As I write this post, winter has become a distant memory. There is warmth in the air, days are long, and the local produce is sprouting up. This is definitely salad season! Do you enjoy salads? Do you settle for a hum-drum garden salad, or do you really rock your salad? Put your salad know-how to the test while we check out what takes this summer classic from nutritionally adequate to knock-your-socks-off amazing.
Let’s get this party started
Our perfect salad is going to start with a bed of greens. Popular salad greens we could choose from are spinach, arugula, mesclun mix and kale. Why greens? As far as unprocessed food goes, they are the most nutritious per calorie. Arugula and kale have the prestigious position of being in both the “greens” and the “cruciferous vegetable” categories, making them my top picks. What’s so special about cruciferous vegetables you ask? Check out the glorious details here. I like to either slice my kale very finely, or gently rub the kale leaves through both of my hands until I notice it beginning to soften up. It should take less than a minute.
The next important component to any salad extraordinaire is a legume. So this could be edamame (young soybeans), green/english peas, tofu, tempeh, lentils, black beans, pinto beans or chickpeas, to name a few. You’ll likely find shelled edamame in the freezer of your local grocery store. I keep things easy by using canned lentils and beans. Not into tofu or tempeh (yet)? I gave packaged smoked tofu and try recently, simply cutting it into small cubes, and I enjoyed it. It’s loaded with protein and iron and a great source of calcium (if it’s prepared with calcium – check the ingredients list).
It’s time to add the best veggies. What makes some veggies better than others? Antioxidant levels are one aspect. As in, the higher, the better. Generally, the brighter the veggie, the higher the antioxidant level. Indeed, the colours are the antioxidants. Some particularly good ones are bell peppers, canned artichokes, red cabbage, red onion and beets (which I love grated raw in salads).
Another consideration when choosing those veggies is cancer-fighting capacity. This means choosing additional cruciferous veggies like shredded Brussels sprouts or cabbage, and/or something from the Allium family, like garlic and green onion (see here). I usually look to the dressing for garlic!
Berries are the healthiest fruit (see here), so we’d elevate our salad by adding, for example, sliced strawberries, blueberries or raspberries.
The addition of nuts and seeds is a great way to get our omega 3s in. They are a source of healthy fats, as is avocado. Mmm! When paired with greens, just three grams of healthy fats (a spoonful of avocado or a single walnut) may maximize absorption of the fat soluble nutrients that help make greens so amazing. Instead of adding nuts, seeds or avocados to the salad, we can include them in the dressing…they help to make it rich and creamy. Which brings me to the final step when building the perfect salad.
Dress it up!
To me, the dressing makes or breaks the taste experience of a salad. So I’m pretty particular about the flavour and texture. But I don’t want to sabotage all the healthy goodness of my salad by adding a dressing high in added oil, sugar, salt or additives that I don’t recognise. I usually end of making my own dressing for this reason. Here are a few ideas:
- I’ve often whipped up The Oh Glows Cookbook’s Effortless Anytime Balsamic Vinaigrette. I like that it doesn’t require a blender, or much oil, and that some of the sweetness comes from applesauce.
- Another easy one is “3-2-1 dressing”…mix together 3 tbsp. of good quality balsamic, 2 tbsp. of Dijon mustard and 1 tbsp. maple syrup or agave.
- I love a good lemon tahini sauce in a kale salad with chickpeas and this recipe by Pamela Fergusson, RD, has no added oil or sugar. Tahini (made from sesame seeds) gives this one a nutritional boost.
- I just tried this oil-free no sugar added sunflower seed ranch dressing with fresh herbs and it’s totally creamy and delicious! I can see this being my go-to dressing this summer.
- Finally, I’m going to explore these vegan oil-free salad dressings and sauce recipes by Dreena Burton, author of five best-selling cookbooks.
Sit back, relax and let the nourishment begin
The idea of fueling our bodies with the most nutritious food is exciting to me. We are what we eat, right? Every time I invest my time and energy into creating a healthy meal, I think of how I’m setting myself up for success to live my best life. I hope you’ll get excited too!