Friday, April 4, 2014

How To Build A Better Salad

Do you ever get on kicks with certain foods? Lately my husband and I have been on a salad kick. Maybe it's instinctual, as lettuce is abundant at the farmers market right now, or maybe its the warmer days teasing us with spring? Whatever the reason I am all for a salad fest, they are super easy to prepare ahead of time and a great way to get extra veggies into your diet. I think salads have this stigma of being a health food, and they can be healthy, but you thats no reason you can't enjoy them and get the most out of them both nutritionally and taste-wise.

Step 1) Pick your base

I love making my own salad mixes. I'm pretty obsessed with the beautiful 'boutique' lettuces at the farmers market. I like to do a mix of crunchy and tender varieties, as well as something more bitter or some herbs. If you don't have time then there are some great premixed, pre-washed brands. Even big retailers usually have a big organic salad mix, or you can buy a few of the pre-made varieties and mix them yourself. Salad should keep for at least a week, I like to put a paper towel in the container to soak up extra moisture that might make it wilt.
A Couple Of Blends I Like To Make:
Romaine, bibb, chopped spinach, and cilantro (sweet)
Red leaf, baby kale, and dandelion (savory)

Step 2) Top with lots of veggies

I think where a lot of people go astray is with the toppings. You can turn a healthy salad into diet disaster pretty quickly. I forgo croutons and mountains of cheese for lots of chopped veggies. By chopping the veggies small you can get more on there. We also like to use leftover sautéed veggies as a topping, and beet chips for something that crunches! You can pre-cut up vegetables and store them in separate containers in the fridge until your ready to put together the salad.
Topping Choices We Like:   
red bell pepper
cucumber (only in season)
tomatoes (only in season)

Step 3) Pick your protein

Unless your just having a side salad you need some protein (and fat, but we'll get to that in a minute) to make your salad filling. Don't think a grilled chicken breast is your only, or even best, option. Any leftover meat or eggs (I like them with a runny yolk as the dressing) are great animal proteins. Hemp seeds, lentils, and cooked quinoa are excellent vegan sources of protein. Salads are a great way to make your meat go further because you can fill up on less.

Protein Ideas:
Thinly sliced roast leftovers (My husbands favorite, goes great with this dressing)
Chicken legs ( I leave it on the bone and just eat it with my salad)
Meatballs (I've been adding liver to them lately for extra nutrition)
Hemp Seeds or Quinoa (They are a complete protein source for vegans)

Step 4) Add some fat

I know I've said this before but I'm hoping repetition drives it home, you need healthy fat in your diet and you especially need it to assimilate many of the nutrients in vegetables. Fat also satiates your hunger better than protein and carbohydrates.
Favorite Fat Picks:
Olive oil
Egg yolks
Nuts or Seeds (almond and cashews personally)
Goat Cheese (it is easier to digest and I can find it made locally)

Step 5) Dress for success

I think the biggest salad faux pas is low fat dressing. See 'step 4'! Salad dressing is a really great opportunity to add nutrition to your salad. Most store-bought dressings are high in sugar and vegetable (unhealthy) oils, as well as extra ingredients to keep them looking nice and shelf stable. I am a fan of homemade dressing because you can control what is in it and customize it to your preference. It doesn't have to be time consuming. You can add olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, and salt to a jar and shake; and most dressings freeze well. 
Dressings To Try:
Homemade Honey Mustard: whisk equal parts olive oil and mustard together and then stir in honey to taste.

The salad pictured is kale, wakame and carrots marinated in lemon juice and olive oil, with red leaf added in right before eating. It got topped with leftover veggies and roast, runny-yolk eggs, nutritional yeast, and home-made sauerkraut. 

Happy Crunching!

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