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How to Make a Salad

Struggling with salad ideas? Bored of the same old lunch? Dietgirl’s Shauna Reid comes to the rescue with her guide on How to Make a Salad. Lunch will never be boring again!

How To Build a Salad

By Shauna Reid, aka Dietgirl

Spring has sprung at last. The clocks have leapt forward, the daffodils are blooming and the will to live has returned!

For me spring officially begins the day I shove the big soup pot up the back of the pantry and start making salad for lunch again. There's something about tucking into a big bowl of leafy goodness that feels like you're devouring the season itself.

Salads can be dull . . . like a dreary punishment for dieters. They're either pre-packaged and overpriced, or feel like a major faff to make yourself. But if you know how to make a salad, with a bit of forward planning they can make lunchtime spectacular:

  • You can prepare them the night before while you're cooking the dinner
  • You can use simple, affordable storecupboard salad ingredients
  • They're a great way to use up leftovers and dying bits in the fridge
  • They give you something to look forward to all morning
  • You get to feel smug when your colleagues are eating pasties or cellophaned sandwiches!

Salad Ideas . . .

I think every great salad starts with a great salad bowl. It should be big and wide so you can pile in the leaves and have room to mix up the ingredients without making a mess. I like plastic or melamine better than crockery so you don't have to hear that awful clonking noise when you're trying to scrape up the last morsel of goodness. It also feels like more of an event than scoffing straight out of a grotty old Tupperware tub. The supermarkets make some affordable, colourful homewares these days so why not treat yourself?

I also bought a big plastic tub to keep all my salad ingredients in the one place and help them last longer. I either make the salad at home or take the tub to work on a Monday and leave it in the fridge. It only takes five minutes to assemble at lunchtime.

So here's how to make your salad:

1. Start with a Boring Base

Think of this as the carpet of your salad - the default foundation for building up all the interesting stuff. It's a low-calorie bulk that makes the lunch take longer to eat and the yummier bits go further. It also helps you smash that Five A Day target. I created a recipe for my basic salad ingredients in WLR so I can quickly add it to my Food Diary. My Boring Base consists of:

  • A few good handfuls of green leaves - whatever you like! I love watercress and rocket but they can be pricey, so I buy a big bag of cheaper baby spinach then ration out a wee bit of the other greens on top.
  • Cucumber - so fresh and crunchy
  • Cherry tomatoes - no chopping required and more flavoursome than the big fellas
  • Red or yellow pepper - you can tear them up roughly if you're in a hurry

2. Add some Fancy Veg

This is where the flavours start to get interesting. When cooking main meals I often add extra veg for lunches so there's no extra preparation. Cooked veg really do mingle nicely with the basic salad ingredients:

  • Cold steamed greens – broccoli, beans, peas, asparagus
  • Cold or warmed roasted vegetables – peppers, courgette, butternut squash, sweet potato, carrot . . . so much flavour!
  • Beetroot – try the vacuum packed stuff without vinegar
  • Grated carrot – grating the carrot adds a sweetness to a salad and makes the munching feel less of a chore
  • Alfalfa bean sprouts, mung beans or other sprouting seeds – these are low calorie and nutrient dense and add an amazing texture to a salad. Look for the ‘And Sow On’ brand in supermarkets or you can sprout your own seeds in a jar – very cheap!

3. Throw in some grains

I use half a cup of cold, cooked grains to add to my salad ingredients. They're usually leftovers from a main meal but sometimes I will mix up a batch of couscous on Sunday night and use it all week. You can't get much quicker than couscous! I chuck in a tablespoon of Marigold vegetable stock powder when I cook the grains and often add some spices like dried chilli flakes, cumin or cinnamon to keep it interesting. My favourites are:

  • Quinoa
  • Couscous - look out for wholemeal, it has a great nutty flavour
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Bulgar wheat
  • Lentils - puy lentils are brilliant

5. Don't forget the protein

Always add some protein to help you feel fuller for longer. Tinned protein is convenient and more affordable, or cook a little extra when making main meals.

  • Boiled eggs (very quick to boil up a few to use throughout the week)
  • Chicken - leftover from a roast or some poached breasts
  • Tinned tuna
  • Tinned salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Smoked trout
  • Tinned chickpeas
  • Low-fat halloumi cheese - dry-fry in a pan then allow to cool
  • Tinned beans – black beans, mixed beans and cannellini beans all have a nice firm texture

6. Zingy bits

These punchy flavours are great ideas to make a salad come alive! I like to keep a few jars or packets of interesting things so you can avoid that, "Not salad AGAIN?" feeling. You only need a tablespoon or two but some are higher in calories than others, so be sure to measure your portions:

  • Olives
  • Capers
  • Sundried tomatoes (drain the oil)
  • Artichoke hearts (drain the oil)
  • Feta cheese
  • Avocado
  • Raisins
  • Sultanas
  • Dried cranberries
  • Raw apple chunks
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Orange segments
  • Strawberries
  • Fresh herbs - mint, chives, parsley, coriander

7. Add some crunch

Texture is essential to keep your taste buds occupied. It's also a great way to get some healthy fats. Again you only need a tablespoon or so. Try:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Pine nuts
  • Lazy Croutons - toast a slice of grainy bread or a wholemeal pitta, then tear into your salad for warm, crispy goodness!

8. Dressing is optional

Making a proper salad dressing is a bit too fiddly for a week day lunch and most times there's enough flavour already. I usually take a couple of lemons to work to squoosh onto my salad; they always pep things up. I also keep a bottle of balsamic vinegar in my desk. Experiment and see what compliments your choice of veggie and protein.

9. Gently stir it all together (or don't stir if you like it tidy!) then EAT

Here's wishing you all a happy spring and summer full of smashing salads. If you'd like some ideas to get your salad started, make your Boring Base Salad then pile on one of these combinations:

  • Roast butternut squash, beetroot, grilled halloumi cheese tossed with chopped mint and parsley
  • Roast red pepper, courgette and butternut squash, feta cheese, puy lentils and a few torn basil leaves
  • Spicy couscous with grated carrot and raisins
  • Roast red onion and sweet potato with brown rice and chickpeas
  • Tinned tuna, cannelini beans, roasted cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of pine nuts
  • Greek-ish: cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, 30g feta cheese, small handful of olives, pinch of dried oregano and a drizzle of olive oil. Stuff into a toasted wholemeal pitta or tear the pitta into lazy croutons and stir into the salad.
  • Salsa-esque: small tin of mixed beans with avocado, cherry tomatoes, spring onion with lemon juice, cumin and fresh coriander
  • Chicken breast, rocket, avocado and orange segments with a quick dressing of lime juice, 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp mango chutney

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