Hooray, the sun is finally here (well sometimes at least) so it’s a perfect time to whip up some delicious summer salads and eat al fresco! But, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of making the same salads over and over again, with a bit of lettuce, a few slices of cucumber, a couple of baby tomatoes and maybe a few slices of celery. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? That’s because it is, and it’s really not going to keep you interested for long. So how can we make salads more interesting, and why should we eat them anyway?
First of all salads mainly consist of raw foods, and in the main you’ll get more nutrient value from raw foods than cooked (although there are a few exceptions to this such as tomatoes, carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus and broccoli). Raw plant foods contain something called phytonutrients, also known as phytochemicals, and one of the reasons these are naturally present in plants is in order to protect them from pests and other predators. However, they also help to protect us from diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease by boosting our immune system, promoting detoxification and healthy metabolism of hormones and improving cardiovascular health, with different coloured plant foods having different benefits. Red ones for instance such as cranberries, plums, pomegranates, strawberries, beetroot, radish and tomatoes, contain phytonutrients which protect cells, support prostate health and DNA health, whilst some green plant foods such as broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolates which help the liver to metabolise toxins and get rid of oestrogens, thereby reducing the risk of oestrogen related cancer.
Many plant foods are also alkaline forming. What does this mean and why does it matter? The pH, a measure of acidity or alkalinity, of our body cells and tissue is paramount to our health, which is why it is tightly regulated by different mechanisms in the body. These mechanisms ensure pH stays within safe parameters, neither being too acid nor too alkaline, as either of these extremes can cause significant health problems. Although we don’t have total control over our pH, keeping stress to a minimum and eating the right diet helps enormously. This is because the food we eat can either be acid or alkaline forming. This refers to the pH of the residue the food leaves once it is digested. Consuming the wrong diet, in particular too many acid-forming foods such as meat, grains and dairy can overwork the mechanisms that regulate cell and tissue pH and may result in negative health effects. It is believed that 80% of our diet should be alkaline forming so including lots of plant foods in our diet will help move us towards this target.
How many is “lots of plant foods”? Well, we should aim for one fruit and vegetable of each colour each day. This ensures we consume the full array of phytonutrients. This sounds a lot, but in some countries, like Japan, eating this many plant foods is the norm and the benefit is reflected in much lower rates of disease. And throwing the vast number of different coloured fruit and vegetables in daily salads also means you’ll never run out of ideas for flavour combinations.
So start off gradually by trying to have one new plant food every week and be prepared by chopping up some fresh fruit and vegetables and keeping them on the top shelf of the fridge so you can easily throw them in your salads. You can even still use some of your store cupboard freezer ingredients like sweetcorn, peas and edamame beans (ensure they’re non-GM) to throw in – put them in a sieve and pour over some boiling water to defrost them – there is no need to cook them. Also ensure each salad has some darker fruit and vegetables in, as these will have a higher nutrient value.
Here are some examples of the many foods you can throw in your summer salads, separated into their different colours:
Reds – beetroot, beans, apple, red pepper, blood orange, pink grapefruit, pomegranate, radish, tomato
Orange – orange pepper, carrot, mango, papaya, butternut squash, sweet potato
Yellow – apple, yellow pepper, pineapple, baby sweetcorn, ginger
Green – asparagus, avocado, artichoke, bean sprouts, bok choy, broccoli, celery, cucumber, green beans, watercress, rocket, spinach, kale, courgette (zucchini) , olives, green peas
Blue/Purple/Black – berries, purple cabbage, black grapes, black olives, black rice, purple carrots, figs
White/Tan/Brown – Cauliflower, chickpeas, lentils, mushrooms, nuts, onion, pear, seeds, sauerkraut, shallots, quinoa, brown rice
What can really make a salad yummy and zingy is a great dressing. And by a great dressing we don’t mean the rows of bottles of salad dressing in the supermarket. Keep a few key store cupboard ingredients to hand and a clean jam jar with a lid and you are all set to go. What you put in a dressing can also have its own health benefits too, such as reducing inflammation and boosting heart health.
- Lemons, limes, ginger and chilli
- Range of vinegars like apple cider, sherry, balsamic
- Range of decent oils like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and you can get liquid coconut oil
- Tamari (gluten free soya sauce)
- Tahini and nut butters
- Honey and maple syrup
And don’t forget to sprinkle on some seeds which add a nice bit of crunch and can be difficult to incorporate into your diet easily; try sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. These add health benefits such as boosting immunity, increasing energy, balancing hormones and protecting our cells.
As you might expect, Sarah has been salad experimenting and here are some ideas to get you started. You can use the recipes for the dressings with your own salads you make up with whatever you have in your fridge too. You can make up the dressing the night before, after you have had dinner; it will only take a couple of minutes and then it can go in the fridge ready for the following day. Just give your jam jar a good shake up before you pour on the salad. Dressings will last for about a week so you can always have some at hand. Another good tip is if you are preparing dinner then pour some dressing into the bottom of your serving bowl then add your salad on top. When you are ready for dinner you just toss through the dressing – if you had poured the dressing on the top and left it for any time you are risking a soggy salad!
We hope you enjoy our gluten free and dairy free options below. Please leave us a comment and let us know what your favourite salads are.
Broccoli, sugarsnap and carrot salad in a lime dressing – this is a great side salad and robust enough for picnics and barbeques and you can even make it the day before. Any leftovers stir fry well too. We also don’t eat a great deal of raw broccoli in our diets and this is a great way to enjoy it.
Caesar Salad with Anchovies and a Poached Egg – this one is a whole meal in itself. It can be hard getting fermented foods into our diet so this salad dressing includes some sweet white miso. We also find people find getting oily fish into their diet hard too hence the anchovies. The anchovies are really salty but the creamy egg yolk and tang of the vinegar and mustard in the dressing really makes it work. The dressing is gluten free, dairy free and processed sugar free and yum! You can add chicken or even halloumi and avocado to have it for dinner. The only thing you need to remember is to soak the cashew nuts in a cup of water the night before.
Asian Kale-slaw Salad – a side salad with an Asian inspired dressing with tahini (like peanut butter but made from sesame seeds). Colourful and flavourful and a great accompaniment to grilled fish. Another really good salad to serve in a big bowl when entertaining and a brilliant way to get raw kale into your diet, which can be a bit tough to eat. Massage the dressing into the salad with your hands to properly coat all the kale with the fantastic dressing.