I have a terrible confession. I became a vegetarian because I didn’t like meat. Unfortunately, at the time, I also didn’t like fruit or vegetables. I liked bread. And pasta. And potatoes. And ice cream. And that diet sustained me for all of forty-eight hours, until my friends dragged me to a restaurant called Organic, in the heart of Barcelona. I didn’t really want to go (how about another thirty-seven-cheese bocadillo from Pans&Company instead?), but I also didn’t want to look fussy so I went along. Imagine my shock when I discovered the centerpiece of the restaurant was an expansive, organic salad bar. Ummm… yuck! I was wishing I hadn’t proclaimed my vegetarianism a few days earlier, because despite all my naivete I knew that a vegetarian who didn’t eat salad was like a football player who won the World Cup… on his Xbox. So for some reason I took their biggest plate and stacked it high with all sorts of vegetables, most of which I couldn’t identify. And then I topped it with what I assumed was salad dressing- thick, goopy, yellow stuff that looked unlike anything I’d ever eaten before. And then I sat down at the table and pushed the food around my plate with my fork. Someone might have said something, or maybe I just realized if I didn’t eat all my friends would be stuck waiting around for me, so I took a few tiny bites. And then a few more. And lo and behold, when that mysterious, thick, goopy, yellow salad dressing hit my taste buds it was a revelation. I started taking bigger bites, then mouthfuls, then I couldn’t be stopped! The dressing was definitely the hook, but I think it had some kind of profound effect on my palate because suddenly all those vegetables tasted pretty darn good too! I couldn’t be stopped- I was an Organic Salad Machine! In fact, I went to Organic several more times over the course of my stay, and returned years later with my family (my mom told the waiter it was where I ate my first salad- at the age of twenty!).
Since that fateful lunch I’ve become something of a salad convert. There is nary a salad I won’t eat (save for skirt steak “salad” and other salad atrocities), and nary an ingredient I won’t consider putting into a salad! Sometimes I eat fewer salads (when it’s forty degrees below zero, for example!), and I find that after a long period of not eating salads I sometimes need to ease myself back into the lifestyle. Here are some of my tips for salad novices, or those who just want to get back into eating more salads.
- Start small. There’s something about big chunks in my salad that I find unappealing. I also dislike large leaves in my salad. So I tear all my greens by hand before they go onto the plate. I also cut cherry tomatoes into quarters and slice cucumbers as thinly as possible. Roasted pepper strips and avocado wedges get thinly sliced too.
- Grate it. What’s smaller than a little sliver of grated carrot? Not much! I find that adding grated carrots and beets to my salads adds a nice bit of moisture and the pieces fit perfectly onto my fork.
- Add crunch. Give your salad some punch by adding a bit of crunch. Toasted nuts and seeds add texture and protein.
- Take a muffin break. You’re hungry! A salad of leafy greens might not be enough to fill you up, and that’s okay. I think the perfect accompaniment to a salad is a savoury muffin- whip up a quick batch of cheddar cornmeal muffins (try adding jalapenos or cilantro!) and serve one alongside your salad.
- Get dressed. I think one of the reasons I didn’t like salad as a child (or teenager, or young adult) was store-bought dressings. They’re just so full of salt, and cheap oil products, and artificial flavours. You can whip up a simple vinaigrette in thirty seconds (for real- balsamic vinegar, olive oil, mustard, honey, salt and pepper!), or you can spend five minutes making something worthy of a Michelin star. Extra dressing can be frozen (flat in a Ziplock bag, like I do with mangoes) and thawed next time you’re having salad.
- Make a pretty picture. Spent an extra sixty seconds plating your salad beautifully, and include ingredients that you find attractive! Love red? Add sliced strawberries! Want white? Slivered almonds! Passion for purple? Sliced grapes!