Mimi wrote: “I wouldn’t mind a post on your salads. i am trying to eat more salads but I’m having a hard time getting into them.”
Hey there, Mimi!
I’m not sure what Mimi’s issue is specifically, so I’ll talk about my anecdotal experience with salads and what I think is the source of people’s general aversion to them. Or at least why I avoided them, anyway.
Picture “a salad.”
Probably looks a lot like this stock photo of a salad, yeah? Fresh leafy greens in a bowl! How healthy!
This one has croutons for extra crunch. How interesting!
Ooo, look, mandarin orange slices!
I believe this bullshit is why people hate salad. That’s not a meal. It’s a bowl of leaves and fruit and stale bread. It’s garnish for real food. See that bowl up there with the mandarin orange slices? Let’s tot it up. Don’t bother counting the lettuce as calories because life’s too fucking short. So that’s zero. There also looks to be half a clementine’s worth of orange slices. About 20 calories. It’s the same amount of calories as you’d find in a Hershey’s Kiss, and about the same amount of protein.
That ain’t right. If you have this nonsense for dinner, you’ll be hungry in about 3 minutes — because there’s nothing there. You, reading this: You’re a human being who I’m assuming is not in a coma. Therefore you require sustenance. Don’t eat a salad that looks like that. Put some fucking food in it. Unless you enjoy the sound of your stomach growling. More to the point, you do not ever need to eat a salad that looks like that in order to be healthy and/or lose weight. In fact it’s probably detrimental. It’ll just make you hungry, and you’ll think, “I shouldn’t be hungry because I just ate,” and then “What’s wrong with me?” and then “I hate salad,” then “I hate myself,” then “Maybe if I blend the salad and drink it,” and eventually “I’ll just eat these Trader Joes burritos I found in the back of the freezer because what’s the point of life.”
Eat a salad that matters. I eat salads almost every day of the week and they don’t look like any of the above images. I make salads that are a meal, son. Sometimes I have to loosen my belt after.
Let’s you and me make a salad together
A couple of trigger warnings.
One: Don’t expect a photogenic fancy salad. I eat dinner at my desk while I type. So I make food designed to be forked into my hungry face with one hand. I can’t be bringing knives and shit to the office, trying to cut a pork chop near the keyboard. It’s unseemly. My salads are basically a full meal chopped up into small bite-size pieces and stuck in a plastic container.
Two: For me, a salad is a meal when loaded up with protein. I use delicious cooked animals for this purpose. If you’re not into that, use some other protein source. But put some in there or you’ll be hungry.
Got it? Let’s move on to the ingredients of this particular salad, which I made on Feb. 26:
• 1 bell pepper
• 1/2 avocado
• 1/4 cup feta cheese
• 6.5 oz chicken thigh meat
• a handful of roasted sugar snap peas
• a bunch of spinach, lettuce, whatever greens — about a handful or two
• 4 tsp. of salad dressing (more on this later)
I buy peppers in sickeningly large quantities and eat 1.5 to 2 per day. They’re my favorite vegetable (clearly). Every day, I take about two peppers and scoop out the stem and that white bullshit and seeds in the middle, then cut some of it into strips. I fit as much as I can into a 1 cup container, and I’ll eat that as a snack with some cottage cheese. The rest gets chopped into little bitty pieces and tossed into my salad container, which is this big mother that holds 10 cups of food.
I eat avocado every day, too. It’s good healthy fat and very satiating. How much I eat depends on what else I’ve eaten that day. If I’ve eaten heavy, I have a quarter. On this particular day, I had room for a half. So I halve the avocado, score it into chunks, and scoop them into the salad container. The other half goes into a container in the fridge and either Nik will have it or I’ll have it. Probably within hours. Avocados don’t live long in this house. You do know the easy way to halve, de-seed, and dice an avocado, right?
I dump a quarter-cup of feta cheese into the salad container. It costs a mere 100 calories and makes the salad infinitely more delicious. No point in eating a salad that tastes like shit. If you have room in the budget for less calories than that, use one-eighth of a cup. It still tastes good. Feta is strong, so a little dab’ll do ya.
Nik and I prepare protein in large batches and we chip away at it for days in different recipes. How large a batch? I made 8 to 9 pounds of chicken thighs, seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and garlic, and broiled. Took less than a half hour, and it gives us a protein base for meals for the next several days. Simple. I take some of the chicken thighs and measure out 6.5 ounces on my food scale, and cut it up into little pieces with kitchen shears directly into my salad container. I chose 6.5 ounces more or less at random. I’ve been known to eat up to 8 ounces in a salad, but I’m a growing boy.
The variety of animal protein I use changes based on what we’ve made. This day it was chicken. Sometimes we’ll broil 4 or 5 pounds of pork chops. I’ll measure out anywhere from 5 to 8 ounces of it, depending on how hungry I am, how much I worked out, and how much is left in my calorie budget, snip it up into little bitty pieces with kitchen shears, and put it in the salad. Some weeks we’ll broil 5 pounds of beef. Same deal. Or it’ll be 3 pounds of salmon. Boom. Cut off a portion and into the salad it goes. I’ve done it with leftover barbecued ribs. I’m not fussy.
Don’t be fussy.
To this I’ll add a bunch of leafy greens, whatever I have in the house. Usually it’s red leaf lettuce. When we’re feeling budget-conscious, it’s iceberg. I know, I know. But we’re not rich — deal with it. This day, it was spinach. I don’t measure how much I put in there. I put leafy greens in there until it feels right. Personally, I don’t like too much. This, I think, is the key to a great salad: The leafy greens that you usually picture when you think of “salad” should be almost an afterthought.
I’ll chuck other stuff in there too. I really like throwing a bunch of roasted portobello mushrooms in a salad. I’ll julienne some carrots if we have them. Cucumbers, if we have them. Celery, only if necessary. Radishes, why not. Nik makes these roasted tomatoes that are pretty great. I hate raw tomatoes, but roasted they’re good, so I’ll add those sometimes. I’ll put raw or roasted broccoli in there. If I’ve bought calamata olives, I’ll put four or five in the salad. I don’t bother to cut them up. During the summer, I’ll take leaves of fresh basil and tear them into the salad. I’ve put shredded fennel in there, and that was fucking ace. If I want to bump up the protein content of the salad, I’ll add one or two hardboiled eggs, chopped into little bitty pieces. In this case, I roasted a huge batch of sugar snap peas. So I threw a handful of those in the salad, whole. Worked beautifully.
When I say roasted sugar snap peas, that’s literally what I mean. I put them on a cookie sheet greased just slightly with a spray of olive oil, put the sheet in the oven, and took them out when they were done. That’s it.
I’m not a fan of fruit in salads. I eat fruit on its own. Personally I don’t think it would sit well with the savory salads I make anyway. Maybe it would. I don’t know.
I don’t use croutons. Not after I found out how many calories they are (a lot). It’s a waste. Also, croutons are a pain in the ass. They don’t spear well onto a plastic fork, and then they shatter into a million crumbs. Fuck that. I don’t use bacon bits either, because the salad is savory enough as is.
I suppose you could add beans. I’m not a fan. But it’s possible. I bet a handful of roasted chickpeas would be nice.
Every once in a while I’ll make a batch of salad dressing. I take a half-cup of balsamic vinegar and put it in a storage container. I add a half-cup of extra-virgin olive oil, and then a dollop of spicy mustard. I mix it and boom — that’s my salad dressing for the next several weeks. Sometimes if I’m feeling fancy I’ll put some celery salt and herbs in there. I don’t buy salad dressing anymore — haven’t in more than a year. I don’t get bored of vinegar and oil, but that’s just me.
I suppose you could put a dash of wine in it.
I bring the salad dressing in a tiny plastic container. I measure out either 4 or 6 teaspoons, depending on how many calories I need and how dense the salad is. That’s all I use. If you need more dressing than that, you’re not mixing the salad enough.
My motto is, make it chunky. Not just a bowl of leaves and fruit with raspberry juice drizzled on top. Load it up with vegetables that aren’t necessarily greens. This salad came out to about 760 calories, 46g protein, 25g carbohydrates. It’s a salad that sticks to your ribs. That’s the main idea.*