My go-to lunch is a huge salad. I take my time chopping veggies and tossing them into my bowl because I love seeing beautiful, brightly colored food and I love how nourished and satisfied I feel when it’s over. I love dreaming up new combinations and I’m a firm believer that you cannot mess up salad if you have quality ingredients!!!! I’m going to make this post as comprehensive as possible and I’ll add to it over time. I hope you’ll find something new, interesting, or inspiring here.. Please let me know if you do!
Break up with dressing.
There is no denying that buttermilk ranch dressing is perfect and can be eaten on almost everything, but it has no nutritional value and it dominates the delicate flavors of vegetables. On top of that, most dressings are made primarily of inflammatory oils. These oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, soy, vegetable) are high in Omega 6 Fatty acids and trans fats, which can increase LDL cholesterol AND decrease HDL, raising the risk of heart disease and triggering the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals. There is so much information on good/bad oils and I found this to be a good source. On top of bad oils, dressing can be packed with sugar and shelf stabilizing ingredients that your body cannot digest.
I use a generous drizzle of olive oil in place of dressing most days. You can’t go wrong with a high quality olive oil, and you can find it almost anywhere!!! I also buy high quality aged balsamic, and use that from time to time!
If you really want to step it up, flavored olive oils is the answer to any question you have. I buy from small, local companies and love knowing the oils are made in small batches. The flavor combinations you can create with these will blow your mind. My all time favorites are dill, blood orange, and lime. But I’m always trying new flavors.. Last month I bought cranberry pear balsamic and wowwwww it is delicious. I’d drink it. I’ve bought oils in Manitowoc, Madison, Milwaukee, and Door County. I know Whole Foods carries lemon and lime fused olive oil, so no matter where you live, keep an eye out!
Figure out what you like! I don’t like spinach by itself and I hate romaine unless it’s served over nachos. I like something lighter with a little crunch. I am OBSESSED with Superior Greens spring mix. It is light and has the best texture and flavor. I buy it at Festival Foods and Whole Foods - but I think you can buy it just about anywhere! I also love arugula and kale, depending on the day/week/season/mood. But just a reminder that if you ENJOY eating it, it probably won’t rot in your fridge… figure out what that is for you!
Use what you have!!!!
I have a few salad recipes on my blog, and I post pictures of my lunch salad a few times a week. You’ll notice I use the same staple ingredients EVERY time. I mix up flavors by swapping herbs from week to week, adding different types of nuts/seeds, and other flavors of oils. It makes it very easy for me to make a salad because I know I’ll always have my staples (greens, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, fruit) and from there I can make something delicious. I’m sure you have certain veggies that you prefer, so utilize them. Make your grocery shopping consistent and you’ll be in awe of how many times a day you add HEALTHY, NUTRITIOUS, DELICIOUS foods to your meals! Use what you have, eat what you love!
Dicing veggies. I am very particular about how the veggies are cut, I like them to be diced pretty small and all about the same size! I think it makes a big difference when you get a little bit of everything in one bite.
Lots of toppings. In my opinion, the more toppings the better. I cannot emphasize enough: use what you have!!!! I use meal leftovers, the last handful of trail mix, basically anything you might find in your fridge or pantry. Chances are if you like eating it, you’ll like it in your salad.
Cover your bases. Something salty, something crunchy, something fatty, something sweet, something chewy, something “bright”, something savory/umami, something soft. A variety of texture and flavor makes every bite satisfying and have a good mouth feel!
Herbs - come one come all! I was on dill kick from July - September, and now I’m into parsley. Use herbs to decorate your salads and add more than you think you should! Maybe use multiple herbs per salad! Get crazy!
Dress! Oil it up. All about the mouth feel. You cannot go wrong with olive oil. The easiest dressing in the world is oil + honey + acv + mustard + salt/pepper. Boom, you’re fancy.
CHOOSING YOUR INGREDIENTS
These categories may overlap. You don’t need one ingredient from each category every time, you just need a few! I really only made this chart for display purposes here, but I just approach a salad with the thought “what’s gonna taste good together?” and I chuck it in. Trust your instincts - you really don’t need a recipe for salad. Also, I never shop with salads in mind. I buy staples to cook with and snack on, and everything I buy can go in a salad. DO NOT buy ingredients that you won’t use. In complete transparency, bleu cheese is not a staple. Neither are chickpeas, salami, croutons, peaches, pears, beets or mozz. IF I happen to have those ingredients in my pantry/ fridge for other reasons I’ll toss them in. Otherwise, its greens, veggies, a fruit, nuts/seeds, and cheese. And that’s the secret sauce !
If you’re still here, I want to wrap up by saying that I haven’t always been into salad. One day this summer I put a bunch of leftovers in a bowl with greens and enough dill to bury it all. It changed my life and I haven’t looked back. I hope you see something here that inspires you but I’d also love to hear from all of you - what do you top your salads with??