Over the semester break, my husband paid me the highest of compliments. He called me a Salad Jedi. I was delighted to be recognized as one of a privileged group in the galaxy able to create master salads. How thrilling! Yes, the force is deep within me...I live for a tasty salad.
My elite stature was once again proven yesterday on lunch break when at school, my fellow classmates all "oohh-ed" and "ahhh-ed" over my delicious salad. I'm not bragging. I'm just saying I know how to craft one heck of a salad.
Be it chopped, tossed, warm or cold, salads are one of my favorite foods. They pack well, are cheap, and make a great lunch or dinner. They are a fantastic way to ensure you are eating your 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies per day, and they fill you up without weighing you down.
All to often though, folks get confused when they step up to the salad bar. While salads can be a healthy food choice, not all salads are. In other words, just because one calls it a salad does not make it a healthy choice. It's all about what you put in it. Let's talk about what makes a salad great. Learn from me, young Jedi...
1. Greens. Let's start with the leaves. This is the foundation of your salad, and a great place to take a generous portion. Green and dark is better than pale and light-- you just get more nutrient bang for your buck. So, choose spring mix, baby spinach or arugula over iceberg, or mix a few different types.
2. Protein. Without a little bit of protein, a salad might leave you hungry in a few hours. Pick one or two, but that's really all you need. Putting fried chicken on top of your greens? Not the best idea. Consider 3 oz of lean meat, low fat cheese, a hard boiled egg, or some flaked tuna instead. And don't forget that beans and legumes make for a terrific protein source too, so consider inviting half a cup of chick peas or lentils to the party.
3. Veggies. Speaking of parties, veggies are your honored guests. Go crazy and invite as many as you'd like! I've yet to meet a vegetable that didn't work well in a salad. Go for mushrooms, peppers, asparagus, celery, cucumber, tomato or any other favorite. Starchy veggies like peas and corn make great additions too, but keep portions in check. 1/4 cup is probably enough. Fresh fruits can work well on a salad too. Try blackberries or strawberries, citrus or chopped apples in half to 1/4 cup portions.
4. Toppers. This category tends to be the zone where a salad can go from "healthy" to "unhealthy" rather quickly. Salad bars are filled with tempting things like nuts, croutons, avocado, olives, dried fruit, sunflower seeds, bacon bits, fried noodles and cheeses. Limit your toppers, as most are very caloric. Pick one, and just add a sprinkle, especially if you've added two protein sources already.
5. Dressing. You have just crafted a lovely plate of salad. Why drown it in fat and calories? Would da Vinci have smeared black paint all over Mona Lisa? Would Michelangelo have thrown a bathrobe over David? Of course not, so don't ruin your masterpiece either! Go sparingly. Select a dressing and eat it on the side, dipping as you go. Choose a low fat option, a light vinaigrette or your own mix of vinegar and oil.
When done right, salads can provide an endless variety in a multitude of combinations, and they hit the spot no matter what you might be craving-- sweet, crunchy, salty or hearty. I hope you are inspired to have a tasty salad soon, wherever your travels in the galaxy take you. May the force be with you!