Healthy Salad Ideas

Eating healthy and eating something that tastes good can sometimes be a challenge. Fats, sugars, and carbohydrates are what trigger the feeling of satiety, or fullness and satisfaction. Unfortunately, in excess, these items do not lend themselves to healthy eating.

Salads have been a diet staple as dieters attempt to balance filling up with low calorie content. Unfortunately the average salad found in restaurants is either a horrific combination of fats and high calorie dressings or bland iceberg lettuce with a few vegetables thrown in for good measure. There is a vast array of fresh ingredients that can take a salad from boring to fantastic if one takes the time to understand what is available.

A healthy meal is all about balancing the right amounts of protein, vegetables and carbohydrates. In creating a salad consider that it does not have to have lettuce as a base. If using lettuce consider the wide variety of lettuces available.

Iceberg lettuce is cheap, it also has the least flavor and nutritional value of any lettuce. Essentially it is crunchy water. It also can occasionally have a somewhat bitter flavor.

Romaine is a firm lettuce with a strong rib running through the center of the leaves. This staple of Caesar salad is easily purchased in most supermarkets. The outer leaves tend to be slightly bitter while the hearts are softer and sweeter.

Butter lettuce is becoming increasingly popular for its smooth texture and mild flavor. Varieties include Boston and Bibb lettuce which have large sturdy leaves that are excellent for wraps.

Leaf lettuces, such as red and green leaf are commonly used to garnish sandwiches, they have broad curly leaves and mild flavor.

Mixed field greens can be found with packaged salads in the supermarket. These blends contain a mixture of herbs, lettuces and spinach and lend themselves well to oil based dressings and or a vinaigrette.

If you simply despise the taste of lettuce, try a mild variety. The addition of nuts, grilled meat or fish, and even cheese and cooked eggs will add needed protein to your meal. The proteins will satisfy cravings and keep blood sugar levels stable, while the greens will act as a filler.

Choose toppings carefully, vegetables such as fresh cut peppers, broccoli, carrots, and onions add color, and thereby visual appeal, as well as flavor. Be careful of canned items such as olives, jalapenos or banana peppers. While flavorful these items add sodium and cause the body to retain water.

Consider making a salad of simply the toppings you love or including items such as rice, beans, pasta or cooked grains like barley or couscous.

Here are a few of my recipes for salads that make flavorful meals in and of themselves or serve as great accompaniments to meat or fish.

Mediterranean Cucumber Salad

1 large cucumber

1 medium red onion

1 red bell pepper

1 large tomato

1/3 cup olive oil

2 tbs lemon juice

2 tbs fresh chopped garlic

salt and pepper to taste

fresh herbs such as basil or oregano or dried herbs can be used in a pinch

Large dice the vegetables and place in a large mixing bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients and toss.

If you have the time refrigerate the salad for a couple of hours to allow the flavors to blend, otherwise serve immediately. Fresh herbs add wonderful flavor. In a pinch dried will do but use less as they will be more potent and somewhat bitter.

Tabbouleh

1 pkg couscous or bulgur wheat

1 small cucumber

1 small tomato

a handful of fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

3 to 4 tbs lemon juice

Olive oil

Prepare the couscous or bulgur according to package directions and allow to cool to room temperature.

Small dice the tomato and cucumber. Chop the parsley and combine with the vegetables and cooled couscous in a large mixing bowl. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

Here’s my variation which uses cilantro and cherry tomatoes and a hearty South American grain called quinoa. Quinoa (KEEN-wa) has a nutty flavor and is high in protein making it an excellent choice for dieters.

1 pkg quinoa

1 small cucumber

1 cup of sweet cherry or grape tomatoes

1 small bunch of fresh cilantro

½ red onion

Olive Oil

½ of a lemon

salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the quinoa according to package directions and cool to room temperature.

Small dice the cucumber and onion and slice the tomatoes in half.

Chop the cilantro and add it to vegetables in a large mixing bowl.

Stir in the quinoa and drizzle with olive oil.

Squeeze the juice of half of a lemon over the salad and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir well to combine.

Both versions of this salad are delicious fresh and even better the second day as the flavors combine.

Mixed Green Salad with Spicy Raspberry Vinaigrette

I discovered this quite by accident while experimenting in the kitchen.The combination of flavors is wonderful and the dressing is sweet and just a bit spicy.

4 cups mixed field greens or chopped romaine

½ cup sliced red onion

½ cup shredded carrots

¼ cup toasted walnuts

Dressing

¼ cup of raspberry vinegar

½ cup olive oil

2 tbs chopped fresh garlic

3 tbs sugar, honey or agave nectar

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 tsp salt and pepper

Combine the vegetables and walnuts in a large bowl.

Whisk the vinegar into the oil and add the remaining ingredients.

Toss with the rest of the salad and serve immediately.

This salad is excellent with crusty whole wheat bread or croutons and grilled chicken

Raspberry vinegar is common in most supermarkets but if you can’t find it, omit the sugar, substitute white or balsamic vinegar and whisk in a few tablespoons of raspberry preserves.

Curried Rice Salad

4 cups cooked brown rice, chilled

½ of a small onion, diced

1 tbs garlic

4 tbs olive oil

3 tbs curry powder

1 tbs turmeric

1 tbs sugar, honey, or agave nectar

salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in skillet over medium heat and add the turmeric and curry, stir for about a minute to open up the flavor of the spices.

Add the onion and reduce the heat, cooking until the onion is translucent. Cool

Combine the onion and spice mixture with the remaining ingredients, stir well to combine and season to taste.

Bowtie Pasta salad

1 package bowtie pasta, cooked and chilled

½ cup sundried tomato pesto

1 bunch green onions, sliced

1 large tomato diced

¼ cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients and stir well. This salad works well cold or can be heated in the microwave for a change of pace.

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