Funny enough, I don’t love salad as a rule, and honestly, I was a veggie-hater for most of my life. Sure, I’ll order a salad at Panera occasionally, and I’m pretty good at eating a ton of veggies at most meals, but raw vegetables as the base of my meal isn’t typically my favorite. Partially because raw veggies can be a little bit rough on a sensitive stomach, partially just out of preference, and partially because until relatively recently, I wasn’t very good at throwing together a decent salad. Mine tended to be either really bland in order to be ‘healthy,’ or so packed with junk to make them tasty that the ‘healthy salad’ was no longer healthy. But summer is here, and when I found myself craving a Panera salad (don’t judge), I had to figure out a way to make a version at home since we don’t have a great place in town for a satisfying salad. And I surprised myself–the dressing I made was freaking TASTY, super simple, and a much healthier alternative to store-bought. In fact, the dressing actually could double as the salad’s protein source! So, read on for some of my veggie-prep hacks for making them less blah, plus the dressing recipe.
Pickle or Ferment
The fastest way to add crunch and brightness to a salad is by adding some fermented veggies. I’m all about adding fermented foods from a good gut bacteria standpoint, but it turns out, they’re great for adding flavor as well.
DIY sauerkraut has been a new staple: Just chop white cabbage finely and pack it tightly into a mason jar with a bit of filtered water and sea salt, and leave it sitting on the counter for around 10 days before moving it to the fridge. A spoonful on top of a salad goes a long way!
For more recipes, like quick pickled radishes, read this: Your Guide to DIY Fermentation
I’ve also been quick pickling for some added snap and brightness for a salad: I just chop my veggies (like red onions) and mix them in with white vinegar and just a bit of agave syrup, then leave for a few hours (they also store for a while in the fridge). SO much better than plain raw red onions.
Read more: 5 Cheap Ways to 10X Your Salads
Treat Your Veggies
These aren’t shocking hacks, but they brighten up flavors of normally mehh veggies, and for those new to eating enough produce might find some new ideas here, or get reminded of old favorites!
- Kale: Massage by hand with a few squirts of lemon juice — also great if you struggle to digest kale, since this starts the breakdown process
- Cucumber: Chop and soak in vinegar — delicious if soaked for a few minutes, delicious AND spicy AF if soaked overnight
- Tomato: Chop and soak with lime juice and cilantro
- Beets: Use a peeler or cheese grater to shred into super small pieces
- Asparagus: Chop, toss some salt, pepper and olive oil on, throw in foil and toss on the grill
- Spinach: Sneak this everywhere. In smoothies or sautéed with eggs for breakfast
Read more: 5 Ways to Add More Vegetables to Your Day
Make Easy Protein-Heavy Dressing
This Green Goddess taste-alike is heavy on the protein, light on fat and carbs, so you can soak your salad in it. I’m obsessed with Panera’s Green Goddess cobb salad so I wanted to make a similar version to have at home, and I figured out a way to make it really light. This works as a dressing, or as an easy dip for peppers/carrots/whatever. Heck, you could even use it in place of a more sour-cream-based dip for chips!
In a blender, drop:
- 1 cup 0% fat Greek yogurt
- 2 big handfuls of fresh basil
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon agave syrup
- Sea salt
- Blend, and decant into a mason jar — store in the fridge, obviously!
You could mix that up with other herb options, but I’m really loving the protein-packed Greek yogurt base!