For many people, the protein portion of the main meal is the hero. Vegetables, or salad, an after thought. Something quickly thrown together so you feel like you have something else on the plate. Am I right? For me, generally the meat is an after thought. And the thing is, that is totally okay. Meat doesn’t have to be the hero, to be honest, life is far too short to be eating boring salads. Take the dietitian in me away, and life is still far too short to be eating boring salads.
When I think salad, I want colour, I want different textures and I want flavour. I generally ponder (for longer than probably necessary) about the salad I want to make for the meal and then think of the protein side. A few weekends ago I cooked lunch for friends, I decided on two flavoursome salads I love, and then just ended up buying an $8 Coles Roast Chicken for the protein. Last night I just cooked chicken in lemon infused olive oil to go with the bits and bobs in my fridge.
I realised tonight (pretty much as I finished rambling) I wrote a post late last year on my favourite salads, but this time I wanted to show you how you can whip up a delicious salad without the need for a recipe every single time. I would love you to be in the kitchen, and experimenting. I wrote this on my Instagram last week: “My tip: try new recipes, and over time you’ll learn about what herbs + spices + flavourings go with what. Like mint + lemon + feta do wonders for greens, or salmon + sesame oil + ginger + soba noodles are the A team, or the toasted walnut, tahini yoghurt + parsley is the perfect topping for roast vegetables. Over time you’ll increase your knowledge + skills, and you won’t always need a recipe. 🙌🏼 I never used to be able to cook like I do now. Chilli, dried mixed herbs + cinnamon were the only flavourings in my cooking repertoire, and I only ever used pinenuts (no other nuts!!!!) in savoury cooking.”
Reflecting back on my favourite salads, there are generally 5 key important factors that make a salad into a party in your mouth.
- A combination of varied textured vegetables – think grilled, steamed, roasted, crisp.
- Nuts and/or seeds –
- Herbs and/or spices – mint, parsley and coriander are good salad herbs to have!
- A dressing or some sort of cheese or both – no need to buy anything special – lemon juice, greek yoghurt, olive oil are good staples that you can turn into a dressing. Meredith’s marinated goat cheese can be a life saver.
- Something fruity – fresh or dried. Has anyone ever had grapes in a salad?
All components provide flavour of some sort, and are generally more substantial nutrition wise than the classic garden salad. The vegetables together with the nuts & seeds create contrasting textures. Herbs can make is feel quite ‘fresh’, and the addition of fruit can literally be the pomegranate seeds on top and a nice addition of sweet.
Let’s talk through some favourites of mine, to give you some idea what I am rambling about.
Valli little’s Winter Pumpkin and grain salad (in Delicious: Feel Good Food) – pretty much the Hellenic Republic cypriot grain salad with pumpkin – genius. This also has freekeh (or I also use Barley) for a complex carbohydrate source which alters the texture once again.
- Vege: Roasted pumpkin + lentils
- Nuts & seeds: pinenuts, slivered almonds and pumpkin seeds
- Herbs & spices: coriander + flat leaf parsley + cumin
- Dressing: yoghurt + honey + cumin
- Fruity: dried currant + pomegranate
- Vege: Chargrilled eggplant + zucchini + rocket
- Nuts & seeds: walnuts + pumpkin seeds
- Herbs & spices: mint + coriander
- Dressing: tahini yoghurt (tahini + yoghurt + lemon juice + cumin + smoked paprika)
- Fruity: Pomegranate
Lyndi Cohen’s Roast Cauliflower & chickpea salad
- Vege: Roasted cauliflower + chickpeas (obviously)
- Nuts & seeds: pumpkin seeds
- Herbs & spices: za’atar + paprika + parsley
- Dressing: tahini yoghurt (I really like tahini yoghurt dressing if you haven’t already noticed…)
- Fruity: currants
Gourmet Traveller Cabbage, pea, mint & chilli salad .
- Vege: Shredded cabbage, baby peas + sliced radishes
- Nuts & seeds: Turns out this one doesn’t have any.. but I’ve seen sesame seeds added.
- Herbs & spices: chilli, mint + parsley
- Dressing: lemon + olive oil + parmesan
- Fruity: Not in this baby, but there something tells me some grated apple would be a nice addition.
Basically, it doesn’t tick the 5 – BUT YOU MUST TRY IT. It’s fresh, and flavoursome and really quite surprising.
Vietnamese Salad (so many variations)
- Vege: shredded cabbage, raw carrot, cucumber, bean sprouts
- Nuts & seeds: toasted crushed peanuts
- Herbs & spices: Coriander + mint
- Dressing: Fish sauce + chilli + lime + brown sugar
- Fruity: Maybe you really only need 4 things. But you get my drift right..?
- Vege: grilled zucchini + steamed green beans + frozen peas + spinach
- Nuts & seeds: slivered almonds
- Herbs & spices: Mint
- Dressing: Lemon + olive oil + feta
- Fruity: ……..
Something else to also consider is a source of carbohydrates, and this depends on what else you plan on having with your meal. These are some good ideas:
- Roasted sweet potato
- Vermicelli/Soba noodles
Currently my favourite combo is:
- Vege: grilled eggplant + zucchini, roasted sweet potato, peas + spinach
- Nuts & seeds: toasted walnuts
- Herbs & spices: parsley
- Dressing: Tahini yoghurt (made with greek yoghurt, tahini, honey + cumin)
- Fruit: Pomegranate. AMAZING.
Well how about that for a ramble?
Moral of the story: nuts and seeds, and herbs and spices can make your salad go from limp to crisp (…was that really bad?)
Happy Salading, friends.