Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Salad: It’s Not Just a Side
Why is your salad always a secondary role? Or, worse yet, never even cast in your dinner repertoire? (Sigh. More theater references. Sorry, occupational hazard.)
To me, salad often IS dinner, and a delightful one at that. I really do love to cook – and eat! – elaborate meals, and I write many a blog entry about such dishes. Truth be told, though, having a “big salad” with all kinds of veggies and other fixins’ for dinner is pretty common for me, often paired with corn on the cob during the warm summer months. Or, if I’m missing summer-y sweet corn I’ll add a handful of corn kernels to top my salad for a sweet complement.
While the meals I blog about range in complexity – see, for example, my posts on lobster bisque, Pad Thai, or fajitas – I’d like to encourage you to give eating a “big salad” for dinner a shot, because it just may become a regular go-to meal for you that’s quick, nutritious, and delicious.
Um, Why Should I Do That Now?
A plant-based diet is key to health for so many reasons, I really don’t even know where to begin. Let’s keep things somewhat simple for now: a mixed vegetable salad packs an incredible nutritional punch, rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and all sorts of bioactive components, some of which we don’t even know about yet. Vegetables are in fact the most nutrient dense foods you can eat, and the more colorful and diverse veggies you add, the more nutrients, taste, and textures you get. A salad also tends to be lower in calories than lots of other choices you might make for dinner, so that’s really helpful if you are either trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. (More on weight here.) One night’s salad included arugula, spinach, red leaf lettuce, radishes, assorted cherry tomatoes, red pepper, orange and purple carrots, legume sprouts, garbanzo beans, red onion, and olives. Think tons of colorful veggies piled high over a bed of leafy, tender greens, with two ears of sweet summer corn on the side. The one pictured here included mixed farmers’ market greens, pickled beets, garbanzo beans, scallions, pistachios, and gorgonzola. (Cheese is optional, of course). Here’s another delightful photo,
And what of dressing, you ask? I’ll save that post for another time, as this piece became kind of long and I want to get back to my corn and tomato theme this week. Suffice to say that you can never go wrong with heart-healthy olive oil and vinegar.
The point today is that you might be surprised just how filling a big salad can be, especially if a lean protein and/or legumes are added (in this case, chick peas, aka garbanzo beans). Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients (the other two being fat and carbohydrate, in that order of satiating capacity) so including some with any meal you have will contribute to feeling sated. Also, the fiber in vegetables helps us feel full because it slows down the emptying of our stomach contents and the absorption of nutrients. For more ideas on boosting the nutrition and satiating power of your salad, click here.
Salad? Seriously? I’m Still Hungry Just Thinking About It
Let’s say you give this a shot and still find yourself hungry. I hear you. Let’s discuss.
Before returning to your fridge for more, here are a few additional thoughts to consider if you’re still feeling peckish. First, make sure you are in fact still hungry. Did you take your time eating and savor your food? It takes around 20 minutes for your stomach to deliver satiety signals to your brain, so eating slowly is important. And did you consume a beverage along with the meal (ideally water)? Liquids add volume to our stomach, which also helps us feel full. A key to healthful eating is to maximize nutrients and volume while maintaining lower energy intake, and all of these strategies will help.
Sure you’re still hungry?
You can always order a pizza at this point.
I’m kidding. Don’t do that.
Not that I don’t like pizza, which I just made the other day to enjoy after my long run, in fact. I love pizza. Who doesn’t?
Now where were we? See how I sidetracked myself with all that talk of pizza? Back to salads.
Hara Hachi Bu, My Friends, Hara Hachi Bu
Before you do anything rash, like ravage the pantry for additional food, make sure to consider your caloric needs, remembering that most of us exceed what we need relative to what we expend. The Japanese have a great saying you might not have heard before – hara hachi bu – that essentially translates to “eat until 80% full.” This doesn’t mean you should be starving after dinner, but you shouldn’t feel absolutely stuffed, either. If you really are still hungry, which is possible given caloric needs differ according to body size and physical activity, you might consider adding something healthful to accompany the meal, such as whole grain bread dipped in olive oil or spread with hummus and topped with a fresh tomato slice. Or a cup of soup, perhaps. And next time you’ll know to make a bigger salad and/or add additional satiating components to it.
So. Don’t roll your eyes about eating a “big salad” for dinner until you’ve tried it. My husband sometimes specifically requests it for dinner; I’m not making this up. Give it a chance, and make it your own with veggies you love. We’ll get into fancier salads another time – or search my blog for more ideas. (Can you say spinach, strawberry, and sunflower seed salad with strawberry vinaigrette? Or how about quinoa salad with arugula, blackberries, Marcona almonds, and lemon-oregano vinaigrette?) Whatever you include, with so much diversity at the farm market (or your supermarket), your imagination and palate are the only limits.
Want Another Reason? Salad is a Time-Saver
Let’s not forget there’s also a practical side of a big salad for dinner: I don’t always have time to cook extravagantly during the week – if at all – and you don’t either, I’ll bet. With a big salad taking center stage, supper can be ready in fifteen minutes. And let’s not forget about the corn, which I didn’t say too much about today only because I I said enough about that yesterday. Let’s just say that as much as I really love salad, corn on the cob was definitely the star of last night’s dinner, and, as you know, I’m loving it while I still can.