Wanna hear my salad mantra?
GO BIG OR GO HOME
Seriously. I’m not a, ‘Just a green salad with a squeeze of lemon juice please, waiter’ kind of girl. Life’s too short to chew on naked leaves while murmuring, ‘Mmm, so simple and delicious…’. Give over.
I grew up in the Nigella tradition of cookery. Simple, soulful food – and plenty of it – cooked no fuss and offered up to friends and family as a kind of Valentine. ‘Look, eat, I love you.’
Food is a gift, to yourself and to others. So I’ve got no time for empty calories. Fat-free this and fun-free that. From the porridges, soups and stews I cook in the winter to the salads, smoothies and fabulous fruity things in the summer, everything has heart.
And with salad season most definitely upon us, there’s no better time to talk about about all the ways salads can be awesome.
But first, a brief interlude.
Have we got that out of our systems now?
Good. Because, Simpson clan, salads are superb for a few reasons.
- Light, raw food is what we’re designed to eat in the warmer months. It’s cooling, cleansing and perfect for summer bodies that don’t need a fat blanket to stay warm.
- They don’t actually have to be light or be raw. There’s a tonne of ways to spin a salad (did you get that pun, did ya?) and turn them into a dazzling and satisfying main.
- They (should* be) full of enzymes and micronutrients and they (should*) digest easily, keeping you in tippy-top health.
*I say ‘should’ because the things some, ahem…outlets, do to a salad border on criminal. Luckily ranch dressing isn’t a thing in the UK. Small mercies.
- You can get seriously creative with salads, and they’re really difficult to screw up. I mean, when was the last time you said, ‘Oh honey, I burned the rocket’?
- They’re the perfect slim-down food. Get a salad right and you can be in raptures without feeling like you’re restricting yourself. Because restriction is not cool. Ever.
So I reckon there’s a few elements to the perfect salad:
- Your base
Mixed leaves. Spinach. Kale. A grain like rice (brown, please), quinoa or couscous. Or a veg like potato, carrot or aubergine. Preparation can be the key to making something sing, so think outside the box a little. Kale is fab raw and massaged with a little oil (to make it relax) or fried in coconut oil ’til crispy. Carrots can be fashioned into ribbons using a veg peeler or drizzled with oil and honey and roasted like chips. Get me?
- Your interesting bit
This can be almost anything. A fruit. A veg, raw or cooked. Eggs, meat, fish. Tofu or tempeh. Cheeses. I think about two, maybe three elements is a good show. And here it’s all about balance. Something salty vs. something sweet (like halloumi and sundried tomatoes). Or something starchy with something creamy (like sweet potato and avocado).
- Your sexy dressing
Remember the magic formula: Something sweet + something sour + oil + seasoning = awesome. I usually whisk up dressings in a mug with a fork, but shaking in a jam jar gives you an excuse to do a salad ragga dance around the kitchen. Then there’s loads of ways you can tart your dressing up – from adding a chilli kick to some creamy tahini.
- Your fancy flourish
Crushed nuts, berries, a scrape of parmesan. A little something on top of your salad adds texture and interest, and makes you feel like a pro. It also looks way better on Instagram. Because face it, you’re going to want the world to see this sexy salad.
Back in the day I would have been sharing a salad recipe right about now. But a while ago I realised something. Well, several things. 1. I never use recipes. So why the hell would I create them? 2. Instead, I open the fridge, see what’s there and make sh*t up. Get to know ingredients well enough and you can do the same. 3. Other bloggers do food (and food photography – rather essential) wayyyyyy better than I can.
So instead, I thought I’d share some of my favourite salads from my favourite blogs.
Blogs were my route into the world of health. Life as the only green-smoothie-drinking non-sugar-scoffing nerd in the office can be pretty lonely, but online there are squillions of people who just get it, and some tribe leaders whose recipes and words inspire you to keep going, keep getting healthier, day by day. And who, in a world designed to make you buy and eat crap, make healthy food seem, well, normal.
These are the big guns. The blogs to subscribe to, whack on your Feedly, drool through their back catalogue and get a daily dose of inspo.
Roasted cauliflower with dates and lentils from Green Kitchen Stories
Scandi couple David and Luisa travel the world making beautiful vegetarian food with their beautiful kiddies, and turning it into beautiful photos and videos. It’s all too much. And as far as I’m concerned, anything involving roasted veg and dates is a win.
The perfect kale salad from Deliciously Ella
Ella is everywhere. And with good reason. She healed herself with a vegan, whole foods diet and has done a LOT to make eating healthy seem like no big deal. We had some serious laughs massaging kale at my last cooking workshop, and here Ella shows you how it’s done, and helps you whip up a creamy dreamy dressing.
The best lentil salad ever from My New Roots
Lentils get a bad rep. But do them right and you’re onto a winner. They’re super cheap, super nutritious (after soaking) and you can buy them anywhere. And Sarah’s blog has enough gorgeous healthy food to keep you going for the rest of the year too.
Classic vegan caesar salad with avocado by Kris Carr
Kris Carr is a leg-end. A plant-powered cancer ‘thriver’ and advocate for natural food and natural beauty. She also looks like a totally fun babe. I wanted to list a salad that was a healthy twist on a classic, that you could pump up with leftovers from your Sunday roast, and that was loaded with avocado, because…actually avocado needs no justification.
Quinoa with roasted pumpkin and pesto by Teresa Cutter
Teresa, or the Healthy Chef, is an Aussie who really, really knows her stuff. Her website reads like a compendium of clean food and her creative ways with fish and meat makes it essential reading for all you paleo peeps. Plus, anything involving pumpkin/squash/sweet potato and pesto is plain essential in my book.
Want even more? I got a Pinterest board for that.
Now go win friends with salad.