02 July 2012

10 ways to turn a salad into an entree

A salad should not conjure up an image of a few sad pieces of iceberg, a shred of carrot and a drowning of dressing. A salad is so much more than a plate of lettuce* and can and should be a vegan’s best friend when it comes to mealtime. Here are a few guidelines to help keep your salads fresh and filling:

1. Love Your Leafy Greens
Bored with iceberg and romaine lettuce? Not that there’s anything wrong with those two varieties, but there are so many more leafy greens to pick from that you’d be doing yourself a disservice to not branch out. Kale is a particularly good option – it’s an all-around superfood (to list all of its health benefits would require a new article) and is one of the denser, heartier greens so it is good for satiety. Eat it raw or roast or sautee it and add it to your salad for a base that can’t be beat.
Switching up the leafy greens is an easy way to add variety and light volume to your salad, while giving you a healthy dose of vitamins and antioxidants.
2, Or… Lose the Leafy Greens
As an alternative to the previous tip, you can also leave out leafy greens all together.
3. Pile on the Protein
Tofu, seitan and tempeh are all versatile plant-based proteins that can give a salad a welcome heft. Eat ‘em plain, or season with marinades or spices and bake, pan-fry or grill your protein of choice and toss it in your salad. Or…
4. Bulk Up with Beans
Beans are a vegan’s best friend and another great source of protein (and fiber). Buy organic canned beans, or soak your own dried beans. Add them into a salad as is, or puree for a new texture as a topping or base to your salad.
5. Keep it Colorful
Making a point to create a vibrantly colorful salad is one way to be sure you’re adding in many different veggies – your mouth and stomach will both thank you! Beets, rainbow chard, yellow tomatoes, purple potatoes, orange peppers, or snow peas – not to mention more traditional staples like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, carrots and green beans – chopped up and combined will make for a beautiful and delicious meal.
6. Grainy Goodness
Whole grains are a great source of protein and fiber, and add bulk to your salad boosting the filling factor. Check out the bulk section of your local natural grocery store for inspiration; bulgar and kamut are two great options, as are quinoa or any variety of brown or wild rice (and quinoa and rice are also gluten-free).
7. Don’t Forget About Fruit
Chunks of fresh apple, pineapple or pear add a juicy burst of sweetness that can complement just about any other vegetable combination. Strawberries also go particularly well with spinach. Dried fruit, especially cranberries, cherries and blueberries, offer great antioxidants and wonderful flavor and texture, but make sure to buy unsweetened or fruit-juice sweetened varieties (and don’t go overboard since dried fruit packs a higher sugar punch).
8. Hot for Herbs
Any variety of fresh dill, parsley, cilantro, oregano and basil can add a flavor burst to your salad to help keep your taste buds interested.
9. Dress to Impress
Forgo bottled, store-bought dressings and make your own in no time. Whisk any combination of a good oil such as extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed, walnut and add a vinegar including balsamic, white wine, champagne and red wine. Or kick things up a notch and play around with spices. Add some freshly cracked pepper, dried herbs, cumin, or cayenne for some heat  and try whisking in some Dijon mustard or minced garlic for an extra something. Agave will give your vinaigrette a burst of sweetness, or try to
10. Add Some Heat
Sometimes a cool, raw salad hits the spot, but don’t forget that salads don’t necessarily have to be cool or raw. Dice up some sweet and/or purple potatoes, toss with some olive or coconut oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper, and roast in the oven until cooked through.

The possibilities are endless, so play around with your favorite flavors and textures to discover what salad combinations you love best, and never again fear a “salad” won’t be a substantial enough meal as is!

*Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with this either… a plate full of farm fresh arugula, red leaf lettuce, spinach, etc. with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a pinch of sea salt and a grind of fresh pepper is mighty delicious – but for a complete meal, you’ll want to add more to it. In which case, see above!

Sarah Mandell | Blog | Twitter | Facebook
Arizona Sarah is a life-long foodie, always emphasizing nourishment, enjoyment and nutrition through clean, whole foods and, more recently, veganism. She is a freelance PR specialist and copywriter, and writes the blog Let the Good In, featuring delicious recipes, restaurant recommendations, and wellness and active lifestyle tips. Sarah packed up her NYC apartment in early 2012 to head west into the sunset and live in the high mountain desert of Arizona with her fiancé, where they are growing their first vegetable garden and have fun veganizing meals at home and on the road together.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/evilpeach