A few weeks ago I wrote a guest blog post for The Daily Beet, which is The Engine 2 Diet’s blog. I wanted to repost that content right here on HGK, because the thoughts I expressed in it are so important to this lifestyle, to maintaining a healthy weight and to having a strong immune system. So it’s ironic that as I type this, I am suffering from a cold.. But sickness for me is so rare these days, and even the viruses that I contract don’t take me down like they used to. Perhaps it’s the salads?
I make an effort to eat at least one huge salad just about every day. Besides finding them delicious (and you will too if you know how to make a kick arse salad!), they provide an endless variety of low calorie, high volume food for me to enjoy. Since I have never eaten like a bird, it is very important for me to eat “volumetrically.” Like Doug Lisle says, eat your raw veggies first (the salad!), your cooked veggies next, and then your whole grains third. It’s almost impossible to over consume calories that way!
A salad can be a feast. A meal. Dinner. Not just a side dish or an appetizer or, heaven forbid, a garnish. Unfortunately, for many, the word salad conjures up visions of limp lettuce on a plate with nothing but a slice of tomato, a slice of cucumber and a white goopy dressing. And given what is typically served as a salad in a restaurant, I can hardly blame them!
Salads can be extremely quick to prepare and relatively economical. They can become one of your favorite meals, if you learn the basics of building a nutrient dense salad.
There are 4 major components to building a meal sized salad. You cannot mess this up. Use whatever you like or whatever you want to experiment with. It’s all good! The four components are: the greens, the other vegetables and fresh fruit, the beans, and the dressing.
Romaine lettuce, green and red leaf lettuces, butter lettuce, spinach, arugula, spring mix or bibb lettuce. Choose one or a mix of two. This is the largest component of the salad, so fill the bowl at least ¾ full of raw leafy greens.
The Other Veggies/Fruit/Herbs
Raw or cooked, throw handfuls of them on top of the greens. Raw vegetables include, but are not limited to shredded green or red cabbage, mushrooms, scallions, red onion, carrots, tomato, radishes, chopped cauliflower, broccoli, finely chopped kale, celery, cucumber, hearts of palm and bean sprouts. Whatever you like!
Cooked and roasted vegetables of all varieties are also wonderful in salads. You can prepare them especially for use in your salad or just use up whatever happens to be in your refrigerator that day! Great examples are roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, carrots and onions. Roasted sweet potato or butternut squash or frozen corn that has been defrosted can be tossed in. Artichoke hearts packed in water are also scrumptious.
Even fresh fruit like diced apple, diced pear, orange segments, blueberries, and strawberries and/or chopped fresh herbs can take a salad from “so-so” to “oh wow!
Black beans, edamame, garbanzo beans (chick peas), cannellini beans, pinto beans and kidney beans are all great in salads. Beans can be purchased canned, you just need to drain and rinse them before tossing them in. If you are ambitious, you can buy dried beans and cook them yourself in larger batches. This saves mucho dinero but involves planning and time that I rarely have.
So many amazing no-oil salad dressing recipes are now at your fingertips. Many do include nuts or tahini, so watch out for those ingredients if you need to. My blog readers and I compiled “The Big List of No-oil Salad Dressings” a few months ago. I recommend printing that list out and inserting the pages into plastic page protectors (available at office supply stores). Maybe put them into a small binder. Keep these pages handy in your kitchen so you are never at a loss for a new and exciting dressing recipe.
A word about salad “indulgences” like dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, currants, etc), seeds and/or nuts: use these very sparingly or not at all if you would like to lose weight or have chronic disease.
Time Saving Tips
I like to wash and store a lot of lettuce at a time. I don’t buy pre-washed or cut lettuce, I think it’s treated with chemicals and it’s way to expensive. I use a Progressive Lettuce Keeper to store washed and torn lettuce and green bags to store all of my other vegetables. These newfangled storage products have worked amazingly well for me to extend the life of my vegetables.
Pre-washed baby spinach and spring mix can be purchased in large boxes–no chopping involved or storage issues, just grab and go.
Purchase pre-cut items
Every grocery store is different, but I’ll give you an example of what I picked up at a recent Trader Joe’s trip: shredded carrots, shredded green cabbage, cooked beets, cauliflower florets, and broccoli florets.
Own at least one very large salad bowl
My everyday bowl is very large ceramic bowl that I threw myself when I was a potter (another lifetime ago!). I own another humongous one for serving a crowd. These bowls can be plastic or ceramic.
My very large salad bowl holds enough salad for my husband and I for one dinner if all we are eating is salad. If a soup, stew, sauteed greens dish or casserole is also on the menu, that same salad would last us for two nights.
Salad is a great make ahead meal
Don’t dress all of your salad unless you are sure you are going to eat it. My undressed salads last for days in it’s big bowl in the refrigerator, which means you can prepare a lot of salad and not have to worry about it for days. Oftentimes I will make salad in the morning before leaving for work so that my evenings are more relaxed. Plus I’m usually extremely hungry when I walk in the door and having healthy food at the ready means that I am far more likely to make good choices.
Prepare Dressing in Advance (and a lot of it)
Consider making a double batch of no-oil salad dressing. You could store it in the refrigerator in a big canning jar and feel so hip. Use it up until it’s gone and then make another. Not only will this save you oodles of time, it will save you oodles of money on bottled dressings that don’t taste one iota as good as the dressings on The Big List of No-oil Salad Dressing.
Chop it if you Wanna
Have you ever had one of those wonderful chopped salads in a restaurant? If you don’t like the idea of doing all that chewing every day, simply take all of your salad bowl ingredients (before the dressing) and lay them onto a large cutting board. Dice and chop your heart out, scoop the salad back into the bowl and dress it. Viola! A wonderful meal sized chopped salad.
Roasted Kabocha Squash, Dried Fig and Walnut Salad
serves 3 for dinner, 6 as a starter
1 large head romaine lettuce or two small heads green leaf or red leaf lettuce, washed and chopped
1 large kabocha squash, roasted, cut into bite sized pieces
6 large stalks celery, cut into 1″ thick slices on a diagonal
1/2 cup dried figs, sliced thin
1/4-1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Chef Aj’s house dressing (get that recipe below) or dressing of your choice
To roast your kabocha squash:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wash the exterior of the squash and cut in half. Remove seeds. Do not remove the skin of kabocha squash, it’s perfectly edible!
Cut squash into even slices (they will look like half-moons) about 1″ thick. Spray two cookie sheets with cooking spray and arrange squash slices in one layer onto cookie sheets. Spray squash lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with a touch of salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes.
Let squash cool a bit and then cut into bite sized pieces. Place lettuce, roasted squash, figs and walnuts into a large salad bowl. Dress with Chef Aj’s House dressing or dressing of your choice. Enjoy!