If you are a foodie like me you probably also talk about food a lot. The problem is not everyone wants to listen to you ramble on about tomatoes and cucumbers. In fact, people regularly give me subtle hints to change the topic before I realize I have just spent the last 15 minutes lecturing them on all the nutritional benefits of broccoli.
But sometimes there is the odd person that is actually interested in what I have to say about healthy food. A week ago I was talking to a friend who I haven’t seen in a while about how I transitioned to a sugar-free diet. A few days after we spoke he sent me a text proudly announcing that it is his third day off sugar and telling me all the healthy food swaps we made recently. He also asked me for some simple salad recipes. Thrilled to hear that my healthy-food-mania has actually rubbed off on someone in a positive way, I am excited to help him out on his journey. So this post is for you, my friend!
Salads are my go-to meal. They are the easiest and quickest option if you are running low on time. But not every salad is equal. For a salad to be satisfying it needs not only good nutritional ingredients (lots of different veggies, healthy protein and fats) but also all kinds of different textures (crunchy, creamy etc.) and a punchy element (a good dressing, extra herbs etc.). I usually build my salads in 5 simple steps – taking me roughly 7 minutes to put together.
Step 1. Choose your greens
First off is choosing the base of the salad: greens! Depending on personal preference and seasonal availability this could be either some type of lettuce or other green leafy vegetables.
- Lettuce: Iceberg, rocket, butterhead lettuce, cos lettuce, mâche, oakleaf, romaine, watercress, etc.
- Other greens: Kale, spinach, swiss chard, (baby) spinach etc.
Busy-bee tip: If you are a really busy bee I recommend buying pre-washed packeted salad to save the time and hassle of washing and trimming. Mind, though, that it is usually more pricey and not environmentally friendly (plastic packaging is one of the planet’s worst enemies!)
Step 2. Add your veggies
Go crazy! No, seriously, choose whatever you feel like. The more the better. I usually incorporate at least 3 to 4 different types of vegetables – depending on what is lying around in my fridge. One vegetable you will always find in my salads is red onion. It gives the salad a great flavour punch. If pairing vegetables in new territory to you, these tips may help:
1. Check what is in season:
This will depend a little on where you live, of course. I am a big fan of eating seasonally and think it is always worth checking that your food is locally sourced. It’s a good way to be mindful of both your ecological footprint and toxin intake (food that travels far distances is most probably loaded with nasty preservatives to keep it fresh).
- Autumn/winter: Carrots, mushrooms, beetroot, leeks, brussel sprouts, pumpkin, sweet potato, celery, fennel, broccoli, cauliflower etc.
- Spring/summer: Garden radishes, asparagus, cucumber, artichokes, peas, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant etc.
2. Eat a rainbow:
Try to incorporate every colour into your salad (red tomatoes, green cucumbers, purple beetroot, orange carrot etc.). This ensures you are taking in the greatest possible variety of nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. If you are interested in the details on what colour holds which nutrients and why they are so bloody good for you, you can read up on it in this blog post by fellow foodie Victoria from naturalnutrition.
Busy-bee tip: You don’t have time to chop your veggies? You could prepare larger portions of veggies beforehand. A good idea is for example to grate some carrots and keep them in a plastic container in your fridge, ready to add whenever you make a salad. Another tip: use left-over roast vegetables. I usually roast a bunch of vegetables (zucchini, pumpkin, sweet potatoes) in olive oil on a sunday night and have them on hand during the week.
Step 3. The star of the salad: The protein
Now onto the star of the salad: the protein. Again there are endless possibilities and the choice of protein can turn a simple and potentially boring salad into a winner dish. Depending on your dietary preference and also budget here are some ideas:
- Meat: chicken, turkey, sausage pieces, ham, burger patties, meatballs, mince, left-over steak or meats etc.
- Fish: Canned tuna, sardines or salmon, fresh or smoked salmon, prawns, any kind of fish fillet or cut-offs, even fish fingers (home-made or organic store-bought) etc.
- Vegetarian: Lentils, beans, chickpeas, falafel
- Budget-friendly: Canned tuna, sardines and eggs (scrambled, fried, soft- or hard-boiled, poached etc.)
Busy-bee tip: If I know I won’t have the luxury of cooking my lunches at home I usually prepare a roast on a Sunday (simply roast chicken or slow-cooked lamb-shoulder etc.) and use the left-over meat as protein during the week. Also a good idea is to pre-boil some eggs and toss them into your salad.
Step 4. Get your fats in!
This is the most fun part of our build-your-perfect salad process. Fats are important not only for flavour but also for you to absorb all the nutrients in the vegetables you chose for your salad. Fats also keep us full for longer, turning our plate into a satisfying healthy meal and not ‘just-a-salad’. On top of that they are a good way to incorporate different textures. I usually choose one crunchy and one creamy fat source in my salads.
- Creamy: Avocado, goat’s feta, mozzarella etc.
- Crunch: Nuts of all kinds (macadamia, almonds, walnuts, cashews, brazil etc.), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame etc.), my Hazelnut Coriander Seed Dukkah, crispy bacon (my secret weapon!)
- Also good: Black or green olives
Step 5. Sauce it up!
Now it’s time to tie the whole salad together with a good dressing. Conventionally bought dressings can be loaded with artificial flavours and trans fat and should be avoided where possible. The easiest and quickest option is usually a mix of a vinegar of some type high quality oil. My go-to dressing is a mix of apple cider vinegar and olive oil (2:1 ratio) and a tablespoon of dijon mustard.
- Vinegar: Apple cider, white or dark balsamic (be aware of fructose content!)
- Oil: High quality olive oil, pumpkin seed oil, nut oils (almond, macadamia etc.), melted coconut oil, avocado oil (avoid vegetable oils at all costs – you can read up on why here).
- Herbs and condiments: A nice way to pimp your dressing is by adding herbs (cilantro, basil, parsley, dill etc.), spices (cumin, coriander seeds etc.) or condiments like dijon mustard (be aware of the ingredients though).
And there you have a step-by-step guide to build a perfectly satisfying and healthy salad. You see my friend, if you put your mind to it a little there are endless possibilities to create delicious combinations and eating salads will never be boring again. If you found a combination you like make sure to write it down and tell me!
Happy thrifty cooking! – Johanna