Rainbow Salad Primer
This Rainbow Salad Primer shares the secrets to make your own breathtaking rainbow salads. Let's explore the best ingredients to build a rainbow salad. These are ingredients that will keep you full and fueled and whose flavors will make you want to lick the bowl. When I think of salad, I picture a colorful variety of tastes, textures, and shapes. I imagine the seasonal ingredient bounty that is available. This rainbow salad primer is for those who are not obsessed with vegetables. It is for those who don't know how to construct a salad that is wow worthy and insanely delicious.
American Standard Salad
Odds are that when you picture salad, the old American standard (OAS) pops up. The OAS salad is filled with crunchy and mild flavored lettuce like iceberg, seedy cucumbers, and firm, flavor-light tomatoes. Also typical are crunchy/salty white croutons with a creamy dressing or a salty and sweet vinegar dressing. With slight mainstream twists like onion rings, raw mushrooms, shredded cheese, or bell pepper rings, it is no wonder that so few people truly fetishize salad. People often say to me, "I like salad but I never stay full". That's because in that old standard there are no proteins, no grains, no fats and negligible nutrition or fiber to fill you up!! Those salads are basically water in a bowl with a little sugar. I want to change the American standard and raise the bar with this rainbow salad primer! We deserve health! We deserve to enjoy food that fills us but won't kill us! Oh jeez, that came dangerously close to vegan propaganda. I will take a deep breath and slow my roll.
The Rainbow Salad Queen
Since I truly love salad and I have since childhood, I am qualified to write a rainbow salad primer. Much to my delight, sometimes people call me the rainbow salad queen. I can teach you how to make salads that are simple to construct, titillate you with every bite and fill you for hours without weighing you down. Most of my rainbow salads take only 10 to 15 mins to make. Just chop it up, throw it on a plate and inhale the dang thing. Once you understand the basics of salad making and the staples to have on hand you will be throwing your own gorgeous and tasty rainbow salads together on the dilly. As you can tell, I am passionate about salad. When Lisa Simpson was chided "Ya don't make friends with salad" , it always annoyed me. Most friends that I have had over the years have always enjoyed sharing my colorful creations. Nowadays I get messages from friends asking for dressing ideas and recipes and it warms my heart. Thank you to the beautiful and zany Zoe for inspiring this post! Now let's dive deep into this rainbow salad primer.
All about the Greens
The first topic in the rainbow salad primer is greens. Lets's talk about the green base of any rainbow salad. Greens are the best base as they are full of nutrients, fiber, and low in calories. They add bulk to the salad. When selecting your base green, start slow then get adventurous. You will begin to appreciate the unique flavors and textures and learn how to pair them with other ingredients with experience. Here are my favorite greens for salads in order of mild flavored and common, to most unusual and flavorful: Iceberg, Baby Spinach, Romaine, Green Leaf, Red Leaf, Bibb, Gems, Chicory Endive, Frisse, Escarole, Arugula, Kale, Mizuna, Chards, Mustard, Collards, Dandelion Greens. Always add something hearty, crunchy and colorful like Cabbage, Endives, Radicchio or Treviso. Buy whole heads and butcher them or go the convenience route and buy boxes of spring mix, baby spinach, power greens etc. At many grocery stores you can pick up cut slaws and really simplify your life.
If you like cucumbers, go Persian. The Persian cukes are the best. They are never bitter, have a great price point, the peel tastes good and they last longer than others. I am not a fan of the giant English cucumber, it's peel is not pleasing to me and they get horribly slimy. The regular garden variety cucumber is only good when it's fresh out of a garden. In the store it can be bitter and the seedy center is a textural aberration. My Persian pals are also called mini cucumbers and I get them year round everywhere produce is found. Cucumbers are the perfect addition to rainbow salads for summer. That's why they are included in this rainbow salad primer.
Tomatoes. To tomato or not tomato, in this rainbow salad primer that is an important question. When I do tomato, I buy the local cherry, sugar bomb or flavor bomb tomatoes on the vine. These tasty little morsels are the closest to garden fresh I have found. They are more expensive than the others but their divine flavor is worth an extra two dollars. I also like coctail tomatoes on the vine or Compari tomatoes. Other than these I just mentioned, take a pass and wait for a summer farmer's market or your own garden to do the tomato thing. Never buy the light flesh, firm tomatoes you see that are mealy, flavorless and guaranteed to turn you off salad forever. A good tomato is like a gift and a bad tomato is a curse.
Since I am vegan, I keep as staples: Tofu, tempeh, chick peas, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. FYI, Trader Joe's is a mecca of Vegan Proteins at a cheaper price. You can also keep veggie burgers, veggie balls, veggie sausages, veggie bacon etc at your fingertips. I prefer the first list because they are less processed but I have been known to dabble in the others for convenience sake. Proteins are really just great vehicles for flavor, they do not carry much on their own IMO and usually need spices, sauces and dressings to make them pop. I am no dietician, but I have read a lot over the years and I can guarantee that most people think they need way more protein than they actually do. Keep in mind that all vegetables have some proteins and when added up, there is a decent amount in most food even without something that is labelled a protein source. That being said, this rainbow salad primer highly encourages the addition of protein in order to increase feelings of satiety.
Grains get a bad rep. There is nothing bad about consuming grains as part of a healthy diet except an individual's ability to portion control properly. (Unless of course you are allergic) Please add grains to your rainbow salad! They will add texture, flavor and fiber. They help transform your salad from a side dish to a meal. The options are endless. Peruse the rice aisle at your local market and you will see dozens of different grains. I cannot sing their praises enough. Just be wary of overeating. I love quinoa, brown rice, black rice, pasta, rice noodles, soba noodles, farro, cous cous, millet, and kamut. The possibilities are endless for grains to transform your salad from basic to brilliant. I will talk about grains as a base on another day but just to be clear, grains are a healthy eater's best friend. I like to prepare big batches of basic grains then cool them and keep them in the fridge for salads. Start with a common grain and then get adventurous. First try adding cold pasta to your salad and then make your way to one of the big guns like black or wehani rice. You will not regret it. One of my favorites to add is quinoa since it is also high in protein.
I like to really pack veggies into a salad. I enjoy adding both raw and cooked varieties. The best rainbow salad has a combination of both raw and cooked ingredients. For raw, I love radishes, carrots, baby bell peppers, any and all the crunchy and colorful veggies. Make sure to vary the shapes and sizes of your raw cut veggies to keep it interesting. For cooked, I love roasting sweet potatoes, cauliflower, asparagus and even mushrooms. It is easy to roast a vegetable to perfection. This is an essential bit of information from this rainbow salad primer. Cut veggies into bite sized pieces, drizzle them with healthy oil, lightly salt and pop them on a sheet pan. Cook them for 20 minutes in a 425 oven. The rule is to cut vegetables that cook quickly large and those that take time small so that you can throw them all on the same sheet pan and roast them together. The more colorful the better.
This section of the rainbow salad primer may surprise you. I really like to add fruit to my salad although I used to pooh pooh it. I prefer raw fruits like apples, oranges, even strawberries but most people also enjoy dried cranberries, dried apricots, and raisins. An amazing rainbow salad addition is grilled peaches or nectarines. When adding fruit to salad, they make adding extra sugar to your dressing unnecessary. But of course my favorite fruit to add to salad is avocado which brings me to my next category.
Any rainbow salad needs a bit of fat to keep you satiated and also because your body needs healthy fats to function properly. My favorite fat for a salad is avocado, but I also love nuts and seeds. You can add nut butters to your dressings to make them delicious and creamy. A fave of the healthy set is Tahini which is a sesame seed paste that is most familiarly used in hummus. Hummus is an example of a fat and protein food since it is made by blending chickpeas and tahini with lemon and garlic. Hummus is an excellent addition to a salad! Another example of a fatty addition to your salad is our next category.
Novice salad eaters usually show up for the dressing. When I was a youngster, I poured the vinaigrette liberally. Although I enjoyed the salad, it was more of a vehicle for all that salty, vinegary and sugary dressing. As a chef, I watched people drown their salads in creamy ranch and bleu cheese dressing which were hundreds of calories per tablespoon! Considering that most used about 3x the serving recommendation, the health aspect of salad eating was negated. You can learn to dress your salad like a pro very easily. First you need a fat like olive oil, yogurt or nut/seed butter. Add an acid like citrus or vinegar. Then add some spices like dry Italian seasoning or fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, dill or mint. Lastly, you can optionally add a sprinkle of salt, and a sweetener that you use sparingly. The best way to dress a salad is in a huge bowl where you can toss it all with a minimum of dressing and keep it light, fresh, and crisp. Once dressed the clock starts ticking and the greens will start to break down. For that reason, most of the time I stick to dressing and serving immediately.
These rainbow salads are the perfect recipes to include on a rainbow salad primer. They show variety in texture, technique and dressings that are easy to customize. Like all of my recipes, I highly recommend tasting as you go and adjusting to your own particular tastes. I am covering the basics here because I want you to have a strong foundation on which to build your salad arsenal. I hope you found this helpful and informative. For more rainbow salad shenanigans visit my instagram!