My Everyday Salad
As a vegetable lover, most days you can find me eating a giant bowl of colour and crunch for lunch. And if not then, I'll serve it up at dinner. Broccoli, green leaves and carrots are my feel-good foods - they're vibrant, filling and energy-giving, and help me stay strong and healthy. In fact, vegetables are a cornerstone of my self-care practice. Ben agrees, he loves the taste and feel-good properties of veg, even more so after we started getting our produce from Transition Farm and tasting and feeling the difference of vegetables grown organically in good soil. And while there are loads of like-minded folk out there, there are also a good number who find vegetables to be boring and bland. They see them as a chore, choking down steamed broccoli and boring salads so they can get a gold star, because they've been told from such a young age that they must eat their vegetables before being offered anything else. Vegetables were never thought of as the treat, rather a stepping stone to dessert. In my work as a Dietitian, and in general as someone who loves to talk about food and is genuinely interested in what people eat, I rarely come across individuals who find cucumber and steamed carrots to be a source of joy. But what if you serve that cucumber with sea salt and dip each slice in a pool of extra virgin olive oil? Or if you tried roasting vegetables (cauliflower! carrots! broccoli! cabbage!) in the oven with, once again, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, then decorate the caramelised bites with toasted seeds? Next, steam some carrots and broccoli until just tender before delicately drowning them in bagna cauda. See? Top billing. If we treat vegetables with the respect they deserve and give them a chance by cooking them in undeniably delicious ways, while pairing them with foods that make them shine, eating a bunch of veg every day totally feels like a treat. For more ideas I suggest you devour the book Vegetable Literacy, and Deborah Madison's recipes for peas with baked ricotta and breadcrumbs, and turnips with white miso butter. Oh, and braised cabbage with chewy fried potatoes, feta and dill.
So, yes, I adore my vegetables, that we know. And because I feel we are too restrictive in the way we eat them, I thought I might share a few thoughts how I like to purchase, prepare and eat my vegetables, in the hope that it may encourage rambunctious vegetable-eating. I'm also going to leave you with a few instructions on how to make my everyday salad, the one I blast all over Instagram almost daily.
Choosing fresh, organically-grown, flavourful vegetables is where we start. Vegetables grown in this manner, with care and consideration, taste better. By shopping this way, you're supporting small-scale farmers and environmentally-friendly practices, and to me that feels very important. I am fully aware that moving away from the convenience of supermarkets and initially spending a bit of time researching where to buy your food can be a big transition for many people, however I know from experience that it is so incredibly worth it. The cost will likely be fairly acceptable if you find a good producer, and if you consider how much fresher the produce is and how much longer it will last before turning soft, you will absolutely be getting your money's worth. And then there's the flavour and health benefits of eating freshly harvested food grown in healthy, rich soil... Truly, folks, nutrient-rich, freshly harvested food tastes like you're on a holiday. You know how people say "the tomatoes in Italy taste so much better", and things like that? You can have that in your daily life if you seek out farmers who grow food not from a high-yield frame of mind but rather a "growing food as food was meant to be grown" frame of mind. I suggest you start by searching for a farmers' market in your area and talking to farmers to see how you can easily and regularly feed your family with good quality, affordable produce. It may involve a bit of a drive but for most people, once a week is manageable, and in fact it becomes a nice ritual. You may even find there are farms offering CSA programs in your area. We are a part of Transition Farm's CSA model and we absolutely love it. Knowing where our food comes from, who grows it and how they farm, is super cool, and now that I am feeding my daughter, the entire concept and reality of it all is even more important to me. Lastly, if you want to forget the producers and grow your own, that is even more rad! I hope to do this one day too. For now, I have kept our parsley, sage and oregano alive for over two months and that is a big deal.
Next we have a whole heap of fun with the preparation and assembly. Often I roast, because this makes, in my opinion, most vegetables taste insanely delicious. Roasted cauliflower is a thing of beauty, as are roasted broccoli florets and roasted strips of cabbage. Carrots, pumpkin, onion, potatoes, they all work well. As a rule, I turn to extra virgin olive oil and sea salt for seasoning, possibly some spices and herbs too, though I often forget those. What else do I love...? Ah yes, slow-roasted tomatoes have been a recent favourite. And then there's eggplant, peppers, zucchini... friends, there are so many options here. And this is where it is good to remember to use a bunch of spices, because additions like harrisa-style blends and garlic make eggplant taste insanely yummy (see my roasted eggplant here).
Beyond roasting, I might sautee or blanch vegetables. I steam them too, cooking beans or broccoli florets ever so slightly before sauteeing them in extra virgin olive oil with garlic, salt and chilli flakes. As per Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal, I often batch roast or steam, and eat them over the week cold from the fridge in salads or omelettes. Roasted vegetables are better fresh, in my opinion, but I so appreciate having prepped vegetables at the ready. And if I remember, I'll take them out of the fridge a couple of hours prior to eating them to at least take the chill off. Lastly, I follow Eating on the Wild Side's instruction on storing and eating vegetables, i.e. I eat broccoli promptly after harvest and I store my leaves in bags punctured with a few air holes. If you're into vegetables, sustainable cooking and making the most of what you've got, then I highly recommend these two reads.
My Everyday Salad
And now for some words on my everyday salad, which is what I indeed eat most days for lunch. If you're familiar with the term "abundance bowl", this is essentially what I'm making, the contents of which varies according to; 1) the season and what is in our farm box, 2) what we'll be eating for dinner and 3) my hunger level. The first variable is self explanatory, I base my bowls on the farm produce and then pimp them out with pantry staples and maybe a few fridge fancies, like cheese. Regarding the second point, I take note on whether we're eating fish or eggs or another protein source for dinner, and vary my lunch bowl accordingly. If dinner will be something lacking in vegetables, like perhaps chicken pesto pasta, I up my lunchtime veg. Lastly, if I find myself ravenous, I'll be more generous with the serves of grain and veg and perhaps open a can of legumes. Grains like quinoa, freekeh, brown rice and such are satiating and pretty cheap, so I make sure to include a good base of them as well as loads of high-fibre, filling veg, while stretching out the indulgent (in terms of cost) ingredients like cheese, fish/meat, pesto, etc. Oh, and speaking of fish, I adore oil-packed salmon and tuna, but it costs a lot and there are many brands that have poor fishing practices, whether the killing method and/or the fish/breed used. I suppose buying the more ethically-fished, expensive brands means I can regulate my intake to more environmently-friendly levels, which is indeed my goal (I just love it so much!). Clearly I am still learning how to best consume canned fish. I have the sustainable fishing app, I know and love Fish4Ever brand and I try to consume less, but would appreciate any tips! Are there any conscious fish shoppers and eaters out there? I'm thinking I need to start loving sardines. But back to the assembly of my everyday salad...
To make my thought process a little clearer, I've written out some steps below. They goal is lots of colours, flavours and textures for a super fun bowl of nourishment. Oh gosh that sounds lame...but it's the truth. I absolutely love these bowls and feel like a million bucks after eating them.
VEGETABLES: 1 big handful of leafy greens (rocket, spinach, kale, silverbeet other lettuce - dark & bitter is great!) + 1 small handful grated carrot and/or beetroot (I adore a bit of grated veg for texture) + Sliced, fresh veg, such as capsicum, celery, cucumber, tomato, radish... +/orRoasted vegetables (my favourite!) - broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, red onion, cabbage, spiced eggplant, sweet potato, potato (mmmm these salt and vinegar potatoes are always welcome)...
WHOLEGRAIN - Cooked wholegrain, like quinoa, wild or brown rice, wholegrain couscous or pasta, freekeh, faro, etc - Dr Karg's crackers (I am OBSESSED) - Some of my nut, seed and oat loaf - Dad's sourdough
The amount of grain I eat depends on my hunger level. And if I'm super hungry (which is often the case), I'll include around ½ cup cooked legumes too (tinned chickpeas, butter beans, lentils, etc).
PROTEIN: - Leftover chicken/meat/fish or - Boiled egg or - Canned salmon or tuna, olive oil-packed or - Legumes or - Falafel
FILLING FATS AND OTHER TOPPINGS TO PLAY WITH: - Avocado - Nuts and seeds - a non-negotiable! My bowl must include toasted almond slithers, pepitas, sunflower seeds or pinenuts... - A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (always and forever) - A knob of goat cheese, cheddar cheese cubes or fetta - Olives - Capers - Chopped red or spring onion - Dips like homemade hummus, carrot dip or pesto. The store-bought brands I like are kinda pricey, so I only grab them when on sale (I love The Olive Branch brand). Oh, and if I'm adding hummus, I'll skip other legumes, otherwise it's a gas station situation)
DRESSING: I tend to always do the same dressing over my salads, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil + a good squeeze or two of lemon + a small sprinkle of sea salt + cracked black pepper.
METHOD: Choose your ingredients, throw them in a bowl, then drizzle your dressing! If making ahead of time, leave out the canned fish and dressing, adding them to serve.
A few examples of combinations I've eaten over the past few months:
Roasted potatoes and quinoa with rocket, cucumber, grated carrot, tomato, corn, celery, fetta, spring onion and canned fish (here).
A version of this beauty.
Roasted sweet potato, falafel, hummus, leaves, cucumber, capsicum and toasted sunflower seeds (here).
Slow-roasted tomatoes and onion, with quinoa, lentils, canned fish, toasted pinenuts (here).
Roasted sweet potato and quinoa with boiled egg, leaves, capsicum, radish and toasted pinenuts (here).
Roasted broccoli and onion, quinoa, coriander, tomato, capsicum, cucumber, hummus and leftover roasted beef (below).
My ideal salad: Rocket + quinoa + grated carrot & beetroot + cucumber + radish + capsicum + canned salmon in extra virgin olive oil + avocado + olives + red onion + toasted pinenuts + hummus + my usual dressing. With a side of wholegrain crackers. Oooooooh yeah. Just FYI, in case Ben is reading this and feels like making me a bowl of good.
Alright, that's enough veg and salad talk for today. Have a good one, folks!