As a vegan, I try not to get preachy about my diet. But a certain common exchange makes it hard to hold my tongue.
“A vegan?” someone will ask, scrunching up his nose. “So what do you eat, then? Salad,” the S word uttered with distain.
The truth is that salad gets a pretty bum wrap. And sadly in many instances, its poor reputation is somewhat deserved. Look at any mid-range chain restaurant menu, and you’ll see that most of the dishes in the “Salad” category are just strips of chicken, beef, or fish sitting on an underwhelming pile of lettuce, shaved carrots, and flavorless cherry tomatoes.
In salad’s role as a health food, it receives even less respect. The typical mound of iceberg lettuce topped fat-free Italian dressing may be low in calories, but it fails to satisfy most people, including myself.
If only more people knew how to make a great salad, it wouldn’t have this bad reputation. These are my basic rules for pulling together a hearty, healthy, delicious salad:
Start with a good base ingredient. I usually stick with mild vegetables, such as fresh greens, potatoes, cucumber, or cauliflower.
Load on the secondary ingredients. Making and eating a huge everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salad is one of my favorite ways to de-stress after a long day. It’s best to use what you like, and don’t be afraid of going overboard. Try nuts, seeds, fresh and dried fruits, lettuces and other vegetables, beans, grains, hummus and other spreads, breads, crackers, tofu, and tempeh. This approach usually produces a satisfying salad, but if you are favoring only a few salad toppers, try experimenting with the flavor combinations to achieve a good balance.
Dress for success. Many people assemble the salad and then dress it after it’s been divvied onto their plate. This is a mistake. When dressing a salad, it’s best to apply dressing a few minutes in advance to your base ingredient. Toss everything in a big bowl with clean hands. Then, while you prepare the secondary ingredients, let the dressed portion sit for a few minutes before adding the toppers, tossing again. And serving.
These salads are three standbys that are guaranteed to make you want to start an argument with those salad haters whether you’re a vegan or just someone who loves good food.
Vegan Potato Salad with Kale and Red Onion
- 4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, chopped into bite sized chunks
- 1/3 cup chopped red onion, chopped
- 3 cups of kale, with ribs removed and chopped
- 1/4 cup vegan mayo
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon agave nectar
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add potatoes. Boil for 10-15 minutes or until soft but still firm. Drain and allow to cool.
Place ½ an inch of water to a frying pan and add kale. Heat on medium until kale is tender and wilted; drain any excess water.
In a separate dish, combine vegan mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar,agave nectar, and chili sauce. Combine kale and potatoes and toss well with dressing. Serve at room temperature.
Makes: 4 servings
Everything Salad with Breaded Pan-Fried Tofu
- ½ head romaine lettuce, chopped
- 1 cup baby spinach
- ½ cup raw kale, with ribs removed and chopped medium
- 1 cup pea sprouts
- ¼ cup shredded carrot
- 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
- 2 tablespoons dried cherries
- ¼ avocado, cubed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3 oz. extra firm tofu, pressed and cut into cubes
- 1½ teaspoons ground flaxseeds
- 1½ tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon sesame seeds
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons salsa or hummus, optional
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, for frying
Grease a frying pan lightly with olive oil and place over medium heat. Combine breadcrumbs, garlic powder, salt, onion powder, and sesame seeds. In a separate dish, combine ground flax seeds and water and let sit until mixture has thickened.
Dip each tofu cube first in the flax mixture, and then in the breadcrumbs and spices. Make sure each cube is coated on all sides before dropping in the hot pan. Allow each cube to cook on each side until crisp and browned.
Combine all other ingredients in a large bowl and toss with oil and vinegar. Let it sit for five minutes, then top with breaded tofu.
Makes: 1 serving
Summer Squash and Sweet Corn Salad
- 1 medium yellow squash, chopped
- 1 medium cucumber, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped onion
- 1o leaves fresh basil, sliced thinly
- 2/3 cup sweet corn kernels
- 1 cup chopped Swiss chard
- 1½ teaspoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon maple syrup or agave nectar
- salt and pepper, to taste
Combine squash, cucumber, onion, basil, and corn in a large bowl and toss well. In a separate dish, mix olive oil, vinegar, and maple syrup or agave nectar. Drizzle over salad and toss well.
Add Swiss chard to a skillet with 1 inch of water. Cook over medium heat until mild-flavored and wilted, about three to five minutes. Drain well and allow to cool before adding to salad and tossing again. Serve cold.
Makes: 2 servings