If a dish is called a “salad,” it’s undoubtedly low calorie and healthy, right? Well, maybe not. In a recent WashPo article, food and science writer Tamar Haspel gave the stink eye to most salads. Too many, she said, are limp, watery, bland, and nutrient poor. What passes for salad on many menus and salad bars is made up of lackluster ingredients with far too few vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
The salad label gives any dish a “food halo,” even to high-fat, high-calorie pasta and deli concoctions. One of the biggest salad culprits is iceberg lettuce with it’s 96% water content and puny nutrient count. What novelist Anne Lamott refers to as “green, crunchy air.” Adding radishes, cucumbers and celery doesn’t help that much, since they’re also high in water.
It’s time to reevaluate what goes into making healthy salads. For the same dollars spent on lesser ingredients, Haspel says you can load up on broccoli, romaine, red cabbage, spinach, beets, kale and sweet potatoes. All those heavy-duty vegetables work well in salads and offer an abundance of food value. (For recipes, click the salad name shown under the photos above.)
5 Steps to Healthy Salads
- Start with a deep-colored green or a combo of greens: arugula, mesclun, spinach, butter head, romaine, or loose leaf.
- Add an assortment of healthy vegetables: bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, red onions. Take a look at HuffPo’s array of 75 colorful combinations that will make you want to liven up your next salad bowl.
- Spike the salad bowl with protein, especially if it’s the main course: chickpeas, skinless chicken, salmon, light tuna, eggs, and cheese can transform your salad into an entrée.
- Sprinkle sparingly with one or two topping for added flavor and crunch: dried cranberries, croutons, pecans, almonds, olives, sunflower or pumpkin seeds.
- Create your own “bikini” dressing, that is, one that barely covers the salad leaves. Spray on the dressing or have it served on the side.
There are lots of homemade dressings out there, but here’s a classic that’s worth committing to memory:
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
- 1 Tbs. shallots, chopped
- 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
- 1 1/2 Tbs. honey
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. pepper
- Dash of garlic powder
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients except olive oil. Gradually whisk in olive oil.
When you’re inclined to add a few croutons, here’s some you can make yourself and control the ingredients.
- 6 cups (1 ½-inch) cubed sourdough or French bread
- 1 Tbs. butter, melted
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. onion powder
Combine all ingredients in a roasting or jelly roll pan. Toss well to coat. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, turning once.