Making a good salad is truly an art. Salads seem to be the epitome of health food, however, there are many big mistakes made that drastically reduce or destroy the nutritional value of your salad.
Let’s outline the steps to making a fabulous salad both in taste and nutrition! We’ll use the salad I made for myself today as a guide.
The Base – Lettuce and Beyond: You need to start your salad with good greens. Forget about iceberg lettuce! It’s mostly water and has hardly any nutrients. You want to opt for dark, leafy greens which are a nutritional powerhouse (vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-cortene, calcium, folate, fiber, iron, and phytonutrients). I also cannot stress enough the importance of buying organic. Not only are you protected from harmful pesticides and chemicals, but new studies are showing that organically grown produce may actually be nutritionally superior than conventionally grown. Once you have your greens, you can make things more flavorful by adding chopped, fresh herbs like basil and cilantro. Who said lettuce had to be boring? This salad was made with Earthbound Farm Organic “Fresh Herb” salad greens, fresh basil, and fresh cilantro.
Add-ins – Vegetables: Once you’ve got your beautiful bed of greens, it’s time to add some vegetables. Here, the possibilities are truly endless. Never hesitate to try something new or unexpected… it’ll give your salad a unique twist! Some suggestions are: cucumber, onion, shredded carrot, zucchini, squash, tomato, avocado, asparagus, artichoke hearts, chopped green or red pepper, radish, alfalfa sprouts, celery, peas, broccoli, black beans, fava beans, chickpeas, etc. As you can see, the possibilities are ENDLESS… it’s all about what you like. And, don’t limit yourself to vegetables. Fresh fruit like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries make a great addition as well. Also, don’t forget to buy organic. This salad was made with zucchini, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and chopped carrot.
Add-ins – Non-vegetable: This part can be very fun, but it’s also where most salads go horribly wrong. Things like croutons and fatty cheeses destroy the purity and health of your salad. If you MUST have cheese, opt for something less processed like goat cheese or raw milk cheese. I love cheese but I steer clear of it in my salad… I like to keep it all pure, raw foods. A great addition to any salad is nuts or seeds. It turns your salad into a filling meal by adding protein and good, healthy fats. Try sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and pine nuts. If you roast your seeds, they become even more flavorful. I often just toss some pumpkin seeds on a pan and let them sit for a few minutes (no oil in the pan is needed). I also top all my salads with ground flaxseed, available at health food stores. It is one of the best sources of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6). This salad was made with toasted pumpkin seeds and ground flaxseed.
Top it off – Dressing: This is another major place where salads go horribly wrong. FORGET about creamy ranch, thousand island, french, and even raspberry vinaigrette. The creamy dressings are loaded with fat and sugar and the flavored vinaigrettes have even more sugar. Commercial salad dressings are a major danger zone, especially because people assume if they’re eating a salad, they MUST be making a good choice. It’s common for restaurant salads to have just as many (sometimes more!) calories than non-salad choices just from dressing. You want a dressing that will enhance the natural flavor of your delicious vegetables, spices, and nuts. Now that you’ve prepared such an elaborate salad, you don’t need a dressing to provide all the flavor. The best classic dressing is extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. The way to make this the most delicious is to buy a high quality, organic olive oil in a dark bottle (to protect it from light) and store it in a cool, dry place. Olive oils vary immensely in taste so it is definitely worth it to invest in a high-quality one. But don’t limit yourself to olive oil. Experimenting with other oils like toasted sesame, pumpkin seed, and macadamia nut can add a delicious flavor to your salad. My personal favorite is toasted sesame oil. It is incredibly delicious and flavorful but completely pure and devoid of the sugar, chemicals, and emulsifiers of commercial salad dressings. This salad was made with toasted sesame oil and lemon juice.
And there you have it! The steps to the perfect salad. When you’re done making it, you may want to put it on display just as much as you want to dig in.
Have any interesting or unique suggestions as a salad add-in? Let me know!
Eat your veggies,