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How To Build a Better Salad

Posted Feb 16 2011 8:34pm

Guess what I did today?

RAN OUTSIDE – wheeee!!!

Gosh, it’s been months, but the temps were finally high enough to venture outdoors. I think we hit the upper 40s! Ok, so it was kind of grey and bleary all day, but the cool breeze that wafted in through my wide-open window at work brought in the sounds of the birds and smell of the earth. It was bliss. I had no choice but to ditch the gym!

4.5 miles around the neighborhood, jamming to my Brit-Brit Pandora station on my shiny, new iPhone. It started misting around mile 3, so I arrived home with droopy pants, soggy socks and mascara dripping down my face (hot) but damnit, it felt great. :D

Tomorrow’s supposed to be in the SIXTIES, then we’re back down in the 30s next week. But still. Awesome. :D

In other news, last weekend when we were in Western Iowa , Ben blew out the elbow of the dress shirt he was going to wear to his Grandma’s services, the day before the service. Yeah, apparently this happens to men’s dress shirts all the time. Really?

Anyways, we made a pit stop at one of the local malls to pick up a new shirt, and on the way out we spotted a Cheesecake Factory. It was around 2pm, we were STARVING, and the warm bread & butter they plunk down in front you as soon as you sit down was too irresistible to pass up.

After a quick peruse of the novel-sized menu (seriously, WHY so big?!) I settled on the yummiest sounding salad I saw – the Luau Salad. 8) It came out – I ordered the "lunch-sized" portion mind you – and it was legit taller than my head. Crisp lettuce piled high with green beans, carrots, bell pepper, mango, macadamia nuts, grilled chicken and orange-sesame glazed wonton sheets.

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Omg. It. Was. AMAZING. I ate every last drop, then vowed to re-create at home. Here’s my rendition – the IGE Luau Salad!! 

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In the mix:

  • Vegetable lettuce mix
  • Cucumbers
  • Asparagus
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Slivered almonds
  • Carrots
  • Dried cranberries
  • Green onions

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I started my salad the same way I always do. With a pizza cutter!

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I can’t stand the giant hunks of lettuce that come in the bags – they always whip me on my face and get dressing everywhere – so I zip a pizza cutter through the lettuce to get the pieces nice and bite-sized. Works like a charm.

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I piled the toppings high and wide.

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Then drizzled with some of my very favorite dressing: Trader Joe’s Sesame Soy Ginger Vinaigrette. This dressing is FABULOUS over salads, as well as over cold noodles, and even for marinating chicken or fish. Loves it!

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I ixnayed the fried wonton sheets in favor of whisper-thin slices of crunchy cucumber, and added more tropical flair and flavor with pineapple.

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BOMB! Made at home for half the price, and half the calories. Yeeeeeah, the lunch sized portion of Cheesecake’s Luau Salad was still 800 calories. Really, Cheesecake? Really?

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I often get emails about how to build a better salad and thought tonight would be a great time to show you my favorite ways to do just that! Let’s start with zee toppings. Here are my all-time favorites:

Fruit:

  • Apples (they won’t get brown if you cut them the night before and seal them in a tupperware container with your salad)
  • Pineapple (fresh or packed in 100% juice)
  • Dried fruit: cranberries, blueberries, apricots, figs (try and get dried fruit without added sugar)
  • Mango
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Mandarin Oranges (packed in water)
  • Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries

Vegetables:

  • Roasted/sauteed/steamed sweet potatoes, squash, brussels sprouts, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Sweet corn
  • Snap peas
  • Broccoli Slaw
  • Radishes
  • Green onions
  • Sprouts

Protein:

  • Low-sodium deli meat
  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Roasted chickpeas (so good – pack separately so they don’t get soggy)
  • Cooked egg whites
  • Raw or cooked tofu
  • Leftover steak, chicken or pork, chopped up
  • Bacon
  • Peanuts (my FAVE!)
  • Walnuts, pecans, slivered almonds
  • Honey Roasted Peanuts
  • Feta cheese
  • Bleu cheese
  • Cut-up slices of cheese (shredded cheese is too small for me – gets lost)
  • Goat cheese
  • Cottage cheese

Dressings:

  • Bisignano’s (local)
  • Kraft Natural’s Raspberry Vinaigrette with Poppyseeds
  • Annie’s Raspberry Vinaigrette
  • Trader Joe’s Raspberry Vinaigrette
  • Homemade: soy sauce + rice vinegar + sesame oil + garlic salt + pepper

Notes/Tips:

  • The key to building a better salad is VARIETY! Lettuce is boring. Toppings are not. You don’t have to stick to an all-savory or all-sweet salad, either. Some of my favorite combos are things like sweet apples with roasted broccoli. Variety is the spice of life!
  • I feel the lettuce choice is the most unimportant choice in my salads (besides spinach or other dark, leafy greens which are rich in vitamins.) Lettuce is low-cal and low on nutrients. I look at it as the vehicle for delicious, filling toppings.
  • Chop all your veggies and whatever fruits that won’t brown in a few day’s time (mango, pineapple, etc.) on Sunday night and pre-pack 2 or 3 days worth of salads all at once. Grab and go during the week.
  • Mix all your ingredients together ahead of time, unless you’re adding things like beans or canned ingredients. They tend to make lettuce soggy while playing overnight, so pack them in smaller containers to add right before eating.
  • Use a pizza cutter to chop up lettuce in a tupperware container before you add the toppings. Not only does it make your salad easier to eat, but you can fit more stuff in there!
  • If you work, keep your dressing at work. That way you’ll never forget it. Undressed salads are the worst.
  • Don’t be afraid to use full-fat/non-light dressing. I tend to use more dressing when it’s light because it’s light, and full-fat dressings keep me fuller longer. Plus, lets be real, they just taste better. Light dressing turns lettuce to rubber, in my opinion!
  • Always be sure you have a fork handy. Eating salads with a spoon will totally ruin your experience. Like I found out twice this week…

So go forth, raid your fridge, pizza-cut up that lettuce, and build a better salad! :D

See you!

~~~~~

How do you build a better salad? Is bigger, better? Or smaller with more filling ingredients? Lastly, did I forget any crucial toppings?!

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