Summer is almost here: a time of laying at the pool, days long enough for long runs before work, a plethora of inexpensive fresh fruits & vegetables and of course don’t-want-to –heat-up-the-kitchen-cooking. It’s the perfect time of year for bright, bold but light salads. I love to experiment with salads because they are flexible and are so much more than the “diet food” of years ago. A trend for years in the restaurant industry, salads have gotten bigger and heartier. Often they have also increased in price as well! So, here are my tips for making great “restaurant quality” salads at home that are lighter and generally cheaper than the salads you would get when dining out.
1. Use what is in season. The same rule applies as my previous post about Fruit Salad. Fruits and vegetables that are in season taste better and are less expensive.
2. Start with a great “lettuce” base. Think Romaine, Spinach, or a Spring Mix/ Mesclun are my favorites. Make sure it’s fresh & crispy. No one likes wilty “yucky” lettuce.
3. Add 1-2 fruits or vegetables accompaniments. Think about adding diced broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, snap peas, celery, peppers, or even Zucchini or squash. Fruit is also amazing on salads and can give your salad another taste dimension: sweet! I love diced strawberries, blueberries, diced apple, grapes, mandarin oranges, diced pears or be bold with tropical fruits like mango or pineapple.
4. Maybe a dairy component is needed as well: any type of cheese is usually a great flavor addition to your salads. Low-Fat Cheeses like Light Feta, Light Cheddar or even full fat strongly flavored cheeses like Gorgonzola or Blue are worth their extra fat grams for all of the flavor that they contribute.
5. Now you need your crunch! Croutons are traditional but what other great light substitutes can you make? What about hand crushed crackers or Special K Crisps? Baked chips are an unexpected crunch as well, depending on the flavor profile of your salad. Maybe make your own light croutons with your going-stale Healthy Life Bread? For those who are less calories conscious, nuts are amazing in salads. Usually, a small amount of nuts go a long way in a salad. Peanuts, walnuts, pecans and cashews add healthy fats and help make the salad more filling. Candied nuts may not be the healthiest or cheapest additions but they make an awesome salad “splurge”.
6. Need or want protein? Really, I’ve seen pretty much every type of meat placed on a salad (ok, not hot dogs…yet). Personal favorites include turkey, chicken, hard boiled eggs, grilled steak, or even lamb. The protein helps to make the salad fill you up and feel more like a full meal.
7. The dressing! It’s so essential that most grocery stores have about 30 feet of options on their stores. Things to consider when selecting the perfect dressing: Is it light? Generally, I consider less than 60 calories and 3 grams of fat for 2 tbs. to be light but sometimes if the dressing is super strong and therefore, you can use less, this is a bit less important. What’s the flavor profile of your salad? Old world European with Spinach, light feta, grapes and diced tomatoes? Opt for a balsamic, light Greek, or even a fruit based dressing like my favorite Trader Joe’s Champagne Pear Vinaigrette. Maybe you are going all American- romaine, carrots, broccoli, cheddar and ham? Light Thousand Island or even skinny homemade ranch (coming soon) is perfect! Southwest or Mexican themed salads call for something a bit spicy but still creamy. I will be posting my Skinny Southwest dressing soon!
Salad making tips
1. Don’t dress too soon, otherwise your lettuce gets all gross.
2. Don’t overdress. Nothing is worse than getting a plate of dressing with a little bit of lettuce. You can always add more, but taking it off is impossible.
3. Experiment with mixing flavors but remember that generally sticking within the same cuisine genera is a good idea. Sometimes sweet and spicy together is great- sometimes it’s a flavor mess.
4. Really love a high calorie dressing? You can still eat it, just dip your fork into a side cup of the dressing. This allows you to get dressing on every bite and you will be amazed at how much less dressing you use this way.
5. Making a salad at home and it always ends up with all of your dressing on top and dry lettuce on the bottom? Shake it up. Place your ingredients into a bowl and place a larger plate over the top, hold firmly in your hands and shake shake shake! This is a restaurant trick for distributing the dressing throughout the salad.
My current favorite Summer Salad:
Sweet Summer Spinach Salad
(that’s more S’s than my Initials!)
6 cups packed fresh spinach (Aldi)
1 oz Light Feta Cheese (Trader Joe’s)
About 4 medium strawberries- diced (Aldi)
About 20 red grapes (Aldi)
Optional but delish: 2T Chopped Walnuts (Aldi)
3T Champagne Pear Vinaigrette Dressing (Trader Joe’s)
Add everything together in a bowl. Shake to distribute the dressing.
Cal 315; 16g Fat; 17g Carbs; 15g Protein; 9g Fiber; WWP+ 7