Building an Epic Salad
Salads are a great choice for a nutrient dense meal, they can fill us up without weighing us down. But salads get a bad rap- they can be boring & bland, leaving you feeling unsatisfied & hungry in an hour. While this can definitely be true, it doesn’t always have to be the case. What if we approached them differently? Looked at the lettuce as a vehicle for some of our favorite foods like sweet cherry tomatoes, garlicy hummus, seasoned roasted veggies, creamy avocado & cooked whole grains. What if you could pull a few ingredients from your pantry & shake up a dressing that brings your salad from zero to hero in minutes? And what if it could keep you FULL, like genuinely satisfied full, until your next meal? Your salad can be all of that if we just approach it a little differently. Let’s try…
The first thing we need to think about when approaching any meal is to identify where your macro nutrients are. Ok, maybe the first we need to do is figure out what the heck macro nutrients are. Thankfully this is an easy one- your “macros” are carbohydrates, proteins & fats. They are the largest class of nutrients that the body requires & having all of them present at each meal is what’s going to keep you satiated until the next one. Each macro nutrient has their own specific roles and functions in the body and each supplies us with calories, which turn into energy. All 3 macronutrients are almost always found in every item of food, the only difference is how they are balanced. For example, the nutritional composition of an avocado is generally made up of 75% fats, 20% carbohydrates and 5% protein, so this is a fat-based food. On the other hand a banana consists of 95% carbohydrates, with only small amounts of protein and fats. That would make it a carbohydrate-based food. To have a balanced meal we need to have all 3 present. So, when building yourself an epic salad ask, where are my macros?
The second piece to this crispy puzzle is flavor- we gotta have flavor! And since we know that “fats are bad” is an old diet fad & that healthy fats are a key necessity for proper health let’s get away from the idea that salads can only be dressed in lemon juice, or worse yet…dry! Ugh! Instead, think of your dressing as being a way to check off your fat-macronutrient box. Now, I’m not talking about your run of the mill, off the shelf salad dressings that use crappy oils & corn syrup. I’m talking about dressings with clean fat sources like extra virgin olive oil & pure sesame oil. And it’s ok to use a little sweetener, but let’s choose better options like local honey or 100% maple syrup. I will be sharing with you 2 different salad dressings that you can make right now by using common ingredients that you most likely already have. And the only tools you need are a mason jar & some measuring spoons. Boom!
The next misconception is that salads need to be 100% raw. While salad greens like lettuce, arugula & other fancier varieties are indeed what make a salad a salad, it doesn’t mean all of the components need to be straight from the garden. In the beginning of the week I love to cook up a big pot of quinoa & then store it in the fridge for a quick addition to meals on the fly. By mixing in some of your dressing into the quinoa it’s brought back to life & makes it a key player on your plate. Or go ahead & mix other veggies in there too like cucumbers & tomatoes & then top them onto a bed of greens. This ticks off the carbohydrate box with a big protein boost as well. And speaking of protein don’t forget about beans, glorious beans! Which I love to transform into hummus, glorious hummus! A big ’ole scoop of fresh (or store bought) hummus is a game changer. It’s a clean protein source with added flavor, double win! And lastly, don’t forget about cooked veggies as well. Instead of throwing in one tray of veggies in the oven for dinner I double up & make 2, saving one for the fridge to add to those on the fly meals. Roasting veggies like kabocha squash, zucchini & eggplant really brings out their flavors. And don’t be shy on the spices here either! My go-to’s are cumin, curry powder, oregano or chili powder. It takes it all to the next level!
Another thought is that salads take a ton of time to prep…so much washing & chopping! We can get around that too. After I come home from the store or farmers market with my salad greens I wash & spin my greens right away. Then store them in big bowl with a towel on top, tupperware or bag. Having the greens washed & ready to go is the difference between having a salad & ignoring the veggie drawer until they are compost. Buy cherry tomatoes & just give them a quick rinse as you use them & throw them in whole. No time to soak & cook your beans from scratch? Keep some (BPA free) cans (or the cardboard box kind!) in your pantry for a quick protein option. I also store my nuts & seeds in clear jars so I see them, which is the difference between using them & not using them! They make for a great protein, healthy fat addition & crunchy topping all in one. Toss in some dried fruit like raisins or cherries to add some sweet to your savory. Got some leftovers? Re purpose them & through them on top as well. A great habit to get into is to have at least one dressing already made in your fridge at all times, this makes the process even more of a no brainer. Make a big batch & they can last for months & double as a marinade.
A great time saver is to make multiple Instagram worthy mason jar salads. They hold up great so you can make multiples at a time for the upcoming week. It’s as simple as putting your dressing in first, followed by more hardy veggies like cabbage, carrots, cucumbers & bell peppers- things that will benefit from being marinaded in the dressing. Then top it with your beans, grains, any other cooked food & more delicate veggies like avocado. Finally add your leafy greens, nuts, seeds & dried fruit on top. Presto! Pour that baby out onto a plate & pat yourself on the back for setting yourself up with a healthy & macro nutrient balance meal!
Now, how about a couple of super simple salad dressings to get you started on your new love affair with greens....
MOMMA CUCINA’S BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE
As you might guess, this is my mom's infamous dressing! We had it with most salads growing up & never got sick of it, and neither did our friends. This is by far one of my mom's most requested recipes, and she is surprised every time because IT'S JUST SO SIMPLE! To be honest we don't even measure, it's just equal parts of all 3 ingredients- so we jus eye ball it! But for the sake of a recipe I picked a measurement & went for it. ENJOY this Pullella family tradition!
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup or mix of both
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Add to a glass jar the balsamic vinegar & sweetener. Put the lid on & shake well to combine.
Unscrew the lid, add the olive oil & then re-secure the lid again. Shake well.
Serve & enjoy! Can be kept in or out of the refrigerator.
LEMON DIJON VINAIGRETTE
This tangy dressing comes together in minutes & really transforms your dish. I love it as a salad dressing, but it can also double as a marinade too. A total winner to have ready made in your fridge to satisfy any craving.
2 tbl Lemon Juice (approx. 1 lemon)
2 tbl Dijon Mustard
1 clove garlic, very finely minced or grated
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/4 tsp Salt
optional: 1 tbl honey or maple syrup
Combine the lemon juice, dijon mustard, garlic, salt & pepper into a small bowl & whisk, or into a blender & blend.
Add the oil & whisk or blend until combined well.
Keep in a glass jar in the refrigerator & enjoy!