Even before I was vegan, salads were always a specialty of mine. I even worked for many years at a salad farm, the beautiful Little Creek Gardens!
So, as a self-proclaimed salad connoisseur, I have put together this small list of tips to help make your salads so delicious that people may just want to eat more of them than the main course, or better yet, to eat them as the main course. I am a proponent of aiming to have one of the meals that you eat each day be a salad. Just a great big scrumptious bowl of nutrient-rich goodness!
Here are some of my suggestions to help make your salads great.
1. Chop those vegetables
When I eat out I’m often disappointed with how unchopped the salads are. Who wants to eat a frisée leaf that is so big you struggle to fit it into your mouth? Followed by a huge wedge of tomato in the next bite, then maybe an oversized hunk of cucumber to finish it off? Seriously. We can do better than this. About 95% of the salads that I prepare are designed to be eaten out of a bowl and with a spoon, not a fork. Crazy, I know. But hear me out. The delicious flavour of salads comes from the perfect combination of ingredients, so I recommend chopping all ingredients, greens included, into small pieces so that in one bite you can simultaneously taste the arugula, the avocado and the mango (or the cucumber, tomato and pine nuts, or the kale, cabbage and carrot, etc).
2. Add some fat
Nuts, seeds and avocadoes in salads all add nutritional value, are particularly pleasing to the palate and help to enhance the flavours of the other ingredients. Hemp seeds, toasted pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds and slivered almonds are all great additions. Lately, I have been using cashews instead of oil for some of my dressings, which is so easy if you have a NutriBullet, Magic Bullet or similar small blender to mix salad dressing in. And on that note…
3. Make your own salad dressing
I think many people are intimidated by the idea of making homemade salad dressing. We have become so accustomed to purchasing pre-made bottles of the stuff that we assume it must be too complicated to create in our own kitchens. I promise you that this is not the case. The key to most salad dressings is mixing together a bit of oil (or other source of fat) with some vinegar, some citrus and a couple of other flavour adders like salt, dijon mustard, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, agave, onions or garlic. I usually blend my dressings using my NutriBullet, but if you don’t have one of these, a good shake in a small mason jar will do the trick for most dressings. Sesame oil, rice vinegar, tahini, lime juice, fresh garlic and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (soy sauce) is a fantastic combination, as is olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, roasted garlic, nutritional yeast and tamari soy sauce. And if you’re using a blender like the NutriBullet, you can use cashews or other nuts instead of oil in any dressing. Switch it up and make a couple of different dressings on the weekend to store in your fridge for use throughout the week. And when you’re not making your own, try Little Creek Dressing, as it is the best in the world (I may be a little biased here, given all the pleasant years I spent at Little Creek, but I’m pretty sure I’m right about this).
4. Cook an ingredient or three
Did you know that you can “grill” spinach simply by squeezing a little lemon on top, wrapping it in tin foil, then putting it in your oven (or toaster oven) for a few minutes? This warm grilled spinach is a fantastic addition to a salad. Sautéed mushrooms also add great flavour as do steamed broccoli, roasted squash or fried tofu. The texture and flavour of one or two cooked ingredients in a salad combine so nicely with the raw crunch of the uncooked base vegetables.
5. Always add legumes
I am such a huge fan of legumes. And I would suggest that you become one too. In addition to being satisfying and delicious, they are excellent sources of fibre, iron and protein (especially the amino acid lysine, which isn’t as prevalent in other vegan protein sources such as whole grains, nuts and seeds). Switch it up and keep a variety in your house, adding a serving to pretty much every salad. The combinations are endless, but by way of example, I find lentils are particularly great with sundried tomatoes; kidney beans work well with beets and other sweeter vegetables (or fruits) in a salad; chickpeas compliment pretty much everything, but I especially love them when paired with a sesame-based dressing (with greens and orange or mango, perhaps); and black beans are fantastic with southern-style salads, with a chilli lime dressing, corn and tomatoes, for instance. And fried tofu or tempeh (made from soybeans) is a delicious addition to any salad.
6. Add a grain
Particularly when eating a salad as a meal, I would recommend adding some brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, wheatberries, amaranth, whole grain pasta or a sprouted grain to make it feel less like a side dish and more like a meal. You can pre-cook your grains or pasta and have them available in your fridge for a variety of uses throughout the week. At a minimum, I usually start the week with a container of brown rice and a container of quinoa in the fridge, which are each added to a couple meals throughout the week. If you are cooking your grains right before adding them to the salad, you may wish to cool them with a rinse under cold water before adding to the salad.
7. Switch up your greens
There is a beautiful and expansive world of leafy greens out there, and we needn’t limit ourselves to just one or two of the options. When picking your greens, keep in mind that, as a general rule, the darker the leaf the more nutrient dense. Because of this, I like to focus on the darker greens most often. Kale is fantastic, nutrient dense, crunchy green goodness. It is one of my favourite greens. Arugula is a mildly spicy option, which provides an incredibly flavourful, almost peppery, salad base. Spinach is great, particularly when steamed or grilled (as noted above). There are also many types of lettuces, which are known for their milder flavours (red and green leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, romaine, even iceberg, although I would suggest limiting consumption of the latter as it adds little flavour and even less nutrients – but a lovely crunch!). And if you want to get fancy, try out some endive, frisée or radicchio, which, in my opinion, are typically best as a secondary green rather than the salad base.
Hopefully these tips will help you get started! Let me know in the comments below if you have some tips to add to the list! And I would absolutely love to see your creations! When you make a salad you really love, please tag me on Instagram @plant_hearted and hashtag #planthearted!