Food trends may come and go, but one food trend that’s here to stay is the movement towards eating more vegetables and plant based foods. The perfect way to do this is to up your salad game and this month, I’m sharing with you a few handy tips to elevate your salads from supporting role to the main event along with three summer salad recipes for your apron pocket.
No longer are salads thought of as a bunch of sad looking wilted greens sitting on the side of a plate. Salads, long treated as an after thought, are now taking their rightful place at centre stage. With nutritional wisdom telling us to stop building our meals around starches and refined carbohydrates and to focus more on vegetables, healthy fats and proteins, now is as good a time as any to start giving salads a lot more love and attention.
Very often meat or cheese are the stars of salads with vegetables and other plant based foods playing a supporting role. Whatever your dietary preferences are, it’s always good to explore new ingredients and new ways of preparing vegetables and plant based foods. With this in mind, here are the Honest Project top tips for helping you make delicious plant based salads at home. This salad-inspo will hopefully inspire even the most vegetable adverse person to put their prejudice aside and grab a fork.
Top tips for Building Plant-based Salads
1. Salads don’t have to follow any particular rule, but if they are to be a meal in themselves, combine protein and fat with lots of fresh vegetables. Setting yourself the challenge of making your salads from only plant based ingredients while still achieving a balanced combination of essential nutrients can take a little thought. For plant based proteins look to quinoa, tempeh, chickpeas, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds. For plant based sources of healthy fats, opt for avocados, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds.
2. Salad greens are often over looked when preparing a salad. However, choosing the right leafy greens can make or break your salad. There are dozens of salad leaves to chose from, each with their own distinctive flavour and texture. The lettuce family is probably the most well known of the leafy green families and in general lettuces have quite a mild, almost sweet flavour. The chicory family of salad leaves have a bitter flavour and members of that family include radacicco, chicory and frisee. From the brassica family come kale, rocket and watercress. Kale has an earthy flavour and is slightly bitter.
Both rocket and watercress have a distinctive peppery flavour that can be quite intense. Other salad greens include spinach which is really popular in salads due to its mild flavour and purslane which is becoming increasing popular thanks to its lemony tang. Texture wise, chose between soft salad greens such as butterhead lettuce or crunchy salad leaves such as romaine or iceberg lettuce. The take home message is not to be tempted to buy a standard bag of salad greens. Put a little thought into your choice of salad greens and it will pay off in the end result.
3. Experiment with preparing vegetables in different ways and combine raw and cooked vegetables to add interest and depth to salads. Raw vegetables are packed full of nutrients and cooking them will, in general, deplete their nutrient content; there are some exceptions.
On the other hand, roasting, grilling and steaming vegetables can result in more flavoursome and tender vegetables that are more appealing to eat. Combine eating both raw and cooked vegetables to get the best of both worlds. Prepping vegetables in different ways can also add new dimensions to a salad. Finely grate carrots, spiralise courgette and use a mandolin or a sharp knife to thinly slice radishes and fennel making these tasty vegetables easier to eat and more appetising.
4. A good dressing is essential for a good salad. Dress lightly so that the salad leaves and vegetables are lightly coated with the dressing and serve the remaining dressing in a little bowl on the side so diners can help themselves. It’s always worth having some cupboard essentials in stock such as extra virgin olive oil, mustard, apple cider vinegar, lemons, limes, sea salt and black pepper from which to whip together homemade dressings.
A simple vinaigrette is hard to look past for ease and flavour. Add interest and depth to dressings with the addition of chopped herbs, honey or maple syrup for sweetness, chopped chilli for heat and spices such as cinnamon and smoked paprika for intense flavour. Blend soaked cashew nuts through your dressing to add creaminess. Don’t limit yourself to traditional style dressings. Look to pestos, hummus and mashed avocado to broaden your dressing horizon.
5. Finish salads with a sprinkling of toasted seeds and nuts and some freshly chopped herbs. When it comes to seeds and nuts, toast them first to add crunch and intensify their flavour. A simple guide to follow is to add toasted cashew nuts and sesame seeds to Asian style salads, toasted pumpkin seeds to Mexican style salads, toasted pine nuts to Italian style salads and toasted almonds or pistachios to middle eastern style salads.
A good scattering of freshly chopped herbs will add a real burst of flavour to a salad. Add chopped coriander to Asian and Mexican style salads, chopped basil to Italian style salads and a combination of chopped mint and parsley to Middle Eastern style salads. These are just general rules to help you on your way but there are so many beautiful herbs that work wonder with all sorts of dishes, don’t let these tips hold you back.
To help you on your way to building delicious plant based salads, here are three Honest Project summer salad recipes for you to try at home.
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Frances Walsh is the creator and writer behind healthy lifestyle blog, The Honest Project. The Honest Project focuses on plant based eating and cooking, using vegetables, fruits and wholefoods. Frances’ interest is in preparing and eating foods that are made from scratch but are practical and easy to make for even the most inexperienced cook. For more information visit thehonestproject.com.