If there’s one thing I’m good at in the kitchen, it’s peeling potatoes while singing an ‘edited- to –include- the- name -of –my- toddler’ version of the Peppa Pig theme song. Well that and making salads. I make a freaking awesome bowl of greens if I can toot my own culinary horn.
There sometimes seems to be a misconception around the humble salad. Words like ‘boring’ and ‘soggy’ get thrown around intermittently. And I get it. I once thought the same way. I was scarred by an early attempt to transport a big tupperware container of goodness to work, only to be greeted by a soggy lunchbox of yuckiness come 1pm. I’d made the rooky error of combining the non-combinable ingredients too early in the piece (i.e. at 7am) and hadn’t washed and dried my leaves properly. The result wasn’t appetizing and I believe I got a chicken and mayo sandwich from the café downstairs. Salad fail.
Since that day however, I’ve wised up. I’m now capable of pulling together an awesome bowl, both at home and when I’m on the move. It all comes down to a few key factors; your ingredients, you ‘mix ins’, your dressing and, if you’re salad-ing on the move, your transportation methods.
And it’s so worth persisting. Salads are my go-to lunchtime option. I use lunch as an opportunity to not only re-fuel for the afternoon (even more important now I’m pregnant), but to pack my bowl and body with as much goodness as humanly possible. Salads offer the opportunity to really ramp up the good stuff in a quick, easy way.
So that you no longer have to suffer through soggy salads, I’ve created a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ type guide to putting together something delicious. Follow the steps and I reckon you’ll be hard pressed to stuff it up!
Choose Your Own Salad Adventure
- 1. Choose your base – You gots to start with a good, solid foundation and for me, that means greens. While you’ll be adding in plenty of other stuff, a salad just isn’t a salad without something leafy. My personal pick is baby spinach. Highly nutritious, mild tasting and easy to spear with a fork. I usually buy a big packet of that, along with one of mesclun greens or baby salad leaves every week and combine. Ideally, you want a mix of different shades of green, the darker the leaf, the better it is for you. If you want to go REALLY wild, try adding some non-traditional greens to the mix. I’m talking snow peas, brocolini or its big brother (otherwise known as broccoli), beans and peas. I usually do a greens stir fry once a week and have leftover bits and bobs that I either steam, stir fry or add raw to my salad bowl.
- 2. Add some substance – One of the biggest issues people seem to have with salad is a lack of bulk. We often don’t feel as if we’ve been fully satiated without some kind of carbohydrate or sustenance to our food. My go-to is roast sweet potato and either roast or tinned baby beetroot BUT there’s a whole world of ingredients that work beautifully. Brown rice, basmati rice, quinoa and legumes like chickpeas and kidney beans are all favourites of mine and appear regularly.
- 3. Kick up the protein content – Protein helps us feel (and stay) full. While there’s some argument about the necessity for protein in all our meals, I like to have some in mine. While chicken breast was a long held favourite, I now alternate with boiled and sliced egg and the aforementioned kidney beans and chickpeas. If you’re using something like protein rich quinoa to add your bulk, you might find that you don’t need anything else. Add ins like cheese will also boost the protein content but as you’re unlikely to add an entire packet of feta to the bowl, might not give quite enough protein to meet your energy needs.
For an easy chicken breast option, poach a breast at the beginning of the week, shred and pop into a ziplock bag for salads/sandwiches/wraps etc. I poach my chicken breast in filtered water with a bit of sea salt, black pepper, lemon juice and fresh herbs. Simply add your breast to a saucepan, cover with water, pop on the lid and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, remove the lid and poach till no longer transparent.
- 4. Choose your mix-ins – Mmmm mix-ins. My favourite part of a salad. I term mix-ins all those little goodies that aren’t 100% essential but really make the difference between a bog-standard, average lunch and a delicious, Instagram worthy creation. For me, it’s usually cheese (feta or sometimes haloumi.. Mmmm haloumi) or some kind of nut (pine, walnut and cashew are all favourites). Some wacky folk even add stuff like sultanas, goji berries and things like hemp seeds. Anything creamy or crunchy usually works well I think.
- 5. Dress it properly – Skimping on the dressing = salad suicide. You can put in all the hard yards, only to fall just before crossing the finishing line. A delicious dressing AND enough of it is the crowning glory for your bowl. I am pretty basic with my dressings and tend to stick to the same one most days but feel free to mix it up. A good thing to remember is to always include an oil/a vinegar or something acidic/an element of saltiness/an element of sweetness.
My favourite is 2 parts olive oil/ 1 part apple cider vinegar/ squeeze of lemon juice/1/4 tsp mustard (grainy or Dijon)/sea salt and black pepper. Sometimes I also add a teensy dollop of raw honey or rice bran syrup for added sweetness.
If you’re taking your salad to work/out and about, take heed. Keep as many ingredients separate as possible. I usually fill a container with my (washed and thoroughly spun and dried) leaves, add my ‘dry’ mix-ins (like nuts, cheese etc) and keep my ‘wet’ ingredients (beetroot, potato, chicken and egg) in either ziplock bags or individual containers. It should go without saying that your keep the dressing separate and tightly contained. I can usually fit almost all the ingredients in the ‘leaves’ container by folding down and squishing everything in together.
You can find a few of my favourite salad recipes (and some amazing dressings, just sayin’) HERE, HERE oh and HERE
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