Long, hot summer days call for meals that are a bit lighter but still, enormously satisfying. That's why salads are so ideal for this time of year. And the good news? You can think beyond merely "lettuce and tomatoes."
As a writer, I have to make a concerted effort to incorporate motion into my daily routine as I don't believe conjuring up stories is a calorie-burner. Writing during the pandemic made this even more challenging.
So, I’m on a mission to lose the ten or twelve pounds I’ve gained over the past two-plus years of this abnormal “new normal” we’ve all struggled with.
Sitting at my computer for hours on end has contributed to my excess pudge and I’m guessing I’m not alone. So, I’m going to initiate a type of challenge here centered around the humble salad.
Now, for those of you who already enjoy your greens, good for you, as you’re feeding your body the nutrients it needs to keep chuggin’ along, singin’ a song.
But, for you folks who’d rather eat topsoil than a bowl of lettuce, it’s time to broaden your horizons.
I’m not talking about “rabbit food,” but rather, scrumptious, filling, and nutritious combinations of fruits, veggies, and lean proteins that will keep you energized and satisfied. For that, you need to veer from the side salad and think “main dish.”
When I was employed, my weight hovered between 131 and 133 pounds. I’m five feet six so that was a fairly mean and lean look for me. And a healthy one because when I was heavier, during and after menopause, my excess weight contributed to a spike in estrogen and I developed breast cancer.
Oddly, even with a desk job, my daily routine was far healthier than it is now. Without fail, each day, I snacked on pistachio nuts and chomped on two apples with peanut butter as a late breakfast/mid-morning snack. I’d spend my lunch hour busting butt at the gym and eat a protein-rich lunch after, usually hard-boiled eggs and veggies or a big salad.
Although vanity certainly plays a part in my determination to maintain a certain weight, my health is primary. And for me, thinner is healthier.
But, we’re all different. A healthy weight for you might be twenty pounds less, or more than mine. Yet, how you feel in your skin trumps a number on a scale by far, because we all know that number can vary by the hour.
Now, my plan is to pick up where I left off three-plus years ago and return to a way of eating that works for me, and may inspire you, as well.
Apples are back in my larder again, and, as there are so many varieties, they never get boring. My favorites are Granny Smith, Jazz, Pinata, Pink Lady, Opal, and a host of newbies that serve up massive crunch with a sweet-tart tang.
As pleasing to the eye as they are to gut health, apples are filling, due to their high fiber content, and loaded with antioxidants. Normally, I don’t purchase organic produce so I make sure to give the apples and almost all produce a good bath with vinegar and water prior to eating. I never peel them as apple skin contains a significantly higher amount of vitamins and minerals than the flesh.
Okay. Let's talk salads. I love them for their versatility. You could enjoy a huge, satiating salad twice a day every day and never get bored. As cliche as this sounds, when it comes to a big bowl of crunchy, refreshing yum, you’re limited only by your imagination.
I feel your skepticism but hear me out. If you think a salad merely consists of iceberg lettuce, tomato slices, and a couple of cucumber rounds, you’re in for a treat.
Think of your local grocery’s produce department and all the available options. Virtually every item could be tossed into a salad of one kind or another.
Mix and match, fruits, veggies, and grains for a nutrient-rich meal that won’t put you in a food coma. If you’re a meat-eater, toss in some shredded chicken (leftover rotisserie chicken is great for this) or lean, grilled beef. Tuna and salmon are excellent choices as well, for a hefty dose of protein and minerals.
I love to add chickpeas to my salads as they have a meaty, yet creamy texture that provides the perfect yin to the veggies’ yang. Lentils, which are packed with protein are another great add-in. Cook up a big batch and store it in the fridge where they’ll stay toothsome for several days.
And don’t forget those apples! I regularly add chopped Granny Smith apples to my salads for some textural oomph and sweetness.
Here are some salad combos that I love. Note, that I never use exact measurements. Instead, I make things up as I go along. The same for seasonings. Not a fan of oregano? Swap it out for something you do like.
Also, try different greens. I love the peppery bite of arugula, the aptly-named butter lettuce, nutrient-packed kale, and romaine, the star of so many classic salads such as Caesar. I love iceberg lettuce as well, especially in the iconic wedge salad with blue cheese dressing. And don’t forget cabbage, which is loaded with Vitamin C and offers up a number of other health benefits. Red, green, Napa, all are excellent options that deserve a place in your salad rotation.
As for dressings, I mix things up. I like extra virgin olive oil with an acidic bite from either lemon juice or one of several kinds of vinegar that I keep on hand. And remember, you can add your favorite protein to any of these.
For a creamier dressing, mix Greek yogurt with a little EVO, fresh lemon juice, garlic, and any herbs of your choosing. Either fresh or dried dill weed is fantastic for this. This dressing is particularly tasty over chicken salads.
Again, you can make a salad from damn near anything, but here are a few of my favorites.
Diced cucumbers with cherry tomatoes, red onion, and crumbled feta cheese. Toss in some sliced avocado for a dose of healthy fat. Extra virgin olive oil and either red wine vinegar or lemon juice make for a delicious topping. Albacore tuna is especially tasty with this one.
Baby arugula EVO, lemon juice, and grated fresh parmesan. So easy and delicious. You can make this heartier by adding shredded chicken, sliced, hard-boiled eggs, or chopped, toasted nuts like almonds or pecans. For a sweeter version, swap out the acid for honey and sprinkle with dried cranberries.
Romaine with canned, Italian tuna, sun-dried tomatoes, and avocado. I like to whisk together EVO, white wine vinegar, and dijon mustard for this one. The tuna should be packed in olive oil, so if you don’t drain it, which I never do, you can use less for the dressing.
Chicken with barley, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts. This one is so yummy and unctuous, thanks to the velvety goat cheese. Make it even easier on yourself by using quick-cooking barley and toasting the walnuts in the microwave. Any vinaigrette of your choosing works well, here but I particularly love the EVO and fresh lemon juice combo.
Aside from conjuring up my own salad recipes, I’ve found some great ones online through the years. Some of my favorites are from The New York Times and they’re all ridiculously simple and simply delish. None of the recipes are exact; that’s how easy they are to customize.
Sear fresh tuna or use canned, then mix with chopped apples, halved seedless grapes, chopped red onion, olive oil, a bit of cumin, and black pepper.
Dust shrimp with chili powder. Sauté in butter or oil (or a combination) with fresh corn kernels and flavorful cooking greens (bok choy is good, as is watercress). Add halved cherry tomatoes and lime juice at the last minute.
Fast, grown-up potato salad: Boil bite-size red potatoes. While still warm, dress them with olive oil, lemon juice, whole grain mustard, capers, and parsley. Chopped shallots, bell peppers, etc., are all great additions.
Julienne red, yellow, and orange bell peppers; mix with thinly sliced red onion, olive oil, and cooked crumbled sausage or chopped salami.
Combine shredded cabbage or lettuce with bits of turkey, Swiss cheese, and rye croutons. Russian dressing is the key to this one. This one’s a riff on a Reuben sandwich in a bowl.
Sear a steak and move it to a cutting board (don’t wash the pan); wait a minute or two, then slice. Cut kale (preferably black, also known as Tuscan, or dino kale) into thin ribbons and toss in the pan over high heat for a minute. Turn off the heat, and add chopped black olives, olive oil, and sherry vinegar. Serve kale with steak on top.
Alright. I think it’s time to get off my butt and get moving. I hope these recipes inspire you to whip up some salad magic of your own and that you enjoy them as much as I do. And feel free to share your own favorites.
Thanks for reading and happy eating.
© Sherry McGuinn, 2022. All Rights Reserved.