Salads don’t have to boring, and they don’t even have to be entirely raw either! (Think: roasted vegetable salad)
I eat a lot of salads, and I make a lot of salads for potlucks, simply because I know most people bring heavy foods for shared meals, and I like to balance the table out with veggies. Plus, they are so quick and easy to prepare! In recent years, I’ve had a positive response to these vegetable medleys, perhaps because people start with such low expectations, thinking salads are usually tasteless. Thus, when friends do enjoy one of the salads I’ve made, I typically get questions about what I’ve put into them.
As a result, I give you my guide to adding variety and deliciousness to your salads, without feeling deprived.
Tip 1: Start with Power Greens
I like to start with a powerful base, something other than romaine or iceberg lettuce, because to me, those are useless fillers that don’t provide much by way of satiety or nutrients, although I have read that romaine can be a good mood booster and source of fertility-boosting folic acid.
So call me stubborn, but I still to stick to the greens that I was told to eat as a kid, like spinach, or now, kale, baby kale, arugula, or some type of mix you can find at the store, which may also include chard or radicchio as well. This way, I know every bite of my salad is wholesome and full of energy-boosting vitamins.
Tip 2: Find flavor in low-fat, filling foods
I try to be healthy, but I also love TASTY. Therefore, I like to include ingredients that give my salads a rich taste without adding too much fat content. This could be making dressing out of nonfat Greek yogurt mixed with seasoning and herbs, or replacing dressing with hummus altogether. There’s also the option of roasting some of the heartier vegetables and tossing them on top of a bed of greens. Just make sure to use vegetables that release more nutrients under the high heat of roasting, rather than those that lose it. (See the roasted veggie salad recipe I posted earlier.)
For extra flavor, if I’m serving this for others, I’ll use cheese crumbles or shavings of a salty cheese like gorgonzola or parmesan. Otherwise, if it’s for myself, I’ll add a protein like black beans or avocado. These last two ingredients will help you feel satiated, in case you’re worried that packing a spinach salad for a work lunch might not hold you over for the rest of the day. In fact, if I’m picking up a salad from the Whole Foods bar, I like to include some denser ingredients for that very reason — eggplant, portobello mushrooms, and artichoke hearts.
Tip 3: Make it Bite-Sized
The key to enjoying salads is chopping!
Making a salad doesn’t involve cooking, but there is prep time involved. Take the time to chop your veggies up, real nice and small, especially for those vegetables that you know people may not like as much, This comes in particularly handy if you’re serving this to kids, too! I have noticed that by finely dicing cucumbers, bell peppers and tomatoes , and thinly slicing radishes and onions, people are more likely to eat and enjoy them. I believe large vegetable chunks are one key reason people don’t enjoy salads. Think about it: How often have you gone to a restaurant, ordered a salad, and have encountered a huge tomato wedge or a mouthful of spinach that you have to keep chewing, and then you get turned off?
Texture seems to be a key reason people avoid some veggies, so by dicing vegetables you make them more palatable. Also, make it easier on your guests by chopping your main base of greens a little bit too– spinach, arugula, romaine, whatever it is. For these greens, you still want to maintain some of their shape, for presentation, but a rough chop should suffice. My opinion is that you should be able to easily pick up a bite with just a fork.
So now, since summer is in full swing and we’re all into lighter foods anyway, here are two of my favorite salads that my friends and family have enjoyed as well. The first is a refreshing, simple summer salad, and the second is a colorful green bean salad where presentation is key.
Cool Summer Salad
- 10 oz fresh baby spinach
- 1/2 cucumber
- 1 pint of fresh strawberries
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or halved pecans (Some people like candied pecans, which are certainly delicious, but I avoid candied pecans to keep the sugar content lower)
- 5 oz goat cheese, crumbled (alternatively you can use gorgonzola for more flavor)
- 1/4 red onion
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- Balsamic vinegar, for dressing
- Wash and dry spinach. Chop roughly into pieces. Place into a salad bowl.
- Dice cucumber finely. No need to peel the cucumber if you’re chopping it really small. Scatter evenly over the spinach.
- Wash, dry, and slice the strawberries such that they look like thin heart-shaped pieces. Scatter evenly into the bowl over the spinach.
- Peel and chop the onion into thin, long slices or rings. Scatter evenly into the bowl.
- Chop or crush the walnuts into pieces. Scatter evenly into the bowl.
- Sprinkle the crumbled cheese and pepper evenly into the bowl.
- Just before serving, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and mix well.
Rainbow Green Bean Salad
- 10 oz fresh spinach
- 2 pints fresh green beans
- 5 radishes
- 1/2 pint of grape tomatoes, quartered
- 1/2 yellow or orange bell pepper (for color)
- 1 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp melted butter
- 4 chopped garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp dry herb mix such as oregano, rosemary, Italian seasoning
Method — (mostly about presentation)
- Steam the green beans for 15-20 mins.
- While green beans are steaming, chop spinach roughly and toss into the base of a large salad bowl. You will be arranging the rest of the vegetables in a circle along the edge of the bowl on top of the spinach.
- Wash the radishes well and pat dry with a paper towel, wiping away and remaining residue stuck to them. Slice thinly into rounds. Arrange the sliced radishes neatly in 2-4 sections on the bed of spinach around the edge of the bowl.
- Wash and pat dry bell pepper. Slice lengthwise. Arrange the sliced bell pepper neatly in 2-4 sections on the bed of spinach around the edge of the bowl.
- Wash and pat dry the grape tomatoes, and chop them into quarters. Arrange the chopped tomatoes in sections along the edge of the bowl. Save a few pieces of tomato to top the green beans for presentation later.
- Roughly chop walnuts. Arrange in sections as with vegetables above, and save a few to top the green beans later for presentation.
- When green beans are done steaming, run under cool water (so they are not still hot) and drain as needed. Chop off the ends and arrange nearly at the center of the salad bowl.
- Scatter the feta cheese neatly in a circle around the green beans and concentric within the ring of the other vegetables you arranged along the edge of the bowl.
- For the dressing, combine the dressing ingredients, stir well, and drizzle over the salad, particularly over the green beans to give it an appetizing look. Top the green beans with the remaining tomato and walnut pieces you set aside.