Sorry professionals.
Key #3: Variety
I try to represent as many colors as possible in every salad that I make, not only does it make it more exciting and taste better, but it will also look amazing, and it'll be even healthier. Below are some suggestions, pick your favorites or try something new, get creative and don't be afraid of using too many (no such thing)!
Veggies: tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, corn, peas, beets, red onion, carrots, red cabbage, green cabbage, pickles, radishes, parsnips, kohlrabi, celery, scallions, jicama, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, summer squash, hot peppers, possibilities are endless!
Greens: spinach, baby spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, arugula, iceberg lettuce, chard, collard greens, bib lettuce, etc. Always use plenty of greens, and don't be afraid to mix it up. Mine are almost always at least partially baby spinach and no one ever realizes.
One key difference between the average salad and mine, is that my ratio of greens to veggies is usually 1:1, rather than a ton of leaves, and a sprinkle of veggies. It doesn't have to look like you gathered it in a forest...unless you want it to.
Key #4: Go big!
Make your salad as big as you want! If you want a salad to be truly filling you've got to eat enough. It's vegetables so you really can't over do them! I have bowls specifically for salad, because if you use a plate and try to mix it, everything goes everywhere, and your standard bowl is just not big enough. My bowls are probably the kind you would use to serve a side dish at a big family dinner, AKA they're big! I mean business when I'm eating salad, it should be a feast!
Key #5: Dress it up
Sure, salad dressing is the usual way you'd add flavor to your salad, but salad dressing is also usually the nutritional-downfall to a salad. I like to dress mine up a variety of ways, below are some ideas for you to experiment with, don't be afraid to combine them!
Fresh herbs: I like to chop up fresh herbs and mix them right into the rest of the veggies. My favorite is cilantro, but you could also try basil, parsley, dill, mint, rosemary, oregano, etc. If you try more than one, make sure they don't clash...that could get weird.
Dips: Traditional dips can be the perfect alternative to salad dressings, and the majority of them are much healthier than salad dressing too! Try guacamole (or just mashed avocado), hummus (there are so many flavors), and salsas. And yes, I have had all three of these on the same salad, delicious!
Seeds, nuts, & spices: These can add flavor, texture, and even extra nutrition to your salads. Try chia seeds, sesame seeds, minced garlic, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, oregano, cumin, paprika, onion powder, salt and pepper (of course!), nutritional yeast (especially good for vegans), go through your spice cabinet and see what you find.
Sauces, oils, & vinegar: For me, lately, my salad isn't complete without hot sauce, but you can also try balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, red wine vinegar, quality olive oil, soy sauce, liquid aminos, worchestershire sauce (I’ve never tried this one). Give them a chance, or try a combo (sesame oil/soy sauce gives a good oriental feel, balsamic/EVOO is classic).
Dressing: If you aren’t ready to give up on traditional dressing that’s fine, enjoy it! At least you’re still eating vegetables. Maybe try using some of these alternatives occasionally with your favorite dressing available for backup. Try out some new dressings, and keep your eye on those ingredient labels! The healthiest bottled dressing I've been able to find is Annie's Roasted Red Pepper, the first ingredient is actually roasted red pepper, and my boyfriend likes it too! The internet is also full of homemade dressing recipes, maybe give some of those a try!
Key #6: Bulk it up
There's no reason a salad can't have carbs, protein, or both in it! Sometimes those can be the missing piece to making your salad really satisfying! Try quinoa, millet, brown rice, black beans, lentils, sprouted fresh beans, chickpeas, adzuki beans, pinto beans, etc. You may have noticed I didn't mention meats, that's because most of you already know you could toss some chicken on your salad if you wanted, but there are serious benefits to the occasional meatless meal (for your health and the environment), and I think salad can be the perfect opportunity for it.
Now go make a salad!
There you go guys, the keys to having a tasty, satisfying, not-boring salad! Now go try your hand at making one, get creative, and have fun with it.
For reference, here's one of my favorite combos: baby spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers, red onion, cucumber, corn, cilantro, jalapeno, black beans, quinoa, fresh pico de gallo, guacamole, roasted red pepper hummus, hot sauce, and minced garlic with a little salt!
Thank you so much for reading, let me know if you try any of these ideas in the comments!