Yeah I know. Salad is Boring with a capital B, right? Salad is what you eat when you’re dieting, right? You can only eat so much salad before you want to send salads to the place where salads go to die forever (I’m pretty sure that’s McDonald’s, by the way), right?
I assert that salads do NOT have to be relegated to the horrific category of “diet food”. Diet food they are not. Of course they can certainly pack a nutritional punch stronger than Muhammad Ali. They can be incredibly satisfying to the palate and the tummy. Then again, they can also be overwhelmed with sugar, chemicals and processed ingredients. Of course the makers of these not-so-healthy salads are well-meaning folks. They’re trying to offer a more nutritious option. But iceberg lettuce (a.k.a crunchy water) smothered in corn syrup and MSG filled Ranch dressing from a plastic pouch does not a nutritious meal make, my friends.
So what I have for you today are some fantastic tips to bring back (or ignite) your passion for salad. PLUS I have 10 unusual ingredients to supercharge your salads.
Salad-making is an art form people, and I take it very seriously. I have been in that place of salad monotony. That deep dark place where you put the same thing on your salad day in and day out: romaine, cucumber, tomato, maybe some crouton and a sprinkle of pre-shredded cheddar containing anti-caking agents. You know, the standard dinner salad served at every sub-par chain restaurant in America. And this is supposed to “appetize” you? No wonder salads get a raw deal. Could that be any more un-appetizing?
So what does make a good salad? The 4 T’s: Texture, Temperature, Taste, and Toppers!
The texture of our food or mouth feel plays a huge role in how satisfying our food is to us. Changing up the way you cut or prepare the ingredients in your salad is a fantastic way to incorporate many different textures into your salads. Think about the size and shape of your ingredients. By playing with the shape of a veg, you can incorporate just about any vegetable you have on hand. For instance, maybe you could use a vegetable peeler or spiralizer (this one is the bomb) to create ribbons or “noodles” out of carrots or zucchini. You could use a mandolin (here’s the one I use) or a v-slicer (like this) to make thin slices out of hard veggies and fruits like radishes or apples. Brussels sprouts are a great addition when shredded. Mushrooms have a chewy, meaty texture that is great in salads, and avocados add a unbelievable creaminess.
Salads are generally served cold, but I LOVE including a little something hot on the plate. Perhaps include some roasted beets, broccoli or cabbage. You can also serve the protein hot on the salad, which I love. It turns a side-dish salad into an entree salad. When you do this, make sure to use a sturdy green like romaine or arugula, so that the greens wont wilt too much from the heat.
Okay so taste rather obvious, I know. You wouldn’t eat it if it didn’t taste good. But what I’m actually talking about are the 4 basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. And then there’s the bonus taste: Umami. Umami is a Japanese term that refers to a sort of rich, savory flavor that rounds out a dish. Does your salad contain a few of these different flavor profiles? Does it hit the different spots on your tongue? If it does, it will be satisfying and delicious! If it doesn’t, then it’s just a one note dish, it will be a boring, sad salad.
And of course, we can’t forget about toppers! The toppers make the salad. I encourage you to think outside the box here when considering which foods to include in your salads. It doesn’t have to be all vegetables. Of course, veggies are fantastic and a staple in my diet. However, there are some other foods that I consider superfoods that can elevate your salad experience to a new level.
1. Hemp Seeds
I’m sure you’ve probably added pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds into your salad repertoire, but have you considered adding hemp seeds? These little guys are full of essential omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids (and they’re in the correct ratio! Bonus! To read more about why that’s so important, check out one of my favorite books Eat The Yolks by Liz Wolfe). Due to their fatty acid content, hemp seeds can help keep your heart healthy by reducing inflammation. They may also help prevent Alzheimers, dementia, and age-related memory loss. One last awesome benefit of hemp seeds is that they may aid in weight loss. Why? They’re a natural appetite suppressant! Just one tablespoon added to your meal can help reduce food cravings significantly! So not only do I toss hemp seeds onto my salads, I throw them into smoothies for a great creamy texture. I get my hemp seeds HERE.
2. Fermented Veggies
You’ve heard that 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, right? No? Well you have now. So keeping your gut healthy is absolutely imperative to maintaining overall health. One of the most important steps you can take to get your gut healthy is to populate it with good bacteria, and the best way to do that is by drinking fermented drinks like kefir kvass and kombucha (learn how to brew your own kombucha here) and eating fermented foods like kimchi and kraut. I add a couple of tablespoons of kimchi or kraut on the side of just about every meal, and that’s more than enough to get your daily dose of probiotics in. Learn how to make your own Lactofermented Kraut here.
3. Dulse, Kelp or Spirulina
Sea vegetables are a way underutilized resource in the American diet. Sea vegetables like dulse, kelp, spirulina, wakame and arame are great sources of both iron and iodine because they’re highly bio available (meaning your body is able to use them). Iodine is essential for proper functioning of the thyroid, which plays a crucial role in regulating metabolism. If you pay attention to mainstream nutritional advice (I do only for purposes of following the exact opposite recommendations, generally), they’ll lead you to believe that you need iodized salt in your diet and that the only place you can get iodine is from said iodized salt. That’s a fallacy. Sprinkle some salty, flavorful dulse or kelp over your salad and you’ll get your daily serving of iodine. See what kind of dulse, kelp and spirulina I like.
My husband was positive he didn’t like beets…until I roasted them in coconut oils, sea salt and pepper and threw them on a salad for him. Now, he begs me for beets on his salads. Not kidding. And I’m happy to give them to him because they have a wide variety of nutritional benefits including but not limited to aiding in detoxification, purifying the blood, and even warding off cancer. Some research has indicated that the phytonutrients in beets that give them their deep red color can help reduce tumors. You can peel and boil the beets, roast them,leave them raw and slice them, or make my Roasted Beet and Arugula Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette.
Avocado may seem like an obvious ingredient to put on a salad, at least it is for me because I absolutely love avocado. I love it plain, in guacamole, in desserts- any way you slice it and I take every opportunity I can to eat one. If you haven’t jumped on the avocado train yet, figure out a way that you like it and get one in your body every day! I love this post from Authority Nutrition on 12 Proven Health Benefits of Avocados. Of particular importance is the fact that the fat in avocados can help you absorb the nutrients in plant food, and help increase anti-oxidant absorption by up to 15-fold! You can simply slice or dice it up and toss it on top of your salad, or you can stir it up in the salad with a squeeze of lemon juice to create a creamy dressing.
6. Citrus Zest
Your body does not produce its own vitamin c, folks. Therefore, you need to get it from your diet daily! Everyone knows that vitamin c is good for immune support, but did you also know that it can beautify you as well? Yup. Vitamin c is essential for collagen production! The peel of a lemon contains about 10 times more vitamin c than the pulp or juice and contains all of the essential oils that have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous benefits. So don’t just squeeze the lemon and discard. Get the zest off with a microplane like this, or just use a vegetable peeler and chop it. Then sprinkle it over your salad for a fresh, bright twist.
When you sprout a fruit or vegetable, you concentrate the vitamin and mineral content. In fact, sprouted foods have an estimated 100 times more enzymes than their un-sprouted counterparts. Alfalfa sprouts are my favorite type of sprout. I love them so much that I started making my own alfalfa sprouts at home (which is easier than you think….all you need is this), because I have a really hard time finding them at my local grocery store, and an even harder time finding them organic (organic is very important with sprouts because they are one of the most highly sprayed food items). Also, when you sprout at home you’re less likely to run into the E.Coli and Salmonella issues that often accompany store-bought sprouts. Alfalfa sprouts add a great crunch to a salad and are a must on my salads!
8. Herbs & Spices
Fresh and dried herbs alike come with a wide variety of health benefits. Some herbs such as cilantro and parsley are great chelating agents (meaning they help pull heavy metals out of the body). Dill is anti-inflammatory and may help curb sugar cravings. Fresh mint leaves are high in antioxidants. And don’t forget the spices! Red pepper flake can help boost your metabolism and therefore aid in weight loss, while cinnamon may help regulate blood sugar levels.
9. Pomegranate Seeds
These beautiful little jewels make an excellent salad topper! They’re colorful, crunchy and sweet. I don’t know about you, but I like a little sweet in my salad now and again. Pomegranates contain high levels of flavenoids and polyphenols, two types of antioxidants that help prevent heart disease and cancer. I had someone tell me once that she had never tried a pomegranate for the simple fact that she was intimidated about how to open the fruit! Then once it was open, which part should she eat? The white part? Or the little red things? Well, I really hate to see a person miss out on the wonders of this great piece of fruit just because she didn’t know how to open it! So I wrote a post on How to Manhandle a Pomegranate. Read that here.
Okay…I know what you’re thinking…..sardines? Yup. That’s what I said. I admit, sardines are a hard one to get used to. My hangup with them is probably the same as yours, and that’s the fact that they still look like little fish when you open them up. BUT, if you can get beyond that, and just focus on the fact that wild caught sardines are a nutritionally dense superfood, you can enjoy the benefits of them. What are the benefits? They’re incredibly high in essential omega 3 fatty acids, selenium, vitamin D and so much more! This is the kind that I buy. For more info on the nutritional benefits of sardines, check out this video from Real Food Liz (incidentally, this is the same Liz from the book I recommended earlier in the post, Eat The Yolks…she’s kind of amazing). If you aren’t quite ready to eat them straight out of the can or toss them onto a salad, my friend Arsy of Rubies and Radishes has a wonderful recipe for Sardine Dip in her book The Paleo Foodie. I seriously love every recipe in this book. Get a copy HERE.
Alright I know I said 10 unusual salad ingredients to supercharge your salad but I couldn’t wrap it up without mentioning just one more superfood that I adore on my salads, and that’s roots! What type of roots am I talking about? Ginger, turmeric and burdock. When you find one of these great roots in the grocery store, stock up and throw it in your freezer. They will last forever in there! Then, when you’re ready to use them, just pull them out and grate a bit over your salad. Ginger is a great digestive aid and anti-inflammatory. Turmeric is a very powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. And burdock is amazing for detoxifying the body. I use ginger and turmeric in as many applications as possible! Here are a few other recipes that I utilize those great roots: Slow Cooker Coconut Turmeric Chicken, Turmeric Roasted Carrots, Ginger Parsley Snap Peas, Cranberry Ginger Smoothie.
I hope you garnered some fresh ideas to spice up your salad routine from this post! One last thing I absolutely MUST mention: please, please, I beg you- do NOT go to the trouble of making yourself a beautiful, nutritious, superfood-filled salad and then pour store-bought chemical-filled dressing all over it. It is way too easy to make your own salad dressing. It can be as simple as a squeeze of lemon and some olive oil. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous you can try my Spicy Mango Vinaigrette, or here’s a great post from Life Made Full with 20 Paleo Salad Dressing Recipes. Here are 30 more Paleo Salad Dressing Recipes from Paleo Zone Recipes!
So next time you’re feeling like a salad, try one of these great ingredients! Then come back and let me know what you thought. Happy salad making!
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