As the temperature starts to climb, so does our willingness to eat salad. A good salad can be an amazing addition to your healthy diet if you do it right.
A couple of things can go wrong when you start making your own salads at home (and making them is something I would really encourage you to do as it works out so much cheaper and often more nutritious than anything you can buy in the shops).
The other thing is that you might create your perfect salad of all time. Where you put absolutely everything into it. And eating it every day. It doesn’t matter how amazing it is, very soon you’re going to get sick of it. So then it’s ‘salads don’t work for me’. Pretty soon, you’re back in the (not going to lie) less healthy world of the sandwich.
Instead, take the strategic approach used by the likes of Pret A Manger and other commercial outlets.
Do they put every possible ingredient into a single salad? Of course not. People would quickly tire. No one would visit their shops.
Instead, they find tasty combinations of a handful of ingredients, giving them variously an Italian, Spanish, Japanese, French or Greek spin, for example.
This blog is all about how to make your salads interesting and sustainable so you actually want to eat them. I’m going to give you a list of products and ingredients to have in the fridge and cupboards to make putting your salad together easier —then it should only take a few minutes to prepare the most delicious salad.
1. Pick the leaves. Romaine lettuce, lambs lettuce, baby gem, oak leaf, endive, spinach, chicory, radicchio, rocket, watercress, red cabbage, bagged leaf mix.
NOTES: iceberg lettuce contains virtually no nutrients and it is possibly the dullest and most tasteless of your options. Rotate your greens, have different ones every day/week.
2. Add unlimited non-starchy veg but remember to keep switching up the variety! This includes Raw red onions, spring onions, cucumber, tomatoes, avocados (½max.), peppers, celery. Roasted asparagus, red onions, peppers, courgettes, aubergines. Steamed asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans.
3. One portion (fist size) of starchy veg (optional) Raw carrots (grated). Roasted sweet potato, squash/ pumpkin, beetroot, butternut squash, sweet potato.
4. Protein amounting to one portion (palm-sized, unless mentioned below): Cooked poultry/meat chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb. Fish tuna (tinned or steak), salmon, (tinned, smoked, fillet), trout, hot smoked (flaked), prawns. Cheese (30 g/person): mature cheddar (grated), Roquefort (crumbled), feta cheese (crumbled), goat’s cheese, parmesan shavings, halloumi (grilled, baked, fried). Pulses (tinned) kidney beans, butter beans, cannellini beans, flageolet beans, chickpeas, lentils (pouch/tinned). Nuts walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, flaked almonds. Other eggs (boiled), tofu.
5. Add a garnish. One tablespoon (optional) jarred antipasti like sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers, olives, jalapeños, artichokes. Seeds like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds. Herbs parsley, basil, coriander. Dressings — 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp vinegar, 1 tsp mustard, salt, pepper. OR 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp lemon juice, salt, pepper.
Here are some salad inspiration ideas for you…
Chicken, roasted peppers (from jar) and I also love the spicy piquillo peppers you can now get in most supermarkets, artichoke (antipasti jars, from the supermarket), chopped cucumber, chopped tomato, olives, a handful of leaves, fresh herbs (basil, parsley or mint would work here), chopped pistachio nuts (add at end ).
Chicken and Avocado
Chicken, chopped avocado (of course), cherry tomatoes, a handful of spinach leaves. A creamy dressing works brilliantly here or a lemony one. And I adore adding in alfalfa, a weird, cress-like thing you’ll find in the salad leaves section of the supermarket. Just so you know, alfalfa is a phytoestrogen, a plant source of oestrogen that has magic, hormone-balancing effects. Try it.
Leaves, boiled egg, cooked (and chilled) green beans, cherry tomato, cucumber, black olives, tuna (leave out the bread or croutons).
Prawn and Rice Salad
Leaves, cooked jumbo prawns, whatever salady veg you have to hand (tomato, cucumber, pepper, avocado, etc), a couple of tablespoons (max) of flavoured, pre-cooked basmati rice.
Chicken Tikka Salad
Try making your own tikka (cubed chicken, covered with a mix of natural yoghurt and tikka paste, then grilled) but you can buy the pre-made stuff in the supermarket chiller cabinets. Track down some Tilda split pea, green chill and coriander basmati rice. Add in bits and bobs like tomatoes and chopped pepper. You’re welcome.
Stir Fry Leftovers
Stir fry leftovers, if you have them. Always worth making more if you’ve got the wok out. Brocolli is a great one to stir fry and is lovely served cold in a salad.
Pre-prepped and flavoured puy lentils, chopped walnuts, goat’s cheese, chopped avocado, chopped parsley or coriander (if liked) and whatever other excitements you can muster.
2 versions: Roast veg, harissa paste, quinoa, griddled/ grilled halloumi cut into strips OR fried onion, harissa, wilted spinach, chickpeas (just rinse straight out of the tin), quinoa, chopped chicken.
Falafel, spinach leaves, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, olives, hummus, a sprinkling of seeds. Serve with half a wholemeal pitta or flatbread, if needed.
You can buy it ready-made from most supermarkets and is great with assorted salad veg and either some tinned fish or chicken. Adds bulk but not carbs. I love to mix mine with herbs and, as I usually make it anyway, I always add some chopped garlic and cumin for an Asian-inspired twist. Small note on the cooking… I always find it takes at least an extra 5 mins of cooking time. For a really quick salad, I’ll often add some nuts, crumbled feta or goat’s cheese, finely chopped red onion, chopped coriander, grated carrot and, a little chopped chicken.