I was never one for salads. I don’t know why, but the word to this day bears connotations of bland, off-tasting iceberg lettuce, minimal cucumber, and always too much tomato. When I was very little, though, my favorite thing to do was create a salad in the kitchen with my mom. She would work on the more labor intensive and difficult parts of our dinner, but my task was always to cut the vegetables and make a big salad. I remember one day coming home bawling after a situation with friends, and my mom’s way of helping me cope was to offer up making a big salad in the kitchen to forget the tiny but painful woes of the day. I hardly, if ever, could eat the salad by my own finicky standards. There were never enough flavorful components, said the little kid version of my adult self that still holds true today. I loved the unconventional additions, like green olives and sliced pickles, and lots of ’em. (I once begged my mom to cut pickles into what was a fine dice like she had for me for a snack, so that I could enjoy them time and again, and to this day if I add cucumber or pickles to anything, including salads, I have to cut them in the same, tiny dice way. )Airplane rides are usually punctuated with a vegetarian meal of a garden salad and bread, both of which bring me back to my childhood, wishing that I could like them. Back then, I wanted so badly to be healthy and an all-star vegetarian kid, but I just could not like salads, or vegetables, period.
I started to
like eat salads when I first started observing the health benefits of vegetables. But still, even in my first years as a vegan, I was loathsome of most vegetables, until my best vegetarian friend’s birthday party. A platter of roasted squashes, and other mediterranean vegetables, was the closest thing to a meal I had that night, and as I forced myself to eat it not to be rude, I found myself loving how succulent and flavorful they were. From then on, I tried to eat more vegetables, and dabbled more with eating raw vegetables for increased health benefits. I had a favorite salad from the now defunct Curly’s vegetarian diner in NYC, which had this amazing roasted red pepper dressing that had me hooked. I never thought I’d utter those words before Curly’s. Their ‘ New School Lunch’ with a side salad was my jam back in the day, and it was a nutmeg-spiked (odd sounding, but it worked) mac and cheese with a salad on the side. Part of the reason I never liked salads were the salad dressings, either too creamy, too milky, too rich, or too heavy on the vinegar or oil (which I’d later discover is usually the point) but I had to find something that was an anomaly, which I found in the Curly’s lunch. It was flavorful without being greasy and heavy.
Flash forward to now. I still have trouble accepting a garden salad as an appropriate food. There is nothing wrong with it, but I need to know that the dressing will be bangin’ and the salad will be fresh for it to pique my interest at a restaurant. Otherwise, my picky side shows and in a pinch with no other options, I might choke it down with reserve, dry due to lack of a dressing. So when I eat salad, it is usually in my own home, with my own carefully selected ingredients for my picky self, that help me make my mind up and QUICK about what to eat. Now, when I offer one of my salads to my more picky boyfriend, he turns up his nose a bit to the idea of eating something healthy as if salads were always just that. I won’t be pushing the issue too much, but with these salads, I think he’ll start to grow fond of salad like I am now.
Here are my favorite salads in the last year:
- Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Kale Salad with Butternut Squash and Lentils ; This salad is so versatile, and it can be made with just the kale and dressing if you are looking for a quicker fix without turning on the oven.
- Vegetarian Times’ Shaved Fennel and Apple Salad ; this sweet, tart, and licorice-flavored salad has a bit of crunch and is very refreshing.
- Vegangela’s Black Rice Salad with Mango and Peanuts ; the melange of ingredients here reminds me a bit of a southeast Asian dish, and I love its nutty and citrus/sweet flavors that are complimented with the crunch of the peanuts.
- The PPK’s Creamy Avocado Potato Salad; I love avocado, I have German heritage and I love potatoes, and this is the only potato salad I’ve ever liked. Correction: loved.
- My Kale and Mango Salad with Avocado Dressing; because, well, it’s the only creamy dressing I’ve ever actually craved, repeatedly, and fiercely.
- Texas Caviar ; While it isn’t a salad, per se, around here it gets eaten like one because it is an easy way to get protein and is very fresh tasting, so how can we not?
- Veganomicon’s Corn and Edamame-Sesame Salad ; this salad pairs really well with sushi, or as a starter with ramen or something else light. It is also pretty high in protein!
- The PPK’s Stonefruit & Lentil Salad with Creamy Mustard Vinaigrette: To be honest, I would probably eat just about anything with Moskowitz’s name on it a few years ago, and this salad is a testament to her ability to combine simple techniques to add just a little something special to a salad to take it to the next level. P.S. Hate mustard? Use mustard powder like I do, 1:1 exchange.
Need new dressing ideas? I like this list on the Happy Healthy Life blog. She does a great job of providing many options for those of us who are particular about our dressings, or those who just want to try something new.
Bada-bing. There you have it. I say, let us look not to the cookie, but to the salad, for its versatility, it’s inclusivity, and its satisfying harmony among many different parts. Salads shouldn’t be bland anymore!