Thursday, March 3, 2011

How to Make a Good salad

If the were one staple in my diet, it would be the salad (ok,you got me on this...and coffee). I eat a salad almost everyday for lunch, and sometimes for dinner too.

If this sounds like punishment, then you have been going about the salad all wrong. Salads don't have to feel like rabbit food. In fact, a salad can be downright unhealthy if laden with cheese, creamy dressing, fried protein options, or even if you skip the obvious culprits and load up on avocado, beans, corn, and nuts.

To make a delicous salad and keep it healthy too, there are a few simple components too keep in mind.

The Base

The base of a salad will typically be a leafy green of some type, but don't feel obligated to pick a lettuce, as cucumbers, beets, beans, grains, and just about any neutral tasting vegetable can work. Head lettuce is not the go to lettuce either. Romaine makes a nice substitute, but I prefer some of the more exotic lettuces such as arugula and mache.

Don't use the same lettuce everyday for your salad or you will get bored. I try to use two bases a week. This week, it's kale and spinach.

Crunchy Ingredients

I'm not sure you can call something a salad if it doesn't crunch. Carrots, radishes, roasted nuts, cucumbers, jicama, peppers, cabbage, and apples have major crunch factor plus lots of nutrition. The crunch doesn't have to come from produce. Asian noodles, crunched up tortilla chips, or even a crispy protein option could work, but be aware that those options can pack extra calories and should be balanced out with lighter dressings and healthier creamy options.

Creamy Ingredients

Creamy doesn't mean cream-based; it means melty, smooth options which add substance and depth to the salad. My go to options are avocado, beets and white or red beans. Sometimes, the creaminess comes from the salad dressing such as when I make a tahini-based salad dressing.

If the creamy option is a dairy product, that's perfectly fine too, as long as the portion is reasonable and it's balanced out with the other ingredients. As a rule, it might be good to allow only one salad "fun" ingredient is allowed per day. "Fun" foods might be fried onions, croutons, cheese, extra nuts, or ranch dressing for example.


Grilled chicken, if you are a lover of grilled chicken, is the death of a many a healthy salad. Look it's perfectly healthy and a good source of protein. I'm not saying you shouldn't eat grilled chicken anymore. But cold grilled chicken on a bed of cold vegetables is just not appetizing to me.

Protein in the salad can come from so many sources: beans, tofu, nuts, chopped up veggie burgers, diced cold cuts, tuna, and the aforementioned chicken, just to name a few.

Salad Dressing

The salad dressing brings everything together. In my opinion, it's the missing link. I experiment with my dressings almost daily and when I hit upon a great combination, I look forward to the salad all day long.

The best salad dressings are homemade, but there are a lots of amazing store brands out there too. My favorite salad dressing is a combination of vinegar and oil. I use more vinegar than oil, but most people prefer equal amounts. Try adding a pinch of sugar or a little water if the vinegar taste is too strong.

Set a Theme

The best salads work because all the ingredients compliment each other. Not sure what vegetable compliments which nut? Me too. Instead, I look to other food combinations to come up with my salads.

Do you like pizza? How about spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, caramelized onions, croutons, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and a basil vinaigrette?

Or do you like Mexican food? Then put your favorite taco fillings in a salad, forget the sour cream and cheese and make a vinegar and oil dressing but use lime juice in place of vinegar.

Finally, if you are still don't think you can put together a yummy salad, keep these rules in mind:

Make the salad colorful. The richer the colors, the more chock full of nutrients the salad will be. Plus, food that looks good, tastes better.

Dress the salad right before eating. The acid in vinegar breaks down vegetables and will cause a salad to wilt and lose it's crunch factor by the time you get around to eating it. So carry the salad dressing in a separate container if you are bringing it for lunch.

If you are using a really fibrous vegetable, dress the salad a few hours before eating. I know I just said to wait until right before eating, but ingredients like kale and broccoli are just too tough to eat raw. However if they marinate for a few hours, they will end up the perfect texture.

Now here's a Kale Salad I put together for lunch this week:

3 cups Kale chopped into bit size pieces
6 baby carrots
5 radishes
1/2 cup white beans
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 an Italian sweet pepper, sliced

1 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs water
1 tbs olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
Sprinkle (one or two shakes from the container) of garlic powder

Chop up the carrots and radishes in the food processor.

Mix everything together and enjoy! Because this salad is full of kale, add the dressing immediately and then wait to eat. I made this in the morning before work and ate it for lunch, so it marinated for about four hours.

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