PSA: Salads Don’t Have to Suck

Hokay, so here in the US, it’s summer time.  That means that whether you’re trying to look stellar in that bathing suit or enjoying the amazing displays of the freshest vegetables you’re going to have access to all year, we’re all going to be eating a lot more salad right about now.

I only have one small problem with salads: the lettuce.  Okay, that’s not a small problem. I actually have a big beef against lettuce.  Even buying locally produced lettuce is expensive (much less that stuff they ship all the way from CA or Mexico that sells for 2-3x more than I pay), it doesn’t have very much flavor, compared to other veggies out there it’s kind of a nutritional dud, and lettuce has the shelf life of approximately 5 minutes because you can’t cook it.  Exaggeration aside, I live by myself, so I cook for one. How am I supposed to finish an entire head of lettuce before it starts to wilt?  When I buy a head of lettuce, I feel like I’m signing a contract that I will eat salad for at least two of my meals for the next 5 days, otherwise this lettuce will get soft, become unappetizing, and I’ll have wasted food and money.

So, I don’t buy lettuce – not very often anyway.   But who says salads have to have lettuce?  And no, this is strictly a NO MAYO zone.  Any veggie you enjoy eating raw can be the base of a salad!  Ok ok, maybe you knew that already, but I didn’t realize it until my budget got a squeeze and I thought I had to sacrifice raw, fresh veggies (it didn’t make sense to buy salad stuff if the lettuce would always be partially wasted).  I didn’t eat salad for a long time, but this summer, I will not make the same mistake!  Below are some easy examples of salads you may or may not have known were possible that are perfect for those of us who cook for one (some of which are part of my dinner tonight).

Cherry Tomato and Red Onion Salad

Budget-friendly lettuce-free salad combos:

  • Thinly slice a small head of red cabbage and shred a bunch of carrots with a large cheese grater.
  • Chop celery into matchsticks and combine with some grated carrots and grated broccoli stems
  • Mix bean sprouts with 1/4″ slices of celery and yellow bell pepper strips
  • Combine quartered grape tomatoes, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, a red onion, some basil, shaved Parmesan, salt and pepper for a tomato salad (put it on toast and you’ve got bruschetta!)
  • Snow peas, mushrooms, and shredded carrots with some sesame seeds
  • Whatever else you can find cheap

    Red Cabbage and Carrot Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Dressings:

Making your own salad dressing is really easy, affordable, and will save you tons on calories.  Plus you’ll know exactly what’s in them!  I was very disappointed the other day when I looked at the ingredients list of a bottle of salad dressing in my fridge and saw this

So much Natural Flavor that they listed it twice!

This dressing is guaranteed to contain milk (which explains why it looks somewhat creamy without the Ranch-like mayo and yogurt thickness), but milk isn’t listed on the ingredients list at all…

The red cabbage and carrot dressing from the pic above is very simple:

  • Combine 1 clove chopped raw garlic with 1 tsp dijon mustard, 6 Tbsp evoo, 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar, 1/2 pinch of ground black pepper and a pinch of Kosher salt into a small mason jar.  Shake until well combined. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Voila!

A good rule of thumb for salad dressings is the 3:1 oil to acid ratio.  Unless you’re having a super light salad, the veg will usually tone-down the acidity of the dressing.  So, when you taste-test, you want the dressing to have some bite to it.  Another one of my favorite dressings is a lemon poppy seed dressing that follows the same rule:

  • Combine 1/2 clove chopped raw garlic, the juice and zest of 1 lemon (usually about 2 Tbsp juice yielded), 6 Tbsp evoo, 2 tsp+ poppy seeds, 2-3 leaves fresh basil chopped into fine ribbons, 1/2 pinch ground black pepper, and a pinch of Kosher salt in a small mason jar. Shake and ENJOY!!

Keep cool out there, everyone!  The produce available this time of year is truly awesome, so feel free to explore and enjoy your salads! 8)

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