What to eat for lunch….salad!

I think when we try to think of something healthy to eat for lunch the default answer is….salad!  Salad is definitely a good choice, and one I eat all the time.  I loved having  huge salad bars available in the cafeterias at work.  Convenient, and an easy way to get your veg on. 

Lettuce at the organic market in Paris

Lettuce at the organic market in Paris

Making a salad at home can be just as easy, especially if you opt for bagged, prewashed lettuce. They are pretty expensive these days so I suggest buying heads of lettuce of your choice (green leaf, red leaf, and romaine are good choices) and washing them as soon as you get home from the grocery store.  Dont wait until you are hungry and then you will opt out of the extra work and order pizza!  After you wash lettuce you need to dry it or it will get slimy very quickly. Dry lettuce also allows the dressing to adhere nicely.  To dry you can use dish towels or a salad spinner.  Wrap the washed/dried lettuce in paper towels and store in bags in the fridge.  You are set. 

To me, salad dressing makes or breaks a good salad.  Too much dressing and your salad is soggy and limp.  Not enough and you have tasteless, dry lettuce.   The right dressing pulls everything together and makes it a delicious meal, rather than just a bowl of vegetables. 

Most people think salad dressing is hard to make or too much trouble, and opt for a bottled dressing.  

So many choices!  There is the regular middle-of-the store aisle…. it thas pre-made dressing in bottles, as well as powdered mixes to which you add oil, mayonnaise or sour cream.  In case that isn't enough to chose from, there are a bunch more in the fridge in the produce section! 

I hate to say it, but none of these are really a healthy choice, and honestly, they mostly taste terrible. They are sweet, watery and taste pretty fake.  Looking at the ingredients tells the story….

Ranch dressing

Ranch dressing

Italian dressing

Italian dressing

Can you believe water is the first or second ingredient?  Sugar as the second ingredient?  (The ingredients on a label are listed in order of most to least content by weight.) No wonder they taste watery and sweet.   You pay lots of money for water and sugar!  And what are those ingredients toward the end? caramel color? calcium disodium EDTA? disodium guanylate?   I argue that those chemicals can't be good for you.   They aren't food, so why eat them? 

Even the Annie's Naturals brand has mostly water.  It does have less "chemical" ingredients than the Kraft versions but still more "stuff" than you would add at home. 

If you are in a bind and have to buy a bottle,  I think this La Martinique dressing is pretty good.  Not very many ingredients, no water and no sugar.  It tastes like real vinaigrette.  If you are used to thick, sweet, gloppy dressings, try a real vinaigrette for awhile.  You will grow to love the punch of the vinegar and the lusciousness of real oil.  The whole "fat free or low fat" issue is for another blog post, but trust me, you need the good fat, and it will make your salad feel like a real meal. 

Bottled dressing aside, my preference is to make my own dressing.  It is really quick and easy.  Just put the ingredients in a jar and shake to mix.  (recipe below!)   In making your salad, put all your ingredients in a BIG bowl, with lots of room.  (You need room to toss it all together.) There is much more to salad than lettuce, tomato and cucumbers.  Add rinsed, canned beans.  Chopped onions.  Dried cranberries.  Peanuts, cashews, or sunflower seeds.  Chopped boiled egg.  Chopped cooked beets.  Leftover veggies.  Diced cooked potatoes.  Canned tuna.  Chopped apple. The options are really endless. The key is to add a variety of ingredients that have crunch, texture, protein, and a little something sweet.  The combination will give you a satisfying full meal.  

My dinner salad

My dinner salad

I had chopped romaine lettuce, chunks of cheddar cheese, sliced green onions, sliced boiled egg, chopped red apple, and a red potato that I boiled whole, then chopped and mixed with a little dressing.  

Put everything except ingredients that will fall apart (like the eggs) into the big bowl, and add about a tablespoon of dressing per serving.  Using tongs or two big spoons, toss and toss and toss. When you think you are finished, toss a couple more times.  (This method is much better than putting salad on your plate, drizzling with dressing and then trying to mix it while you eat it!) Taste a bite to see if you need more dressing. It really doesn't take that much if you toss it  well.  Sprinkle with a ltitle sea salt and a few grinds of pepper to finish it off.  And there you have it -  a great salad for a healthy and delicious meal. 

Basic Vinaigrette

by Catherine Craig

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients (3/4 cup)

  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard or stone ground mustard
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • big pinch of salt
  • 4 or 5 grinds of pepper
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (use what you have: red wine, white wine or apple cider are good choices)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

Put the mustard, garlic, salt and pepper, and vinegar into a small jar. (An old jam jar works perfectly!) Close tightly and shake to mix. This allows the vinegar to dissolve the salt and the mustard to be thinned and dispersed. Now add the olive oil, close tighly and shake again. Presto! Delicious salad dressing.

Note: I like this ratio, but if this is too tart for you, add more olive oil to taste. If you use balsamic vinegar use a 1:1 ratio, 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 oil, and add a good squeeze of lemon juice to cut the sweetness a bit.

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