As we are done with the festivities, we ate the last leftovers from the New Year’s Eve dinner, we are looking ahead. We are all trying to keep ourselves to our New Year Resolutions in the hope of a better life.
Don’t worry, secretly (or not so secretly) most people want to commit to a diet, lose weight or follow a healthier lifestyle.
There is just one thing. The boring and insipid ice lettuce will only bring you closer to desperation to quit and not your goals.
So how can you make a nutritious, filling, and delicious salad with basic vegetables? I’m going to prove you wrong that winter vegetables are boring, that salad is only to be consumed during summer, and that salad is equal to starvation.
The salad also doesn’t have to be expensive. It is a great myth that someone can’t follow a healthy diet because it is unaffordable. Of course, buying a $1 burger is unbeatable, but introducing healthier meals in your diet 2-3 times a week will not strain your budget.
This is a colorful and delicious journey for those who like an adventure. These meals are easy, and your prep efforts will be rewarded with admiring looks from your co-workers at lunch.
And if you are on the verge of quitting your job without another, here you can learn the professional salad building techniques. It will impress your next employer.
Salad from the 90s
I remember watching the series Sex and the City where the girls mostly had salad and the occasional pizza. I remember thinking, they must be having a lot of fun, or enjoy each other’s company so much that they can’t taste the awfully boring salad.
You try to feel good about eating that empty salad, put a strained smile on your face, and pretend you are full. You don’t need to pretend anymore.
Just erase all memories of any sad-looking salad leaves topped with slices of sour tomatoes and a couple of cucumber cubes. In today’s gastronomy climate, it is also not fair to call something a salad if it is drowned in vinegar or balsamic vinaigrette.
When making the salad, it is good to know if it is going to be a side salad or a main dish and prepare it accordingly.
As always, the magic trick is the balance. You can make a salad out of anything, but it has to be colorful, with a lot of taste, it has to have texture and many different ingredients.
Focus on seasonal vegetables when making a salad. In winter these are beets, carrots, collard greens, kale, or potatoes just to name a few.
Pay extra attention to textures. After the taste, this is the second most important feature. The texture contrasts will give you satisfaction. Mix the creamy, the soft, with crunchy and chewy.
If you are after a fresh salad with mostly raw ingredients it is best to have it chilled. Yet, a salad doesn’t necessarily have to be cold. It can be warm, lukewarm, or at room temperature.
Everything starts with the base. This sets the tone for your salad. Don’t panic that salad leaves are not in season at the moment; you can easily use kale or Swiss chard. Leafy greens should only account for a maximum of half of the salad, feel free to use even less.
If you are working with kale, it is important to sprinkle it with lemon juice and olive oil and massage it for 2-3 minutes before you add other vegetables. This will break the fibers and take the bitterness away.
Other leafy greens to use include spinach, arugula, romaine, green lettuce, lamb lettuce, mixed greens, microgreens.
Now is the time to start being creative. You can choose your vegetables to be cooked, baked, or raw. When you are working from home alone it is quick and easy to prepare vegetables for the perfect salad.
You need to be careful how you prepare the vegetables because different methods suit different vegetables that could make or break the salad.
Starchy vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, and butternut squash are excellent choices to add to salads. They add lots of flavors. You can prepare them in the oven or fry them in a pan.
When preparing the squash, be careful not to overbake it or cook it. Otherwise, it will lose its texture and become mushy. It is best to frequently check during cooking/baking and remove it from the heat while it is still a bit hard.
Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts also go well in salads. Halve the sprouts and take the cauliflowers into smaller pieces. Season them with anything that is handy and bake them in the oven, fry them in a pan, or steam them.
Broccoli is best steamed, but only have it in the heat for a couple of minutes for the outside to soften and the inside to stay crunchy.
Yellow and red beetroot give vibrant colors to your salad. Add them baked or raw, in cubes, slices, or grated. They are a great addition in any form. The same goes for other root vegetables too like carrots, celery, or kohlrabi.
A great variety of pulses and legumes make your salad filling and provide essential protein. So, any type of beans, chickpeas, lentils, or peas should be part of the salad. You can cook them yourself, maybe even season them, but you can also just use canned versions.
Grains such as barley, couscous, millet, quinoa, bulgur, or rice are the smart carbs. They fill you up, make you satisfied and reduce food cravings. They are such an essential part of salads.
You can also work with rice noodles, orzo, and other pasta that you are comfortable with.
The protein question sparks many debates these days. Go with the protein type that works for you the best depending on your diet.
As a vegetarian, I use eggs, tofu, feta, edamame beans, tempeh, or avocado when it comes to salad.
For the Crunch
If you are done with assembling the main parts of your salad, here comes the exciting crunch. This gives the extra flavor you are not expecting and the texture that is contrasting against the soft or chewy vegetables.
You can use crouton, sesame seed, linseed, sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, walnut, or peanut (subject to peanut allergy).
The list is very long for crunch options, be creative with them.
Dressing and the Finishing Touches
The dressing is the magical liquid that makes your salad come alive. You need to be careful and strictly not drown your vegetables in the dressing because that will ruin all your hard work.
It is best if you prepare your own dressing instead of using store-bought ones.
A quick mix of any plant yogurt, a teaspoon of mustard, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and some water for thinning will do the job perfectly.
Now, use any green herbs that are available to you such as dill, chives, parsley, or coriander. Best if you have a mix of these and sprinkle a small handful on your salad to make it complete.