By Anne Trominski:
If you’ve gotten this far along your plant-based food path, I’m sure you have realized that there are two primary ways to eat a whole bunch of veggies all at once: soup or salad. Soups and salads are a vegan’s bread and butter (urm . . . so to speak). You can make a big batch of yummy vegetable goodness all at once to enjoy a nice meal with plentiful leftovers. Plus, they go together so well that someone named a restaurant after them. Salads are especially enjoyable during the spring and summer months because the fresh veg and fruit are abundant, and nobody wants to eat soup when it’s hot out. (Uhg, and can we turn up the A/C already?!)
But what’s that you say? “No, not another salad!” Yeah, I get it. Especially, when eating out, it’s ridiculously easy to burn out on the typical “house” salad when you are trying to be healthy. Iceberg, hot house tomatoes, and those three slices of red onion can only get you so far before you want to chuck some stale croutons at your waitstaff. But just because every restaurant everywhere ever is presenting the same assortment of plant matter as a salad, that doesn’t mean you have to.
I’m sure you’re veg-savvy enough to know there is more to life than iceberg lettuce. It is infamously low in nutrients compared to its leafy cousins, though let’s not knock this go-to too much. It has a delightful crispness and high water content that makes it a worthy supporting player in any dish—just don’t give it a starring role. Toss it with spinach and/or kale and you’ve entered the land of superfoods! But don’t rely on just the leaves with the press agents. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, arugula is a flavor powerhouse. Some endive or a mesclun mix will also punch a salad out of the boring flavor scale so hard they should be rated R. (Last movie metaphor, I promise.) The bitterness can be a bit off-putting at first, but science has proven that the more you eat it, the more you come to like and crave it. (If you ever learned to drink IPAs or eat bleu cheese, you are familiar with this process.) Plus, more flavor sensations in your vegetable selection means a larger variety of nutrients entering you body.
Here’s another wild idea for a salad: leave out the leaves! Technically, a salad is just a low-temperature assemblage of foods that have been similarly flavored (that’s how you get a pile of cold potatoes and bacon covered in mayo past the salad police), so who says leaves are required? One of my favorite potluck dishes for warm-weather picnics is a salad that contains nary a leaf in sight. What it does have is protein, flavor, and a short ingredient list. I adapted this wonder salad from a health magazine version years ago. The original had steps like roasting whole ears of corn and blanching fresh edamame. I modified it so it would actually be a recipe I would be willing to make. My version takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to put together and is always a hit with audiences. (Like a good radio song. Not like a movie.)
Edamame, Corn, and Tomato Salad
1 bag frozen, shelled edamame
1 can of corn
1 package of baby tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix that stuff up in a bowl and eat it!
What? More detail? Okay . . .
1) Prepare the frozen edamame according to package instructions. After it comes out of the microwave, I like to dump it all in a colander and rinse the beans under cold water. Supposedly, this preserves the bright green color and crisp bite of the edamame. For sure, it cools off those little suckers faster so I can toss them in my salad sooner.
2) Drain your can of corn. Most canned corn is packed in salt water, so you’ll want to give the kernels a good rinse too. Also, keep that in mind when adding salt to the salad later. Sodium ain’t sexy.
3) Rinse your baby tomatoes because you don’t know who breathed on them in the store. I usually cut them in half because I think that makes them easier to fork in a salad, but if you are in a rush you can totally skip that step.
4) Peel, pit, and chop your avocado. The salad dressing is made of lime juice so that cuts down on any avocado browning. But if you are concerned about presentation, save this step for last and toss in the avocado at the last possible second so that it is as radiantly green as possible. I never do this. I just stir the salad before serving so any shabby looking avocado gets shifted to the bottom of the bowl.
5) In a big bowl, whisk together the juices of two limes with the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to your taste preferences. Once you have an emulsion (the scientific term for salad dressing), toss all the other ingredients in the bowl.
Mix it up until: tah-dah! Salad!
And like any salad, you can adapt it to make it as fancy or laid back as you like. Throw in onions and fresh herbs if you want to give it a little more zing. If you can’t find edamame, you can substitute another plant-based protein like chickpeas or beans. For a Mexican flair, you can use black beans and throw in some green chilis for heat. A friend of mine makes a very similar salad, but she uses cannellini beans, fresh basil, and red wine vinegar, giving it a distinctly Italian vibe. Really, you can throw any chopped veggies in there if you have some in the fridge you want to use up before they go bad. You can even add leaves! I mean, I wouldn’t, it’s fine how it is, but the salad police won’t shut you down for some radicchio if they’re allowing salads made out of eggs. Keep it simple, make it overcomplicated—you do you.
Since the recipe calls for two tablespoons of olive oil for the entire salad, your oil to bite ratio is fairly low, but if you want to eliminate oil from your diet (which is a good idea since it’s just fat), you can easily adjust the dressing. Sub miso and rice vinegar for the oil and lime juice, or take some of the avocado out of the salad and blend that with the lime juice instead of olive oil to make a creamy unami-errific dressing.
The point is, if you are tired of the salad you are eating, stop eating it. Seriously, there are lots and lots of vegetables out there and lots and lots of ways to combine them. Try new things and experiment with how you prepare them. You’ll find some go-to’s along the way, like this oh-so-refreshing salad, but mostly, you won’t get bored. You will certainly be able to keep your salad days interesting enough to get back to soup season.