Perfect Salads are hard to come by. Even those found in a lovely restaurant are often not up to par and certainly not as tasty as the ones I make 🙂 We eat salads every day, if not twice a day, and rarely grow tired of them. Even my traditionally meat eater husband is enjoying these salads, and especially their affect on his rapidly decreasing waistline!
But how can you make Perfect Salads every day? Surely even the most perfect salad would be boring if one had to eat it daily? Yes, but this perfect salad has many, many variations and so ensures a different taste and texture every single time.
Perfect Salads: The Grain
The first thing to choose is the grain. We are currently using organic brown rice mixed with black wild rice and red Camargue rice for lunches and alternative grains for dinner time. These can be one or more of the following:
- Brown Rice
- Wild Rice
- Red Camargue Rice
- Brown pasta
- Orzo pasta
- Whole grain Couscous
- Bulgar wheat
- Whole oat groats
- Whole wheat berries
- Egg noodles
- Rice Noodles
I prepare the grains during morning school. I chuck a couple to three cups of grain into a pan of cold water. Heat to boil and boil gently until tender. If pasta or noodles boil water first and if cous cous boil add boiling stock and leave to absorb. I can also buy a five grain mix, meant for soups, which is very tasty boiled up and added to salads.
Once cooked, you want to drain and run cold water over the grains to get rid of any starchy yuckiness which may be there. I then leave most whole grain berries/groats/rice etc to cool and drain so that by the time lunch or dinner comes around, they are cold and dry. With pasta or noodles, I drain, rinse with cold water until all pasta or noodles are cold and then I spray with olive oil. This prevents them from sticking.
Perfect Salads: The Vegetables
I used a selection each day from:
- Baby Plum Tomatoes
- Tri-Colour Tomatoes for fun 🙂
- Piccolo Cherry Tomatoes
- Peppers (Green, Yellow, Orange and Red)
- Sweet Corn
- Grated Carrots
- Spring onions
- Little Gem Lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Baby spinach
- Pea shoots
- Blanched fresh asparagus
- Fresh green beans/ mange tout
With all of these I wash, dry and cut into very small pieces (a cm by a cm), apart from the leaves which I cut into thin strips. Cucumber, which is a particularly wet vegetable, I half, and then half length wise, cutting each half longways into three, ending up with six lengths. I cut out the wet middle seedy bit (and gobble up!), then cut the remaining pieces into one centimetre lengths.
All the salad bits are chucked in a huge bowl all together.
Every salad I make contains avocado for its healthy fat content, and spinach for its incredible health properties. I mix and match everything else depending on what everyone fancies and feels their body needs.
If I am making a noodle salad, I prefer the veggies sliced into thin strips and gently fried until soft. They can be served hot, warm or stone cold….but they taste better cooked through when served with noodles.
Perfect Salad: Fruit
Fruit in a salad, I hear you ask? Yup 🙂 I’m a recovering sweet-thing-aholic remember? I like sweet! I usually choose one or two of the following:
- Fresh Apricots
- Passion fruit
- Dried apricots
- Soaked Goji Berries
- Any other dried or fresh fruit…
I always try to match flavours and textures. For example, sliced strawberries go really well in a leaf salad. I love mango and pasta together as well, texture-wise. Trial your taste buds and discover lots and lots of new combinations!
Just like the veg, I cut the fruit into small pieces or strips. I always cut sultanas in half and apricots into thin strips so they can plump up in the dressing. I soak dried fruit (especially goji berries) in whatever dressing I use (see later)
Perfect Salads: Proteins
We eat a mainly vegetarian grain based diet these days, so it is only rare that I use meat or fish. Very occasionally, I may fry a bit of bacon and toss that in the salad, or some fresh tiger prawns, but usually our protein sources are from non-flesh sources. Sometimes, I throw in some cubed feta (although I really do not like the taste), or other cheese, but more often than not our protein comes from the following options:
- Cashew nuts (a favourite of Charlotte’s)
- Almonds (Becca’s Favourite)
- Pine nuts
- Pecan nuts
- Pistachio nuts
- Chia Seeds
- Pumpkin seeds (my favourite)
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Flax seeds
- Fresh Edamame beans
- Fresh pod peas
- Hard boiled eggs
- Any other beans you may like (I gag on the texture of beans so we do not use them often in salads but I love the edamame beans so I am hopeful I will be able to add more and more to our diet in the future)
I add any source of proteins just before serving, and simply chuck in a handful or two into the bowl at the table. I love the added texture which comes from the nuts and seeds.
Perfect Salads: Herbs and Spices
Now, I’m certain you could do better than my measly list, but I am only sharing what I use. There are so many herbs and spices, really the skies your limit!
I grow some of these and buy others, but I always, always use fresh herbs and spices in my salad. So far I have used the following, but you can use any that tickles your fancy!
- Pepper mint
- Spear mint
- Apple mint
- Basil mint
- Flat leaf parsley
- Curly leaf parsley
- Ginger (fresh)
- Turmeric (fresh)
- Chilli (fresh)
I strip the leaves off the stem and chop the herbs and pop in my salad bowl. I grate the ginger or turmeric and finely chop the chilli and add to my dressing.
Perfect Salads: Dressing
I LOVE experimenting with dressings. The general rule is 50% acid and 50% oil, but I usually pay no attention to that! Honestly, my dressings are different all the time. Noodles, for example, cry out for soy sauce or teriyaki sauce, where as the strawberry salad mentioned earlier is so good with an orange juice based sauce. These are the choices I like to have in my cupboard, which now has a whole shelf dedicated to my dressing ingredients 🙂 I tend to make my dressing early on for flavours to marinate, but it’s fine to do at the end.
- A really good balsamic vinegar – it is worth spending money on this. You will use less and get a far superior dressing
- Red wine vinegar
- White wine vinegar
- Soy sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
- Orange Juice (Freshly squeezed)
- Lemon Juice (Freshly squeezed)
- Lime Juice (Freshly squeezed)
- A really good cold pressed virgin olive oil – again it is worth spending more on this for the flavour. I don’t use much and one bottle lasts me a loooooong time. Money well spent!
- Avocado oil
- Any other acids or oils which appeal to you – have fun!
- If I am using fruit in my salad, I like to use a very small amount (maybe a teaspoon?) of raw runny honey
Now just have fun!
I have discovered by playing around that I prefer a more acid dressing, in particular one made with the juice of one orange, one lemon and one lime. I add a tiny bit of honey, and some grated ginger, often using it to soak my goji berries in before adding a small amount of olive oil.
My dressing jar is very cheap and cheerful! It is made by scrubbing a jam jar clean and adding a cute black chalk board ‘Dressing’ label. This is great because you can pop on the lid and give it a really good shake to mix all the flavours. I make a large amount of dressing, and usually add it all. I love the flavours it brings out in the salad. As I mentioned above, I will drain the dressing of any ginger as it is a little strong for my guys, but I keep it to one side and add it to mine. Yum – meeee!
And voila! The perfect salad!
Perfect Salads: Recap
So to recap:
- Make your dressing first to allow flavours to marinade and dried fruit to soak until plump and soft.
- Cook the grain, run under cold water, spray with oil and put to one side in a colander to continue the draining. The goal is for cooked, cold and dry grain.
- Wash, cut and slice chosen vegetables and fruit. Keep in mind a balance of nutrients, texture and taste. Place in a large bowl (larger the better – we make a huge amount each meal!)
- Mix the dried cooked grain to the vegetables and fruit. The dryer the grain the easier it is to mix
- Drizzle the dressing over the grain salad. Again, the dryer it is the tastier it will be as it will soak up the dressing.
- Add the herbs, and your chosen protein and toss one last time before serving immediately.
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