When you think of salad, what comes to mind? Iceberg lettuce and some tomato? Maybe some cheese if you’re feeling adventurous?
Or maybe you think of that tried and tested accompaniment to any BBQ: Coleslaw.
For many people, salad occupies a small place on their plates to justify the rest of what they are eating. A bit of greenery to make the rest of the meal a little more acceptable.
The salad world has so much more to offer.
Salads can be satisfying, hearty, filling, tasty and experimental. They can be fresh, tangy, sweet and savoury all at the same time.
By the end of this article, you will have all the tools you need to create the perfect plant-based salad.
You’ll wow your friends, vegans and non-vegans alike.
Think of the most bravado, salad-despising person you know. I’m going to teach you how to whip up a green ensemble that will have them asking for seconds. At the same time, we’ll be making healthy food that lets you hit all the macros you need – protein, good fats, fibre, vitamins and more.
Sound like a big promise? It’s actually not that hard. You just need to embrace a combination approach to salad preparation. Done the right way, a plant-rich salad can be greater than the sum of its parts. Something special happens when you combine the elements listed below.
Your salads will no longer be a simple add-on to make your plate look healthy. They’ll be the centre-piece of your meal.
Key elements of the perfect plant-based salad
Try and include at least one of each element, but don’t worry if you can’t. Just have fun trying different combinations!
Element 1: Something roasted
Examples: Broccoli, sweet potato, asparagus, chickpeas
Herb choices (optional): Paprika (any kind), garlic powder, oregano, coriander, cumin.
Have fun with any combination of the above, use a small amount at first to create ‘interest’. Don’t have spices? No worries, you don’t need them to make a damn good salad.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Would you like to know how vegans make every vegetable taste good? We roast them. Everybody knows roast potatoes taste amazing. But have you tried roasted asparagus? Or roasted broccoli? If not, then you’re missing out.
At this point, you might be thinking “I don’t have time to roast vegetables, this is a salad, not Sunday dinner!”
Here’s the thing about vegetables – they only take 15 mins to roast in most ovens. It’ll take you that long to get everything else chopped and ready anyway so it doesn’t really add much time.
Don’t have an oven? That’s ok, microwave broccoli might be boring on its own, but even that can taste great too with a little creativity and the right combination of other ingredients.
Element 2: Something crunchy
Examples: Croutons (ie. chopped up toast), celery, lettuce, spinach stalks, grated betroot or grated carrot.
Tip: Chop your lettuce or spinach up small! You know those salads where you scoop it up with your fork and everything falls off before it gets to your mouth? No one likes those. You can fix it by chopping everything up nice and fine.
Element 3: Something fresh
Examples: Lettuce, kale, avocado, tomatoes, bell-peppers (capsicum),
Element 4: Nuts or seeds
Both can be added raw or dry-roasted in a pan (my preference).
Experiment with: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp hearts, almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, or roasted cashews. I usually use one type of seed and one type of nut in each salad.
Apple cider vinegar
Olive or avocado oil
Salt & pepper
Try different combinations of the above, adding small amounts as you go to get your desired taste. Keep in mind that roasted vegetables have their own flavour and sweetness so you may not need a lot of dressing.
If you are keen to try something more adventurous, mix together:
3 tablespoons of Almond butter (or peanut butter)
2 tablespoons of Sweet chilli sauce
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
Thin it out with water to reach your desired consistency and you have a heart-warming salad dressing in seconds.
Now that you have the basics down. Play around with these optional add-ons…
Optional element: Fruit
I love adding apples, oranges, cranberries, sultanas, grapes, apricots or whatever is on hand to a salad. It lifts the whole experience to another level. Don’t be afraid to try different combinations, just use whatever you have.
Optional element: Grains
Bulk up your salad with quinoa, rice or buckwheat
Friends of mine are surprised when I add grains to a salad. But why not? Why can’t a salad be a filling, satisfying meal in its own right?
Bonus points for adding:
Sauerkraut (for digestive health)
Optional desperation extras: Frozen Peas, corn.
Because sometimes, the veggie cupboard is bare and you don’t know what else to use!
Some ingredients (kale) can be used fresh or roasted. The choice is yours. Try both and see what you prefer. Or, make the choice based on season. Cold outside? Roast everything up so it’s warm and satisfying. Middle of summer? Chuck it in fresh and keep your resulting masterpiece light, fresh and crunchy.