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Simple, sensational salads – five ways to keep them interesting

July 11, 2015

There is one meal that I think traverses the dieting universe and that’s salad.

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Yes, I appreciate that if you think low-fat is the way to go, the dressing has to be non-existent, insipid or you kid yourself by getting it served on the side but still eat it all anyway (come on, I can’t be the only one that’s done that…, can I?).  And if I’ve got it correct, Paleo, that beach diet that I can never remember the name of and clean eating means dairy has to stay in the cowshed.   Plus a whole library of other diets that I profess to know nothing about.  But in the main, variations of the salad are a friend to all diets and dieters.

Where low-carb is concerned, salad is perfect. You can pile your crunchy and herby leaves high with chunks of cooked chicken, hunks of ham, dollops of dairy and flakes  of fish, dressing the leaves with pretty much any creamy dressing you like.  The Caesar Salad (without the croutons) has come into its own.  Which is good, because I love nothing more than a generous Caesar Salad, groaning with the weight of fresh anchovies and juicy chicken breast.

The only drawback with a salad is that if you don’t tread the leafy way careful, boredom can set in and before you know, the good intentions are on the compost heap and the Dominos’ delivery guy is knocking at your door.  So here are five very simple ways that I ensure we never get bored with salad in our house.

1. Crunch without the crouton.   Much as we love a cheeky bit of toasted or fried bread in our household, our waistlines don’t.  But when I ditched the carbs atop the salad, we soon felt their absence.  That was, until I discovered a seedy little number when browsing the shelves of a well-known supermarket.  No, I’m not talking about anything improper, merely a mixed packet of sunflower and pumpkin seeds and pine nuts.  Now I buy all three separately and mix them up myself – I’ve always got a big box on the go ready to sprinkle on the salad before it’s dished up.  This mixture works on lots of other things too….even ice cream!

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2. Peel the cucumber.  Now, I don’t know if everyone else in the world already does this and it’s just something I discovered last year, but the skin on a cucumber is actually quite bitter, so if you use a vegetable peeler to remove it, you get an altogether nicer addition to your salad.  I know there is probably a whole host of nutritional benefits in the skin, but if it puts you off eating it, then you’re not going to get those anyway.  So ditch it and get a lot more enjoyment from your salad.

3. Lots of different toppings.  There is a reason that Americans love a Cobb Salad and it’s not just because they are all about quantity.  There is something truly delightful about having six or so toppings on a blank canvas of salad leaves that means every single mouthful can deliver a different taste sensation.  I just open the fridge and see what’s going but a typical salad in our household can have tomatoes, olives (black or green), diced ham, diced chicken, grated or cubed or torn cheese, hard-boiled egg, red pepper, cucumber, gherkins or cornichons, silverskin onions, pepperdew peppers, or any combination of the above.  Ham and egg mayonnaise is a simple and reliable combo (especially good if you’ve run out or are unable to mix up a dressing), as is tuna mayonnaise and boiled egg.  Whatever you do, keep mixing it up – nothing encourages boredom like the same salad, over and over again.

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4. Leaf it out.  I have to confess, I’m a complete bagged-salad whore.  I’ve sold my soul to the supermarket devil when it comes to salad leaves.  That’s because I don’t have the time to grow and wash my own, yet I crave the variety you can get from doing so.  When I need to rush into the supermarket after a busy day at work and I know I want to keep us trim with a salad, those bags are practically screaming “Buy me!” “No, buy me bitch!” “What about me over here….look at how sumptuous and leafy I am. Come on, you know you want me”.  Irresistable.  But in truth, you don’t need those leaves at all.  Lots of great salad combinations can do without the lettuce element – look at well-known ones such as Caprese (Mozzarella, Tomato and Bazil) or Greek (Tomato, Cucumber, Onion, Feta Cheese, Olives and Oregano).  So if you’re getting bored of a pile of lettuce leaves, ditch them for a bit and mix it up some other way.

5. Get fruity!  Ok, so you have to go carefully with fruit when doing low-carb eating because the stuff is packed full of sugar.  But at least it’s natural sugar and comes hand-in-hand with lots of vitamins etc, so I work on the basis that a little bit now and again will do no harm.  My favourite fruity additions to my salad combos are pomegranate seeds or apple slices/batons (also a good substitute for the crouton crunch), grapes, which are just delightful with any kind of cheese, and strawberries, which can add a lovely element of surprise.  Here’s a fabulous way to use cherries in a salad, courtesy of Waitrose Kitchen magazine (June 2015, page 93):

Cherry Salad Dressing

Take 150g of pitted cherries and roughly crush them in a bowl using a fork.  Stir in 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1.5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus the zest and 1 tablespoon of juice from a small orange.  Season to taste.

They suggested serving it on rocket leaves, with torn buffalo mozzarella and Parma ham.  We tried it; it was blooming delicious.

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What’s your favourite salad?

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From → Five, Recipes

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