The Redemption of Salads and Being Kind To Your Body
Ah, “diet,” the word that comes with so many different connotations for all of us. I really dislike the way this word is used in our culture today. Your diet is, by definition, what you eat - but it is now used for strict sets of rules about which foods you should and shouldn’t be consuming.
I have only one diet rule: be kind to your body. Eat what makes you feel good. This is a personal decision for everyone, and every body has different needs. Pay attention to what foods make you feel good and eat more of them. Likewise, pay attention to what foods make you feel unwell and avoid them when possible. But mostly, think about food as not just fuel, but something beautiful that can delight your senses! Visualize the nourishment coursing through your blood, healing your body, and giving you energy. Enjoy the rich flavors and textures of everything from chocolate cream pie to cooked brussels sprouts. If you feel like having a slice of cake, have one. Life is too short to count calories or spend days drinking nothing but juice.
“Now, you will never hear me talking about ‘healthy’ food. I loathe the term, but not as much as I am disgusted by the contemporary mantra of ‘clean eating’… the notion that foods are either harmful or healing, that a good diet makes a good person and that that person is necessarily lean, limber, toned and fit… Food is not dirty, the pleasures of the flesh are essential to life and, however we eat, we are not guaranteed immortality or immunity from loss. We cannot control life by controlling what we eat.” - Nigella Lawson
As one of my favorite body image activists Amy Pence-Brown says, “All bodies are good bodies. There is no wrong way to have a body.” The same notion can be applied to the food we eat as well. That said, I do think certain foods get labeled a little unfairly, and perhaps at the top of that list are salads.
When it comes to salads, I beg to offer a new viewpoint. It seems as though people often choose salads because they are the “healthy” option, and these salads are often made from bland watery lettuce, stale croutons, and are drenched in lackluster dressings and eaten with a grimace and a sense of gloomy responsibility. But salad doesn’t have to be so! Salads with a variety of flavors and textures are a wonderful treat, especially when they’re filled with spring greens fresh from the forests! Don’t force yourself to eat salads because they are the healthy option; allow yourself to enjoy the fresh crispness of happy green vegetables and get creative with a variety of flavorful toppings and exciting dressings! Eat salads because they are vibrant and colorful and make you feel happy and energized. Instead of “I need to go exercise and eat a salad for lunch,” think “I am going to go fill my lungs with fresh air and my eyes with the green of moss, then treat myself to an edible reminder of those lovely outdoor places.”
This time of year, fresh edible greens are everywhere. Often, they are disguised as common garden weeds - young dandelion leaves, lambs quarters, and purslane are some of the most delicious salad greens. The woods are brimming with young miner’s lettuce, wild violet leaves, and lots of edible flowers. A wonderful way to celebrate the beauty of the season and take yourself on a culinary adventure is to pack a “salad picnic.” Head into the woods with a bowl and some salad toppings and dressing and forage your own delicious salad.
To craft a well-balanced salad, you want to make sure you have plenty of variety of foodstuffs, including some protein. Dried fruits or berries add extra flavor as well! My general rule of thumb when designing a salad is to include each of the following:
Like root vegetables or grains; think roasted sweet potatoes, cooked rice or quinoa, rice noodles, wild rice, bulgur wheat, cous cous, etc.
This can be your vegetables (like cucumbers or bell peppers), or things like croutons, toasted nuts, tortilla chips, etc.
Soft cheeses are my favorite for this, but you can also use soft vegetables or fruits like tomato, avocado, or mango
Toss in some pickles or dried fruits or leftover pasta! Pretty much anything goes for this category. Let yourself have some fun with it. Dried fruit like cherries, cranberries, raisins, or currants add a little zing. You can also add pickled fiddlehead ferns, spruce tips, dandelion buds, cattail shoots, asparagus, etc.
Meat (I particularly like thinly-sliced steak or smoked salmon)
Eggs (hardboiled is the most portable option)
Nuts and seeds (hazelnut, pine nuts, black walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.)
Cheese (goat cheese, sharp cheddar, or even vegan cheese options)
Beans (black beans, lima beans, etc.)
Pick a couple of topping options and mix up your favorite dressing and you’re ready to go! Below are a few of my favorite options. Each mixture makes about enough for 2-3 salads, depending on how much dressing you like.
Vegan Wild Herbs Ranch:
This zingy dressing is thick and creamy, thanks to the cashews which give it a great texture. It’s extra flavorful, thanks to wild herbs like wild onions and lomatium (which is also known as biscuitroot and has an aromatic, parsley-like flavor. Be extra careful with identification of this plant, however, since it is in the same family as its poisonous cousin water hemlock and shares some similarities. You can also leave it out or substitute dried parsley)
1/2 c. cashews, soaked for a few hours or overnight in the fridge
3 wild onions, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 small lemon lemon (about 1/4 cup)
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 tsp. dried lomatium leaves
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. parsley, finely chopped
pepper, to taste
- Rinse and strain the pre-soaked cashews, then add them to a blender along with the lemon juice, salt, olive oil, dried lomatium, and water. Blend until creamy.
- Add the sliced wild onions and chopped parsley and blend until small chunks remain. Assess the thickness of the dressing and add a little more water if you’d like it runnier. Season with freshly cracked pepper to taste and serve!
Wakame Gold Dressing:
Full of umami and rich flavors, this Asian-inspired dressing is particularly delicious when paired with citrus fruits or smoked salmon. Both the turmeric and wakame give it a lovely yellow hue, while the tahini gives it a creamy consistency and sesame flavor.
1/4 c. fresh wakame (or 5g dried wakame soaked in water and drained)
1/4 c. white tahini
2 Tbs. sesame oil
2 Tbs. soy sauce
3 Tbs. rice vinegar
2 Tbs. orange juice
1 Tbs. maple syrup
zest from 1 orange
1/2 tsp. turmeric
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Pat the fresh or soaked wakame until dry and chop into small chunks.
- Combine all ingredients except the wakame and blend well into a smooth sauce. Add the wakame and pulse until very small chunks remain. Assess the thickness and add a little more water or orange juice to thin it out to your preference.
Smoky Sumac Raspberry:
Smoky chipotle is balanced out by sweet raspberries to make a dressing that is equally at home drizzled over a fruit salad as a bed of salad greens. Instead of lemon juice, this recipe uses a more local source of acidic flavor: sumac. Both the light red color and slightly tannic flavor work particularly well in this recipe.
1/2 c. fresh raspberries
1 tsp. dijon mustard
3 Tbs. sumac tea (1 Tbs. sumac and 1/2 c. boiling water, let sit for 20 minutes and strain)
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. honey
1/4 tsp. smoked salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. chipotle pepper
1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add more sumac tea as needed for tart flavor and thinner consistency.
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