Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Salad by Any Other Name

For those who follow my facebook fan page and see what I have for lunch everyday, a common thread emerges.  No matter how I dress them up, or change up the ingredients and artfully arrange the standard lunch is basically a salad.  Somewhere along the way people fell into this rut of thinking a salad is this giant bowl of iceberg (bleccch) with a couple of dry carrot matchsticks and a lonely radish slice (bag'o salad right?) topped with the most ridiculous amount of ranch dressing and shredded cheese.  Lets not forget the bacon bits, ham cubes, hard boiled egg, fried onions, fried croutons and heaven only knows what else.  That is fairly typical salad bar accoutrements.

The problem with all that the time you add three or four HUNDRED calories worth of ranch (and somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 or 40 fat grams and a whopping 1000 mg of sodium) you might as well have had a cheeseburger.  Then there is the 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar which packs on another 350 calories and 18 grams (at least) of fat and around 600mg of sodium.  The bacon bits can hit you up for around 300 calories for a couple heaping spoonfuls, 12-15 grams of saturated fat, and an obscene amount of sodium.  PLUS...with these nasty little're getting a good dose of nitrates/nitrites, artifical smoke flavoring, caramel coloring and usuallly sulfites too.  I mean...come may as well have had the DOUBLE cheeseburger with a large chili cheese fries and a milk shake!  Its outta control!

Years ago I worked for TGI Fridays and we used to joke about these uhm (how do I say this and be politically correct...ok there is no way so Im just saying what I usual)..redneck families that would come crawling out of the hills on Friday and Saturday nights to get a "faincy dinner at that there TGI Fridees" (imagine how it would sound if said by Larry The Cable Guy).  They often came with the entire clan...grandma, ma, pa, all 7 of the youngun's, mama's cousin Bubba twice removed on her uncles, sister's brother's cousins nephew's side and of course the coon hound was tied up out front.  Im being silly of course but there is some truth in the humor.  They were typically an ENTIRE family of obese people...right down to the one in the highchair.  They ordered the highest caloried foods on the menu and LOTS of them...AND they requested ranch dressing in SOUP CUPS.  There were MANY families like that.  I actually heard a lady tell her kid one time...."if you eat yer salad, I'll git you them tater skins."  She gives this kid a plate with 4 or 5 pieces of lettuce on it and 3 ramekins of ranch dressing.  He dipped that lettuce in there and used it like a SPOON to ladle ranch dressing into his mouth.  When he got "done"...all 3 ramekins were empty and there were 3 of the 5 pieces of lettuce still on the plate...limp and greasy from being used as utensils and sucked clean of the last drop of ranch.  She did indeed order him a half order of potato skins and requested we leave off the sour cream and "just gimme one of them soup cups with some ranch dressing."  The kid was maybe 4 and that was 10 or 12 years ago.  I wonder if he's even alive and if advanced is his atherosclerosis by now?  He'd be...oh..about 17 maybe...with the arteries of a 80 year old. 

I usually have a rule or two about salads whether they are classic lettuce salads or comhbinations of chopped veggies, legumes and whole grains. 

Number one get ONE fat!  Let me repeat that...ONE FAT choice.  If you just gotta have ranch MEASURE out the proper portion and make it go around but you must forego the cheese, egg, meats, croutons, etc.  If you can't eat a salad unless you have some least go with reduced fat and you need to learn to like a sqirt of lemon or lime juice and cracked black pepper as a dressing. 

Number 2...protein.  Everyone should had some lean protein at each meal but you need to choose wisely.  I eat mostly vegan so my protein choices are lentils, black beans, garbanzos...whatever legumes I have around.  To round them out and complete the proteins I typically add a whole grain like cooked cooled kasha, triticale, brown rice, farro, wheat berries, quinoa, bulgar etc.  Whole eggs can fall into both the fat AND the protein category but if you opt for Egg whites don't have to count them as your one fat.
Even though cheese is also a source of's fat content (even in lower fat cheese) is high enough that you would need to count it as both. may add additional protein WITH the cheese if it is lean egg white or poached skinless chicken...but lay off the deli type meat (for MANY reasons), fried bits of breaded chicken, bacon, ham etc. 

Number 3....carbohydrates.  I know this one is gonna hurt.  If you have followed the first two rules and kept your protein lean and your fat limited to one choice you can afford a limited amount of carbs.  Is there anyone who knows what ONE serving of carbohydrates is?  It's 1/2 cup of a grain (and don't waste it on white junk), ONE slice of bread.  If you've chosen a vegan salad and used say Kasha or quinoa or whatever with some're done with the carbs!  These are double duty ingredients.  If can have a serving of croutons but you need to take care that they don't bleed over into the fat rule.  Making them yourself is best.  Dried fruits would fall in this category.  These are your fast carbs...they are more or less like mainlining sugar.  *Legumes and whole grains are slow carbs (see next paragraph)

Number 4....the veggies.  Aim for a minimum of 6 different veggies preferrably in different colors because each color has its own unique set of antioxidents, minerals and vitamins.  My favorite is what I like to call the "Twenty Veggie Supreme"'s just what the name implies; twenty (yes...2dot0) differnt raw vegetables.  I usually make a huge bowl and nosh on it for two days.  There are carbs here as well but they are slow carbs...carbs that the body must digest and break down into sugars to burn for energy. 

That's pretty much it for Jill's Crash Course on Salads.'re probably saying...uhm BORING!  It doesn't have to be though.  Let me give you an example of how to "work" the rules.  Divide your serving so that you CAN have a little salad dressing AND a sprinkle of cheese.  Have a half serving of whole grain (1/4 cup quinoa or whatever) so you can add a couple small wedges whole grain pita.  Half a serving of sunflower seeds (fat) and half a serving of dressing or olive oil (fat).  This gives you the variety but doesn't break the rules. 

Use salad making as a means to clean out the fridge too.  You know..I don't care if you had double coupons, buy one get one free AND it was on sale too...if you end up throwing it was expensive!  You still wasted your money.  Consider using green bags to extend the life of your produce.  They WORK and they are reusable up to 10 times!  What a great resource.  I got an herb keeper from Pampererd Chef and it's awesome.  I put a bunch of cilantro in it and it was still good 10 days later.  I hate spending money on herbs and having them go bad in 2 days. 

Just keep in mind...a salad by any other name is still a salad.  You don't HAVE to eat lettuce to have a salad.  Be creative, innovative and even if it's just for your...make it look pretty!

Here are a few of my salad lunches........

a twist on a greek salad, with a couple shards of feta and 3 greek olives

notice the variety of color and texture of the veggies
and the half serving of homemade lemon tahini dressing is strategically placed where it will taste the other words, drizled on the veggies that go best with the dressing.

this is my take on a thai noodle salad with crispy cukes and radishes.  There are far fewer noodles than you think because I cut the noodle serving in half so I could enjoy the agave I used to make the sweet and savory dressing.  I cut the veggies into "noodle like" shapes (long shreds) to give the illusion that there are more noodles.  The entire salad was tossed in the dressing and marinated in the fridge for half an hour to let the dressing soak in.  The dressing was a serving of fat divided between olive oil and sesame oil (for authentic flavor).

Even though I call these "Spring Rolls", closer inspection reveals they are basically a salad wrapped in rice paper.  Cute huh?  A colorful array of fresh raw veg, my fast carb is the rice paper, my fat is the coconut milk dipping sauce.  But look how impressive it plates up?  Whose going to look at that and say...ugh, raw veggies AGAIN!

here's the close up...nature is amazing isn't it? You can wolf down the whole plate sauce and rice paper wraps included for less than 300 calories!

Here's an example of a good high protein lunch.  A simple salad of white beans mixed with chopped veg and dressed with a lime juice vinaigrette (olive oil is the fat) served with a side of black rice.  The beans and rice were actualy a half portion each (because of the carbs..not the protein) and the other veg helped fill it out.  I used an edible cup of Radiccio Leaf for the salad.  It was delicious by the way!

This was a fun one...a bento style (fancy Japanese lunches in laquered boxes) lunch without the box.  Im endlessly fascinated with Bento but usually don't have the time to fuss this much.  ONce in a while it's fun though.  The protein and fat are in the form of roasted red pepper hummus that I decoratively piped into a radiccio cup.  It serves as a dip for all the veggies.  I used some watermelon for a sweet carb boost and as you can see...a myriad of colored veggies.  Isn't is stunning?

close up...see the hummus?

These are just a few examples of sophisticated and healthier salad making.  Play around with it and come up with your own creative ideas.  I look at the salad bowl/plate as a blank canvas and wonder...what can I create today?

(c)copyright Jill Anderson
The Homegrown Gourmet


  1. I hate the crap they call salad at restaurants! All you get is a huge plate of iceberg lettuce, which has little to no nutritional value, whatsoever! I hate iceberg lettuce!!

    I thought Texas was the only place people poured huge amounts of Ranch dressing on EVERYTHING!! I swear kids here wouldn't eat anything, unless it was covered in that nasty stuff! Sounds like it might be an epidemic! Yuck!!!! Luckily, my daughter wouldn't touch the stuff.

    I thought it was funny that you mentioned learn to eat your salad with lemon and pepper! I never use salad dressing and always use lemon and pepper or Olive Oil.

    Good stuff, Jill and those salads look delish!

  2. Wow! You've been busy - pretty array of nice salads!

  3. Thanks Debbie! Yes is an epidemic. It just kills me to see people bribing kids to eat vegetable with half a gallon of ranch. Now..there IS a way to make healthy ranch dressing at home. I use low fat yogurt to make mine. Is it going to taste like what most people think of as ranch...NO! To me it tastes better because I think commercial ranch dressing tastes like a creamy chemical soup. There are SO many synthetic ingredients in that stuff it's sickening. Plus...the sodium is outrageous! I may start publishing some of my homemade salad dressings. All my clients love them. I use stuff like raw sesami tahini with lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. I do a roasted red pepper vinaigrette that's really good too. Poppy seed with honey (or agave for vegans)...there's so many delicious AND nutritious things you can make salad dressing out of..don't know why anyone would buy salad dressings.


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Fort Myers, Florida, United States