Summer time is when we start to want to increase the amount of raw food that we eat and on those warm summer days we really want fresh salads to cleanse and refresh. So forget boring iceberg lettuce and let’s get adventurous! In this article we look at the variety of salad leaves and veggies on offer and consider what to include in our salads, to give us variety, maximum taste, nutrition and vibrant health.
There are so many benefits for eating raw, for at least a part of every meal during these hot summer months. So, instead of reaching for the veggie steamer, pick out your salad ingredients and throw them into a bowl.
The mainstay of most salads is the humble lettuce and other types of leafy greens. Lettuce comes in so many different varieties, so get adventurous and mix your combinations together. The health benefits of lettuce and leafy greens are wide and include:
- Hydration for your body, due to the high water content
- Packed with nutrients, including Vitamin A – carotene, B-complex vitamins, folate, calcium, Vitamin C . Folate helps to prevent anaemia and fatigue. They also contain many minerals that the body needs, like copper and iron, which can help you if you suffer from insomnia.
- Keeping your bowel healthy, as lettuce is a great source of insoluble fibre (cellulose and lignin) which speeds up elimination and contributes to stool bulk (preventing constipation).
- Great if you want to lose some weight, as lettuce is naturally low in fat and calories
- They are filling when you eat them, creating bulk in your stomach
- Cooling, fresh and light to eat – and you feel lighter after eating them
Each type of lettuce or leafy green brings different vitamins and minerals to your dish, so the ideal is to mix your leafy greens and vary them across the week. Think about mixing your collard, arugula, spinach, peppery rocket, watercress, lambs leaf, red lettuce with your crunchy romaine or cos, or even a simple green leafy lettuce. Watercress is thought to help reduce hot flushes. Kale is fantastic to add to your salad (as well as to your juices). To get maximum iron uptake from your leaves, combine with an ingredient high in vitamin C, like kale, broccoli, cauliflower or maybe some fruit like kiwi, pineapple, strawberries and oranges.
Storing leafy greens
Iceberg lettuce lasts the longest, and spinach the shortest period of time in your fridge. When you store the leafy greens, loosely wrap them in paper (newspaper works well), and keep away from apples or other fruit (as the fruit will turn the leaves brown!).
Other salad ingredients
Use the leafy green veggie as your base. Then you might also want to add other ingredients. Consider adding a combination of cucumber, radish, celery and pepper (red, green, yellow, orange) for crunch and colour. Vary the way you cut them, either slices or small or large chunks. Tomatoes (large or cherry) bring colour and sweetness. Onion (salad, red, brown, white) can add crunch and extra flavour. At only 7 calories for two sticks, celery brings crunch, water and flavour to any salad.
Have you also considered including any of the following in your salads:
- Raw courgette – either grated (which makes it quite moist) or in chunks, is a great alternative to cucumber.
- Grated carrot also adds colour and brings sweetness.
- Fresh grated beetroot – use the tops of the beetroots in your salads and grate the raw beetroot. We love mixing raw beetroot, carrot and mint to make a refreshing salad.
- Cabbage. By adding cabbage you can further increase the amount of roughage on your plate. Try shredding some using a knife or even a blender to finely chop. We love our coleslaw here, using cabbage (red and white), carrot and radish.
- Sprouts give an extra nutritional boost to any salad, try cress, alfalfa or even lentil sprouts. Many are available in the fridges at supermarkets or natural health food shops. If you enjoy them, consider sprouting some seeds or beans at home, then you will have a supply on hand at any time.
- Olives – bring saltiness to the salad. Remember not too many per day (6-10) as they are relatively high in both calories and salt.
- Mushrooms – wiped clean and added raw add a different texture and taste to any salad bowl
- Broccoli can also be eaten raw. Cut into small florets and add to the top of your salad bowl for a crunch, or blitz for a few seconds in a food processor.
- Avocado – sprinkle with lemon juice to keep the avo green (and to prevent browning)
- Sweetcorn or baby corn (raw or lightly steamed) brings both crunch and sweetness
For a complete bowl why not add some crunch by topping with toasted pumpkin seeds or toasted sliced almonds. Topping with tofu brings added protein to your bowl.
The dressing is the thing that often makes a difference and lifts a boring bowl of leaves and veggies up to the next level.
- Lemon and herb dressing
A simple olive oil, lemon and herb dressing is delightful and refreshing. To make combine extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and handful of fresh herbs (try basil!) together (either by shaking them together in a screw top jar or using a hand blender to mix the ingredients well).
- Hazelnut dressing
Take 2 tbsp hazelnut butter, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp rice syrup, 1 tsp soya/tamari sauce, ½ tsp balsamic vinegar and 2 tbsp water and add to a blender. Mix until all the ingredients are combined. Easy and so tasty.
- Soy sauce, lime and ginger dressing
This dressing is inspired by flavours from the East. Combine in a jar or using a hand blender the following ingredients: 2 tbsp soy (or tamari) sauce, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp rice syrup (or another sweetener like honey or agave), 2 tbsp water, 2cm ginger juice (either use your juicer or grate and squeeze out the juice), with juice from 1 lime. Add a splash of sesame oil and some seeds to bring added taste. Or maybe a finely chopped chili if you want some heat to the dressing! This dressing works really well with spinach plus crunchy veggies.
Most dressings will store in your fridge (in a screw top jar or sealed container) for a few days, so make a large portion and then it is ready for use any time!
So, grab a big bowl and mix’n’match your salad items. Happy summer days!