Salad is a plant-eater’s best friend. At my house we eat salad 1-2 days a week for dinner, and I usually eat it 1-2 days per week for lunch as well. The trick to making a salad feel like a meal is to really dress it up and make it feel special with lots of toppings and textures. A great dressing also can help!
My husband endearingly nicknamed my salads “salad mountains” because they really do look like a big pile. The awesome thing about green leafy salads is that even if the salad is nice and big, it is very low in calories (assuming most of the bulk is from greens.) My biggest salads with the most decadent toppings (boiled egg, cheese, creamy dressing, etc.) usually are still only about 600 calories, which is a great amount for a healthy dinner.
Here are the basics for creating your own Salad Mountain.
Ingredients to prepare and mix ahead of time: Making your own salad mix saves you lots of money and time. Plus, have you ever noticed how quickly bagged salad goes bad? Also, did you know that a lot of pre-chopped veggies that you buy in the store are sprayed with chlorine to prevent bacterial growth? Eww! Just buy the ingredients and create your own salad mix! No chlorine and it lasts longer in the fridge, too.
Lettuce – I usually buy 3-packs of romaine hearts. It’s quicker, easier, and I usually discard the outside leaves of romaine heads until they are about that size anyway! I rinse and chop a whole heart at once and put it in a large bowl. I cut my lettuce with a knife because it is fast and easy. I know it supposedly makes your lettuce brown faster, but I find my chopped lettuce still lasts well for 2-3 days without browning.
Cabbage – green cabbage is a seriously underutilized salad green. It adds another dimension of flavor and texture, and goes great when chopped and mixed with romaine. It’s also generally pretty cheap, so it can really stretch your pricier ingredients. I chop both the romaine and the cabbage, toss it together in a bowl and keep it in the fridge. This makes salad quick and easy to prepare, and costs way less than buying bagged salad.
Green Onions (scallions) – Green onions are a great, mild onion perfect for eating raw in salads. If you like the flavor of onion but hate getting a powerful, crunchy mouthful, these blend nicely with the lettuce. You get the flavor without noticing the bulk of a bulb onion. I chop these semi-fine into rings and toss them in with the lettuce. They store just fine when chopped.
Shredded carrots – Prepare your own easily with a cheese grater or food processor. No need to peel them either, as long as they are being eaten raw!
Ingredients to add only when assembling:
Diced Tomato – Does not store well diced, so best to dice right before serving or at least the day-of.
Bell Pepper – I love them sliced in big pieces, but you could also dice them up.
Cucumber – You can’t go wrong with this mild and crunchy vegetable.
Cheese – This is what MAKES a salad for me. Just a little goes a long way. I love using feta, blue, or even just shredded mozzarella. About 1 serving is around 100 calories.
Boiled Egg – About 100 calories each, and when used on the carnivorous man in your life, it may just convince him that he’s had his fill on only salad.
Chia seeds – A little goes a long way! These are packed with healthy, plant-based fats.
Croutons – My 2-year-old was converted to eating green salads by the presence of croutons. Now she loves greens, too!
Beans – Of course! Any kind!
Fruit – Fresh or dried fruit like dried cranberries add a delicious and unexpected sweetness in contrast with the savory dressing and greens. Diced apple or pear are also among our favorites. Strawberries and blueberries are excellent as well.
Dressing – It is worth it to splurge on the good salad dressing. No Hidden Valley Ranch crap… that is just gross. If you aren’t making your own dressing (see my excellent sweet balsamic vinaigrette dressing recipe!), find the refrigerated dressings in the produce section. They cost a little bit more than the shelf-stable kind, but taste SO much better, and have way fewer preservatives! My favorites include the Opa greek yogurt dressings or the Bolthouse yogurt dressings. There are beautiful flavors like feta dill, jalapeño ranch (my husband’s fave), etc. Trust me. It’s worth it.
I use a combination of anything from this list, and will occasionally throw in anything else that is in my fridge that sounds good, like leftover Mexican rice.
Having all ingredients on hand makes for a VERY quick meal. I can throw together a great salad mountain in about 10 minutes. Yay for healthy, quick dinners!