How to build a nutritious and filling salad

-Nov 22, Jenny Paul , Nutrition -

It’s salad season again and with so many seasonal vegetables at their best and out there to enjoy, it’s a fab time to make the most of them.

It’s a mistake thinking of salad as a summer-only thing when they’re such a brilliant way to pack in your five-a-day. While some may think of a salad as a side and rather limp and boring, that does not have to be the case at all. In fact far from being a fancy garnish, a salad can be a filling, nutritious lunch or dinner in its own right which is a perfect meal prep opportunity and great for packed lunches and picnics.

Start with your leaves

All salads do not need leaves, but they do provide a great base and the chance to introduce nutrients and bulk up the rest of your salad. Lettuce is the typical choice but even around that search out a variety of leaves of different colours as the different colours contain different vitamins and minerals. Also consider less common salad leaves like spinach and kalewhich actually contain more antioxidants, fibre and iron than lettuce. 

You don’t have to make the leaves the star of the show though, you could add rocket to a couscous salad to make it less heavy or spinach to a potato salad. But if you get some leaves into your salad as well as adding interest you will also add more vitamins and minerals to the mix.

Remember as well that herbs are a leaf and can totally transform a boring salad. Simply chopping up equal amounts of cucumber, tomato and parsley and dressing with lemon juice and olive oil makes the most amazing Turkish style salad. Try popping some mint leaves and coriander to your salads and enjoy a uplift in flavour.

Add your veggies

There are the usual suspects we see in salads such as peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives but there are more veggies which compliment a salad. Why not add some tiny broccoli florets? Blitz some raw cauliflower to bulk up your grain salads, throw in some beansprouts for an earthy crunch. Cubes of avocado, coated in lemon juice so they stay beautifully green adds some fab oils for your skin and hair health. Grated carrot or beetroot is delicious too! 

Also consider cooked and cooled veggies like new potatoes, which will bulk out your salad and make it more filling, green beans, sweetcorn or broad beans. Not all your veggies in a salad need to be raw and this is another great way of using up leftovers. The greater the range of colours you can add the wider range of health benefits you will gain from your lunch. 

More: Do you need ‘superfoods’ or are all veggies good?

Fruit can lift a salad too

Many of us think a salad is just for vegetables, but adding a slightly sweet or sour element through adding a bit of fruit can really elevate a salad. Look out for fruits which are not too sloppy and so won’t cause the leaves to wilt quickly or spread onto the other ingredients preventing them their chance to sing. 

Blueberries, halved grapes, chopped apple or pear and all great choices. Or try garnishing with pomegranate seeds to add a Middle Eastern vibe as well as a pleasing ‘pop’ of intense flavour. 

Dried fruits can also be a fabulous addition to your salad, again adding texture as well as flavour. Scatter leaf salads with dried cranberries, dice apricots and dates into couscous and boil raisins in a little cider vinegar to really lift a mayo-free slaw. 

Choose a protein

Adding protein to your meal will leave you feeling fuller for longer. This could be some shredded meat from your roast dinner at the weekend, poached or tinned fish, seasoned and roasted tofu, boiled eggs, cubes of feta or hot griddled halloumi or nuts and seeds. There are plenty of options which can be reasonably priced too. For example, try topping a roasted beetroot, cucumber and parsley salad with some cheap and cheerful (but good fat filled) smoked mackerel fillets. Changing the protein and the dressing is a brilliant way of ringing the changes with a meal and will allow you to meal prep the base of the salad at the weekend before adding a different topping to it daily. 

Garnish with nuts and/or seeds

Even if you aren’t using nuts and seeds as a protein in your salad they are still a fabulous way of adding a lovely crunchy texture as well as upping the amount of omega rich oils and vitamins and minerals in the salad. To really bring out their flavour and crunch make sure you toast them in a dry frying pan until golden before adding.Also think about topping with ‘snacks’ like crisped seasoned chickpeas or salted peanuts – just adjust the seasoning in the dressing accordingly.

Try: A salad with bite – this Crunchy Chinese Salad

Choose your dressing wisely

While you salad needs some fat because not all fat is ‘bad’ and it will help you feel sated for longer, choosing wisely is key. Olive oils, blitzed avocado, tahini and nut or seed butters are a better element to add to your dressing than some of those which appear in shop-bought numbers. If you are going for an off the shelf option then be sure to read the label carefully and chose something which contains ‘proper’ dressing ingredients rather than lots of stabilisers. 

Making a dressing at home is really not as hard as you think and you can keep it really simple and just use a balsamic glaze or combine an oil with an acid (vinegar or lemon juice) and fresh ground pepper. Don’t be afraid to tinker and add pastes and seasoning like harissa for a real flavour hit.

If you enjoyed this article then try these delicious Omega-3 rich recipes. And have you ever tried the hot new vegan ingredient jackfruit? If not here are some tips and a yummy recipe!

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