One career dream I have is to be a salad consultant to restaurants. There's probably a fancier name I could come up with. Greens Adviser? Salad Improver? This job doesn't exist as far as I know and I don't think I could do it as a full time gig, but I think I could provide something very important to the world: satisfying meal salads. Don't get me wrong - things have come a LONG way over recent years and at least more places offer salads that are interesting and more than just a first course. But there is still lots of room for improvement. Often, a salad will be almost there, but fall down on one or two aspects.
There is a restaurant near work that I used to go to regularly and they didn't have lots of veg stuff on the menu. They did have a dinner salad that was almost great. It's what I ordered every time I went. It had some nice mixed greens, lentils (yeay!), roasted red peppers, hummus, a nice vinaigrette (lemon?), pita bread and I think some roasted portabellas. All good things, but do you see the problem? Everything in it is mushy. Some texture please! It took everything I had in me to not walk back into the kitchen and beg the chef, for the love of God, to add some toasted walnuts.
Another mistake, in my humble opinion, is putting too much sweet stuff in. I am SO over dried cranberries. And then sometimes, the salad will contain nuts, so you get the texture aspect, but then they are candied! Gross! Or it will be dressed in some sickly sweet raspberry vinaigrette. I am also tired of balsamic vinaigrette for this very reason. They are often too sweet. One sweet thing in a salad is enough. Some pear or apples, or maybe some golden raisins. This can be nice, but it often goes overboard. I dunno, maybe some people like to pretend they're eating dessert while they are eating salad, but I really do enjoy a well constructed salad more than I enjoy dessert.
Toasted sunflower seeds, pepitas, pistachios, almonds are all great ways to add some crunch and nutrition. The other night I had a kale salad at a local spot. It looked fairly promising on the menu since it had some crunchy chickpeas on it. It only had a few ingredients on it, so was less exciting as a meal, and it had an apple vinaigrette that I was a bit afraid of. But, you could add several different proteins to it, including crunchy tofu, so I went for it. The dressing turned out to be nice, not too sweet. But the chickpeas had the life cooked right out of them. I've made crunchy chickpeas before and there is a fine line between them being crunchy or completely dried out. These crossed that line. This salad also had zero color. It had some feta or goat cheese as the third ingredient. A little carrot or tomato could have brought things to life.
Also, add something interesting, like a grain, an egg or some baked tofu. This also makes it more substantial. A little quinoa, barley or brown rice on a salad works really well.
So, I won't blather on anymore, though I could. But, the bottom line is balance in texture, color and flavor and nutritional value. The recipe for this post isn't even going to be for a salad, but instead for the quinoa bowls I've been making a lot lately. The same guidelines apply to make a good bowl. These, of course, could also be made with brown rice, but I've been favoring them with quinoa. I'll make some up and keep it on hand to make for a quick dinner assembly.
You can have fun with what you put in here, but here are a list of
ingredients I most often choose from, because it's often what I have on
hand. I usually put the quinoa in first and then everything else on top, and give it a couple of good stirs to mix things up.
1/2 to 1 cup of warm quinoa*, depending on how hungry you are
baby spinach or arugula, chopped
1 egg, hard boiled (chopped), fried or poached
pistachios or toasted sunflower seeds
sesame seed/seaweed mixture (gomasio)
walnut or olive oil
a little sea salt
cider vinegar ( a little, don't drown it)
*cooking quinoa: Rinse 1 cup of quinoa in a sieve (very important to remove the bitter taste) .Place in a pan with 1 3/4 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Let stand covered for at least a few more minutes, then fluff with a fork.