Anatomy of a Salad

I was trying to decide what recipe to post this week. I wanted to share something that I eat often, and finally it dawned on me: salad. I eat it every day, sometimes twice a day as lunch and part of dinner. And I NEVER, ever get tired of it. When I travel for a few days and don’t get my daily salad fix, I find myself longing desperately for a giant bowl of crunchy green.

thinly sliced raw radish, steamed cod, okra, avocado, and lettuce salad with mustard vinaigrette

I know what some of you may be thinking. Salad? Really? That’s so…mundane and boring. Who truly enjoys eating salad? And when I think of the typical restaurant salad – limp, white lettuce, a few paltry out of season tomatoes, and the occasional shredded carrot – I wouldn’t be excited either. However, the key is variety! I eat salad every day, but not the same one. I love monster salads packed full of interesting ingredients and combinations.  Here are a few tips for building a stellar salad:

1. Leafy Green Goodness

If you want a good salad, you need a great base. Lately I’ve been favoring something called “sunny lettuce”. I’m also a huge fan of baby spinach or any sort of dark leafy green. Torn kale, massaged with a bit of olive oil, is also super awesome.

sunny lettuce

2. The Crunch Factor

To keep things interesting, I need some good crunch in my salad. Carrots, shredded raw cabbage, any sort of nut, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pomegranate seeds, thinly sliced red onion, raw okra, or cucumber all work really well.

3. The Creamy/Carb-esque Factor

My go to creamy filler is 1/4 of an avocado, diced. I also like a mustard-based vinaigrette or this green apple dressing. The rest aren’t as creamy per say, but they provide a nice volume and excitement (seriously): lightly steamed broccoli, roasted cauliflower, balsamic onions, or steamed greens like full spinach or komatsuna.

4. Protein

When I eat salad as a main dish, I need some form of protein to fill me up and last until the next meal. Ground chicken, chopped roasted chicken, smoked salmon or trout, fish fillets, chickpeas, red kidney beans, or a hard boiled egg all fit the bill. Most of the time I use leftovers to fill the protein factor. If I’ve been traveling or am low on groceries, I turn to canned tuna or mackerel as a back up. I especially like mackerel because it is a more sustainable choice. Sardines or anchovies are also a great sustainable choices and are available in different canned flavors that are truly delicious.

5. The “It” Factor

To keep me coming back for more (literally), I have to have an unusual or unique ingredient that varies with each day or week. This is a great opportunity to break out and explore new  foods. Lately I’ve been using lightly steamed bean sprouts or lotus root. I also like any form of seaweed, though that is probably hard to source outside of Japan. Herbs add a great depth of flavor – I just discovered my love of shiso leaves, but mint, parsley, cilantro, etc. all work really well. I’ve been big into the pickled veggies: sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, homemade pickled daikon & cabbage from a Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen recipe.  My braised cabbage is a great add-in too!

With all this going on, I rarely need dressing or at least a lot of it. I usually keep it pretty simple and use either balsamic vinegar & olive oil or brown rice vinegar & sesame oil. I could also eat that green apple dressing by the jarful.  But mostly I like to let the flavors of all the veggies and extras blend together, usually with tasty herbs, roasted veggies, and vinegary pickled treats I’m satisfied as is.

Saturday Shiso Lunch Salad

Feel free to substitute for any of the ingredients from the lists above. Let me know what kind of combos you come up with! Here was my lunch today.

5 leaves sunny lettuce

3-4 okra pods, diced

pickled daikon, to taste

1/3 c broccoli sprouts

1/4 of an avocado, diced

6 pods okra chips or 1/2 Japanese or English cucumber, diced

3 shiso leaves, torn (substitute mint where shiso is unavailable)

100 g cooked chicken

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, mix well, and enjoy!

I went back for seconds, adding some sauerkraut because I ate the last of the pickled daikon.

Other Salad Love:

Balsamic Roasted Vegetable & Chicken Salad from eatrecyclerepeat

Blanched Kale Salad with Pomegranate Seeds & Green Apple Dressing (I just eat the kale raw too) from Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen

happy and satisfied, with my favorite (empty) salad bowl

Remember when I talked about Kitchen Failures? Here was my first batch of onions….

Carbon onions. Sigh. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..

Part of Diet, Dessert, and Dogs Wellness Weekend April 19-22