Beyond Iceberg Lettuce, Tomatoes and Cucumbers

NUTRITION

There is more than Iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers for salad! A common complaint about salads is that they are not satisfying and that people get hungry soon after eating.  Truthfully speaking that might be true if you’re eating just lettuce drizzled with olive oil.  Instead, make a truly fulfilling salad by adding enough vegetables, greens and most important enough protein to keep you from grazing at everything after lunch.  Here are the basics:

Greens

Think about what other greens besides iceberg lettuce.  Well, baby spinach is a great salad base! Don’t like raw spinach? Then how about mixing half iceberg half romaine, arugula, kale or even watercress! Usually the greener the vegetable the higher its nutrient content, especially folate. 

Veggies

There isn’t any ‘rule’ to follow here.  Try to use only fresh raw ingredients such as shredded carrots, jicama, avocados, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions―more specifically red onion which is much crispier than white or yellow onion―olives or cabbage.  Generally, it’s best to add 2-3 veggie options at most to enjoy the flavors more fully.

Fruits

Any seasonal fruit will do.  But, keep in mind that watery fruits such as watermelon will make your salad very watery, so always add these type of fruits at the last moment, right before serving. Pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries add a good amount of antioxidants to any salad plus make a nice and sweet garnish.

Protein

There are far more options than chicken breast.  For example, grilled fish like salmon, tuna, and hard boiled eggs are also some options.  Beans, garbanzos, lentils and tofu are excellent vegetarian choices.  If using canned beans, it’s always nice to give them a rinse first. If using homemade beans―which are much healthier than canned―is still a good idea to use just the beans with no liquid, otherwise the salad can get very watery and lose the crispiness.  Whole grains like bulgur, or seeds like Quinoa, also add a good amount of protein plus healthy carbohydrates.

Cheeses and nuts (Optional)

Low-fat, low-sodium cheese like Mozzarella and Queso Fresco as well as unsalted/unsweetened nuts.  Sometimes, it’s very useful to quickly roast nuts like walnuts, pistachios or almonds to bring out their flavor and aroma.  Use a clean and dry skillet over low-medium heat.  No oil is needed EVER! Be patient and keep an eye on your almonds, because once the oils inside them get hot, they burn really easily.

Dressings

Generally speaking, vinaigrettes are healthier than creamy dressings.  Creamy ones like ranch or blue cheese can be loaded with fat, particularly saturated fat, which gives the ‘creamy’ texture in this type of dressings.   So a basic vinaigrette consists of 3 to 1 parts of oil―ideally extra virgin olive oil― to vinegar plus seasonings.  Agave or honey are good options in case you need to sweeten any vinaigrette. 

Balsamic vinegar is delicious with salads containing fruits.  Also, rice, apple cider and pineapple vinegar make great vinaigrettes. For uniform vinaigrettes, use mason jars with lids combine the ingredients by shaking the jars vigorously.

Here are some ideas:

Watercress, tomatoes, red onions, queso fresco with balsamic vinaigrette.

Arugula, pears, mozzarella cheese with lemon and honey vinaigrette.

Cucumbers, tomatoes, black olives, red onion and romaine lettuce with rice vinegar and olive oil.

Black beans, red bell peppers, sweet corn, onion over an iceberg lettuce bed.

Shredded cabbage, carrots, onions, dried oregano with fruit vinegar and olive oil. (Salvadoran Cole Slaw)

Grilled eggplant, bell peppers and mushrooms with garlic balsamic vinaigrette.

Suellen is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in the Rochester, NY area.  Connect with her at suellenpinedaRDN@gmail.com or follow her on Instagram at @Suellen_Pineda

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