Summer is the BEST time to eat. So many healthy and delicious foods are fresh, affordable, and available locally. The weather is warm; days are long, and the pace is slower. It’s a great time to build a beautiful salad to accompany your meal, or as a main dish by itself.
Everyone knows how to put together a basic green salad: you wash, tear, chop and assemble some leafy elements, along with whatever vegetables you can find. Toss it with a simple dressing, and top it with something crunchy or savoury or protein-y, and TA-DA!
In this blog article, I’m going to share some ways to make your salads better and more fun. If I do a good job, I’ll even convince you to eat salad more frequently. Let’s see how it goes…
Tip #1 – Get creative with your greens
Everyone knows iceberg, romaine, and green leaf lettuce. These are all delicious and nourishing, but your salad can be somewhat repetitive if you use the same greens over and over. Why not try something different? This time of year, it’s easy to find really good spinach, red leaf lettuce, baby kale or chard, arugula, frisee, and other good leaves.
Have you ever tried beet greens in a salad? They are really delicious! Some of these greens have a stronger flavour than the more typical types of lettuce. If you find the flavour is a bit overwhelming, try mixing one part new green thing with 2 or 3 parts of your favourite. You can also add in a fresh green herb to your mix. Try cilantro, basil, or mint for starters. These herbs are tender enough that they mix well with your lettuce, and add some delicious flavour punctuation to your bowl.
Tip #2 – Go to the Source
In the winter, I get my vegetables at the produce store or grocery store. In the summertime, it’s different. We grow leaf lettuce and romaine in our garden at home. It’s easy to grow from seeds or from small plants you can buy at the garden centre. You can pick a whole head of lettuce, but I prefer to harvest a few leaves at a time from each plant, so I eat fresh greens “right off the plant,” whenever I want them.
If you don’t have a garden, why not try your local farmer’s market? There’s an awesome market at Deer Lake Park in Burnaby, open every Saturday during the growing season. In East Vancouver, there’s the Trout Lake Farmer’s Market, also on Saturdays. In Coquitlam, there’s one at the Poirier Recreation Complex on Sundays.
The fruits and vegetables at the market are very fresh and very good. You can have a conversation with the farmer about how they were grown, how best to prepare them, and what’s coming up next week – the offerings change from week to week as the crops become ready. I took this picture at the Coquitlam Market about an hour before closing. The farmer asked me to come back earlier next Sunday, to see the display when it is really bountiful. The food is very fresh, and just as much as can be sold is brought to market. It’s the best in sustainability, food quality, and connection to the source. Go early – everything gets snapped up!
Tip #3 – Drop the Leaf!
We usually think of salads as leaf-based, but you don’t need leaves to make a salad. What if you open your fridge and you have only half a red onion, part of a cucumber, a handful of cherry tomatoes, and half a lemon? Well, you still have a salad! Chop that cuke, mince some of the onion, and cut the tomatoes into halves. Juice the lemon and mix it in, with some olive oil, salt pepper, and a pinch of cumin. Voila: a beautiful summer salad without the “greens.” Really, you can chop up just about any fruits and vegetables, and connect them with a dressing, and they are a salad.
Tip #4 – Fruits are Good in Salad (and not just fruit salad)
Start with a leafy base, then slice in apples, pears, strawberries, grapes, pineapple, melon, or tomatoes (tomatoes are a fruit!). Drop in blueberries, raspberries, fresh currants. You are going to have a colourful crunchy salad with pops of amazing colour and sweetness. Fruit-studded salads are extra good topped with goat cheese, or nuts, or both. Or try this: watermelon chunks, chopped mint leaves, pine nuts, feta cheese and balsamic dressing. I know it sounds weird but it is heavenly.
Tip #5 – Eat Salad with Everything, All the Time
Think about salad as a way to elevate ordinary foods. Start with breakfast. Have you ever tried a green salad topped with a fried or poached egg? It’s wonderful. And how about pizza. I always plop a nice dollop of bitter greens with vinaigrette dressing on top of my slice. The bright freshness of the salad and acidity of the dressing go perfectly with the richness and chewiness of the pizza. It’s messy to eat, but worth it!
Salad makes a great base to turn a burrito into a burrito bowl, a burger into a burger bowl, or a small portion of reheated curry, chili, or pasta into something really beautiful and nourishing. My trick for eating salad all the time is to make a really big salad every 3 days. I store it in a sealed container in the fridge and use salad for breakfast, lunch and supper until I use it up. Without dressing, it keeps nice and fresh, and I can add things to it so it’s different every time I eat it.
Tip #6 – Add Things to It
Most leftovers make good additions to salad. In my fridge this morning I found leftover steamed nugget potatoes and corn on the cob. I diced the potatoes, and cut the corn kernels off of the cob, and added them to the green salad that I took to work for lunch. It was delicious! Leftover rice, quinoa, pasta, sweet potatoes and squash are all great added to a salad. Leftover proteins work too! Just keep building until the combination looks appealing and sustaining, and you have a great meal salad, AND you use up the leftovers without boredom.
Tip #7 – Dressing is Necessary
A good dressing pulls together a bowl of random ingredients and makes them into a masterpiece. I make my own dressing: 4 parts oil, 1 part acid (vinegar or citrus juice, usually), salt, pepper, and an “add in.” The add-in might be a some dijon mustard and a bit of honey. It might be some miso paste and a few drops of maple syrup. My recent favourite is a couple of crushed garlic cloves and some anchovy paste. I know it sounds strange, but it is not. It’s delicious.
Wait to dress your salad until you are just about to eat it. Then, if you can, put the salad into a bigger bowl than you think is necessary, pour on a bit of dressing, and toss it with a couple of spoons, or with your hands if you like. Coating all of the elements evenly with dressing makes a big difference.
Tip #8 – Wash and Dry Everything
Fresh greens often have bits of soil clinging to them. That’s good! It’s proof they were actually grown in the earth. They may also have wee “hitchhikers,” like the occasional bug or tiny slug. Watch for these while you wash your lettuce. You can release them back into the garden – maybe not right beside the lettuce plants, then continue to prepare your salad.
Hard vegetables like carrots, potatoes, radishes and celery generally benefit from a gentle scrub with a vegetable brush. More fragile vegetables like broccoli, peppers, and mushrooms may want to be washed with your fingers, or a damp cloth. The cleaner you get your vegetables before you eat them, the better they will taste. Dry those vegetables too – using a salad spinner or absorbent towels. Dried vegetables have more bounce and body in the salad. When you store some of the salad, it will stay crisp and not get slimy, if you have taken the time to dry your vegetables.
Tip #9 – Share your Salad
Making a beautiful salad can be a labour of love. Sometimes all of the washing, drying, chopping and tossing can be a bit tiring. As much as I love to make salad, I love even more when someone makes ME a salad. Oh, that is a beautiful thing. So if you make a great salad, share it with someone you love, or put some of it into a bowl and give it to a friend. My co-worker and I do soup shares in the winter and salad shares in the summer, taking turns packing lunch for one another. It’s such a treat!
Tip #10 – Never Take Salad for Granted
When I go to the produce store or the farmer’s market, and when I look at our garden at home, I am grateful for the bounty that is right there for me. I try to never, ever, take it for granted. As I appreciate the wonder of all that grows for us to eat, I think about responsibility for the earth on which it is grown. Eating salad reminds me to shop locally, make sustainable choices when I buy food, and to advocate for practices and policies that will support farmers and preserve our amazing earth.
There’s enough on this earth for every human being to eat nourishing food. Humanity has the ability to take care of the earth so we can continue to grow all of this good stuff. Generations and generations need to enjoy salad like we do today.
Tip #11 – Go Make Salad
OK, I hope I did it. I hope that you want to make a really nice salad as soon as possible. I hope you have a delicious day, filled with crunchy green deliciousness. Bon appetit!