It’s often assumed that because I work in the food and health field I only order salad when I eat out at a restaurant. Au contraire! This may come as a surprise but I hardly ever order salad at a restaurant. Why? Because most restaurant salads are HUGELY disappointing, tasteless and completely lacking any imagination. Does anyone really enjoy a pile of iceberg lettuce, barely ripe cherry tomatoes and dried up slices of cucumber? It makes sense that you would douse that in calorie-laden ranch dressing! That’s the only thing that can make a salad like that remotely palatable.
Ok, so maybe I’m being really hard on restaurant salad selections. But, please know that salad shouldn’t be an afterthought and it can taste totally incredible, be completely satisfying and…. (drumroll please)……ridiculously easy to make!
I recently made the green salad I’m sharing with you today at the farmers market. One of my cooking class students stopped by to say hello and told me how she had been making some of the recipes (which always makes my heart happy). But then she said,
Tanya, you make salad taste better than movie theater popcorn!
And then, I almost passed out.
It’s certainly a high bar, but I have to agree. With a few pantry staples and some fresh ingredients a salad can be an incredibly satisfying and delicious meal or snack.
Here are my 4 essentials to making a killer, “better-than-movie-theater-popcorn” salad. There is no reason to eat another mediocre salad EVER again!
1) Fresh – It goes without saying that using fresh, seasonal ingredients is essential for a radically amazing salad. In the spring and summer use fresh baby greens. In the fall and winter cabbage and kale make wonderful hearty salads. Adding fresh herbs will also give your salad a little something extra. Visit your local market and farmers to get the best quality produce possible. Or, grow your own! It’s about time to plant kale so you have it in time the fall and herbs are super easy to grow in pots on your windowsill.
2) Sour – As a kid I would drink the salad dressing out of the salad bowl because I loved the sour, vinegar-y taste. Now….I still do that on occasion 🙂 There are so many different types of vinegars to experiment with – from fancy balsamic to simple white vinegar. Lemons and limes are some of my favorite additions as well. You can also add sour taste with different types of mustard. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
3) Sweet – For the longest time I thought that fruit had no place in a green salad. But, I’ve since changed my mind. Adding a some chopped apple or dried cherries adds a wonderful sweet taste to your salad that can be unexpected. Plus, by adding a little sweetness to your meal you’re less likely to crave the sweets after dinner is done.
4) Crunch – Crunch is key for completing your salad. I toast nuts and seeds ahead of time and store them in glass jars. Then, all it takes is a little sprinkle! They are a great alternative to croutons and pack a big nutritional punch. If they are missing from a salad Mr. Wes immediately asks “where are my nuts!” Yes, that one is always good for a laugh.
And now, on to the recipes!
The great thing about salad is that you can totally make it up. These recipes are just guidelines. You can add in any kind of fruit, shredded carrots, different herbs, fruit, nuts, seeds, whatever!
Cabbage and Greens Salad with Tamari Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ tablespoon tamari
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
½ teaspoon maple syrup or honey
1 teaspoon mustard (Dijon or grain mustard work well)
Pinch of salt and pepper to taste
3 handfuls mixed salad greens
¼ medium cabbage, red or green
1 green onion, white and green parts chopped
1 tablespoon chopped herbs of choice (thyme, chives, tarragon all work well)
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add pumpkin seeds and toast, stirring or tossing the seeds frequently so they don’t burn. The seeds should begin to puff up and brown slightly. When most of the seeds have started to brown, turn off the heat and add the tamari. (The tamari will make the pan sizzle loudly and steam will rise – don’t be afraid! This is totally normal). Start stirring the seeds immediately with a wooden spoon so they are fully coated in the tamari. Within a minute or two the tamari will have dried up. Put the seeds on a plate or platter in a single layer so they can cool.
- In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon, maple syrup, mustard, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust flavor as needed. For more depth you can add a splash of balsamic vinegar.
- Cut the cabbage in half and then cut one of the halves in half again (so you have two quarters and one half). Finely slice one of the quarters using a mandolin or sharp knife. You can run your knife through the cabbage once or twice after slicing it if the slices seem too long. If you want more cabbage or your cabbage is a bit small slice the other quarter. Reserve the remaining cabbage for another use.
- In a large salad bowl combine the mixed greens, cabbage, green onion and herbs. Add half the dressing and toss until well combined. Taste the salad and add more dressing if necessary.
- Before serving sprinkle with a handful of the toasted pumpkin seeds. Store remaining seeds in a jar. They will keep for weeks and are a great addition to any salad instead of croutons! Or, as a snack as is. Enjoy!
Sesame-Ginger Rice Noodles with Cucumbers and Carrots
8 ounces rice noodles
1 large English cucumber
2 medium carrots
3-4 green onions (scallions), white and green parts chopped
1/3 cup tahini
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
juice from half a lemon (you can skip the rice vinegar and use a whole lemon instead)
1 tablespoon white miso paste
2 teaspoons tamari (San-J brand recommended)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/3 cup water
cilantro or parsley to garnish
salt to taste
- Bring large pot of water to a boil, add the soba noodles, according to the package directions. You want them to have a bit of a bite. Be careful not to overcook them! Drain and rinse under cold water. Put noodles into a large serving dish or bowl.
- Peel the cucumber and then cut in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds inside with a spoon. Thinly slice each cucumber half so you end up with “c” shape pieces. Add the cucumber to the noodles.
- Peel the carrots, cut in half and thinly slice them similar to the cucumber. Add the carrots to the noodles and cucumbers. Add the green onion as well.
- In a food processor or blender add the rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, miso paste, tamari, sesame oil and red pepper flakes. Give it a spin to start combining everything. Add a bit of the water and blend again. You don’t want your dressing to thick or too thin. Continue adding water until you have a nice creamy consistency. Try the dressing and add salt to taste. You can also add more tamari, sesame oil or lemon juice if it needs a little more flavor.
- Pour half the dressing over the noodle mixture and toss with tongs. Add more dressing if needed. The noodles and veggies can thin out the flavor a bit so have a taste and add more salt or other dressing ingredients if needed. Enjoy!