Sunday, September 1, 2013

How To Make A Killer Salad

There are few things you can do to better your overall diet than to eat a salad every day.  Whether it's its own meal or an accompaniment, make an effort to get in more daily greens!  Not sure how to start?  I'm going to help with that!

Before I dive in, though, let me say that I use the term "salad" very broadly. Basically, a salad for me is a plate of many exciting elements, the most prominent being greens.  However, it's what's you pair with those greens and how you dress it up that really makes it zing!

So without further ado, I give you my "must haves" for killer salad creation!

1. Variety of Greens
With the term "variety," I'm not implying you have to have a lot of different types of greens going on within one salad. Although that can be fun and exciting, what I'm suggesting is that you vary your greens from salad to salad and try out new greens at the supermarket that look interesting to you!  Find yourself on an arugula kick?  Maybe try out radicchio for a change of pace to see if you like its peppery notes as much as--or more than--arugala's!
Some more suggestions for greens variety are:  spinach, romaine/romaine hearts, kale (dinosaur or green), endive, frisee, leaf lettuce (red or green), butter lettuce, watercress.

2. Dynamite Dressing
Dressing can make or break a salad. You should choose a dressing that is going to compliment your greens and other ingredients without detracting from them. You've also got to dress your salad completely. I recommend tossing the greens, along with the ingredients, in a separate bowl and then transferring to a plate.  You want to coat everything so that each time you go to take a bite, a new flavor combination awakens your taste buds.  Furthermore, I'd recommend making your own dressing.  Homemade is ALWAYS better than store bought and there are thousands of recipes for dressings online.  You're sure to find one that sounds good!  Also consider the greens you're using when deciding on a dressing. Delicate greens, like watercress, aren't going to hold up very well to a thick, creamy, ranch and a light, bright vinaigrette will be totally lost on kale salad so consider these things too!

3. Protein
Whether it's plant- or animal-based, make sure your salad contains an element of protein, otherwise you're going to be left feeling dissatisfied and wanting more after the meal's end.  For some, your protein might be pumpkin seeds and hemp hearts, and for others, it might be three ounces of chicken breast.  Whatever your protein of, make sure and include it!

4.  Crunch
Salads are, by nature not crunchy (unless you're dealing with a huge chunk of iceberg, perhaps) so I like to incorporate an element of "crunch" into my salad to add more texture.  While it's all fine and good to "chew" leaves and cucumbers and maybe sprouts and whatever else, I need something with actual crunch--something that requires more than just ten or so *chomp, chomp, chomps.*  To accomplish this, I love throwing on some Mary's Gone Crackers or topping it with toasted nuts or seeds!  My nuts/seeds of choice are:  almonds, hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds.  You could also try your hand at homemade croutons!  That'd be dee-lish and certainly offer you crunch!  Toasted chickpeas are also really yummy--and provide you your necessary protein!

5.  Fat and Acidity
I lumped these two together because you certainly need them both.  The fat I'm referring to is, of course, healthy fats, like avocado, nuts/seeds, cold pressed olive, coconut or flax seed oil (in your homemade dressing or perhaps drizzled right on top!).  You can, of course, have multiple fats on your salad--just don't go too overboard.  I love topping mine with avocado and hemp hearts.
To cut that fat, though, and offer your salad more flavor complexity, make sure and also include some element of acidity.  Again, this could be done by adding lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (ACV, for future reference) to your dressing or zesting lemon peel over the top of your salad.  I, personally, really like adding fermented veggies to my salad but some other great suggestions I'd recommend are artichoke hearts, pickles, roasted tomatoes, maybe capers, to name a few!

So what next?  Get makin'!  Add to your salad other vegetables that you love--peppers, olives, mushrooms (okay, they're a fungus), sprouts, carrots, etc.  Herbs and spices can also really liven up your salad!  Don't combine too many things, though and go overboard by tossing in all the contents of your fridge, especially if you're just getting started.  Take care to create a salad of textures and flavors that really compliment one another...and hit all my five notes!

Here's a salad to get you started.  It's my favorite right now:

Assorted mixed greens
Julienned carrots (like little matchsticks, for those of you who don't know!)
Cucumber discs
Edamame (maybe a 1/2 c.)
Fermented vegetables (again, about a 1/2 c. but I really love them so I make it HEAPING)
1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
Toasted pumpkin seeds
Freshly cracked black pepper

Toss all ingredients together, except the pumpkin seeds and pepper.  Use enough ACV to coat everything but not so much that the leaves drown.  When incorporated with the avocado, the ACV turns into a creamy kind of dressing!  Transfer mixture to a plate and top with the toasted pumpkin seeds and black pepper to your liking :)

*Note:  As you may have noticed, the shape of the vegetables in my salad are all different.  One has an entirely different culinary experience depending on how veggies are cut so take that into account too when deciding whether to chop yours carrots or peel them into ribbon-like threads!