Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Salad and the diet mentality

When I think of salad, I always get flashbacks to my dieting days. Back then, 'salad' was what I was supposed to be eating as much of as possible. Salad was THE dieting food to be beat all dieting foods. Every diet had a different list of 'good' and 'bad' foods but all - absolutely every single one I attempted - exhorted me to eat as much salad as I could. Some of them even made it mandatory to start each meal with one to fill my stomach up with so called 'free calories' as I would then, or so the theory went, eat less of the evil stuff: fat, sugar, carbs and pretty much anything else.

Because of course what passed as 'salad' in the world of diets was a few limp, watery leaves, perhaps adorned by a couple of slices of cucumber and, if I was really lucky, a dribble of olive oil. 

Salad back then was tasteless, unappetising, sad. I hated it. I positively loathed it. I would load my shopping basket up with bags of it every week, full of good intentions and then feel guilty and disgusted with myself as I watched them turn to slime in the fridge while I pigged out on croissants and M&Ms.

I didn't go near a salad for quite a while after that blissful day I decided to ditch the diets forever. I steered clear of the salad aisle at the supermarket and skipped over any dish containing the word 'salad' on restuarant menus. There was something about the very word that made me feel rebellious and defiant: salad was for rabbits and dieters and I was neither.

Then one day I woke up with a craving for beetroot and as I scoured my cookbooks for an idea on how to eat them I came across a recipe for a fabulous beetroot, avocado and goat's cheese salad with balsamic vinegar dressing. Colourful, earthy, zingy, creamy and totally delicious. A million miles away from those depressing, insipid, wilted salads of my dieting days but a salad nonetheless.

Since then I have become a salad fan - much to the surprise and amusement of my nearest and dearest who for years saw me express nothing but scorn for them. Below are just a few of my favourites. As you'll see there's nothing 'calorie free' about them and, boy, do they taste good! And they are full of yummy, healthy, unmucked about ingredients to boot. So if you too are suspicious of salad but would like to have a 'healthier' diet, why not experiment with these or make up your own. Do let us know if you come up with a cracker!

Crunchy Vietnamese chicken salad
Shredded cabbage and carrots topped with strips of leftover roast chicken, masses of fresh mint and a pungent dressing made with Thai fish sauce, lime, chilli, a touch of sugar and rice wine vinegar. Adapted from Nigella Lawson's 'Vietnamese chicken and mint salad' in Nigella Bites

Puy lentil and goats cheese salad
Soft puy lentils, tiny little cubes of crunchy carrots, cucumber and celery dressed with a tangy mustard vinaigrette, chives, lemon juice and dotted with creamy goats cheese. My take on one I once tried at the excellent Melrose & Morgan deli.

Spinach, avocado and bacon bits
Baby spinach leaves dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar scattered with slices of avocado and crunchy strips of fried streaky, smoked bacon. If I've got some bread going stale, I'll sometimes add some homemade, oven baked croutons as well. Inspired by my favourite Pret-a-Manger sandwich.

My Mum's green salad with roast potatoes
Crisp iceberg lettuce with my mums french mustard and red wine vinegar dressing served with hot, crunchy roast potatoes a la Delia. Sounds weird but there's something truly moreish about the hot/cold, crunchy, salty, vinegary combo which keeps me coming back again and again. Think salt & vinegar crisps and you get the idea. Thanks Mum!


  1. Mum's coleslaw:

    1 spring (pointy) cabbage, cut into fine shreds
    1 apple, cut into small cubes
    1/4 onion, chopped very finely
    1 carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
    1-2 handfuls raisins or sultanas
    1 heaping spoon mayo
    2 - 4 rounded spoons natl yogurt (to taste)

    Mix apple, onion, carrot, raisins, mayo and yogurt.
    Add cabbage and mix to coat with dressing.

    Optional: sprinkle over toasted pine nuts or other nuts of choice.

    Keeps 3 days in the fridge and is YUMMY.

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