Life in terms of food in the Philippines wasn’t so bad, and it could certainly have been worse. Where we lived, we had good access to a decent array of fruits and vegetables, and we eventually found a couple of places we could buy tofu (as it’s a common foodstuff, but not found in the supermarket) and learned how to make mungo beans. But there were a few things we had to go without. For C, I think the hardest of these was (what we consider good) bread, but he finally bit the bullet and started baking his own, which was awesome for both of us.
Some foods we couldn’t compensate for, though most of these were no big loss: apples, oranges and grapes were on offer but out of the question. The apples were tasteless and powdery, the oranges were juiceless and neither sour nor sweet, and I never got around to sampling the grapes…but I wasn’t bothered – we had mangos and rambutan and lanzones and jackfruit and like 4 kinds of bananas (though I’ve heard there were once hundreds of varieties in Mindanao, but due to monoculture there are only a few now – and there are far worse consequences, but I digress).
Something we absolutely never bought, though – except for that first time out of sheer naivety – was lettuce. The lettuce was awful. It was hard and bitter and dry…the climate just isn’t conducive to growing the stuff. So upon arriving in France, I was ecstatic about salad. The French love salad. Most families serve it with every dinner and sometimes lunch, too. The only problem is that for them, salade is the word they use for “lettuce”. Which is to say that they eat lettuce with their meals, with dressing of course. But rarely anything else, unless the salad is the main dish, which is typically only for eating out. Not having lettuce in the Philippines had forced us to learn to love a whole bunch of other raw vegetables, and lettuce and sauce just didn’t cut it for me anymore.
These days I like a green salad, but I put a whole bunch of other stuff in it. I’m adding this post because I really want to emphasize the importance of raw foods, and when it comes to raw, salad just packs a great punch. Also, for those of us who love huge, towering plates of food, raw veg is a guilt-free way to indulge after a hard day (or in the middle of one), because it will not weigh you down, and any calories are negated by the effort you expend in cutting the veg, chewing the veg, and digesting the veg, as well as all the amazing nutrients you get out of it!
Green Salad. So this just means lettuce is one of your ingredients. My mom drove into our brains from about the early 90s, I think, that iceburg was a pointless waste of time because it has zero nutrients. I’m a big fan of lots of different types of lettuce, but I don’t really care for bitter ones like endive, or show-off lettuce like rocket. Other good ingredients to add to a green salad:
~ bell peppers (I love red and yellow) ~ onions (I like red best in a salad) ~ grated raw beetroot (don’t worry about the stains on your hands – they only last a couple washings…your clothes, on the other hand…) ~ sliced or grated carrots ~ olives ~ mushrooms (though I find them totally gross… remember this if you make me a salad one day) ~ sliced avocado (see mushrooms) ~ chopped tomatoes (see mushrooms/avo) ~ raw seeds (like sunflower, pumpkin, lin, poppy, and/or sesame) ~ sprouts (like alfalfa) ~ kidney beans…this list could seriously go on forever…
Rice Salad. In France this is very typical, and usually includes egg, tuna, corn, and tomatoes, or Puy lentils (represent, yo!) and tomatoes. I really like grating up beetroot and chopping in red pepper and carrots, along with something like olives or capers for a bang, plus some kind of bean for protein. It’s a good idea to let your rice cool a little or it will literally cook the other ingredients. It’s also a good idea to use brown rice if you don’t mind it – I love it myself, but – as with a lot of other grains – it’s way better for you than the white stuff.
Try Quinoa. As above, just add quinoa. And bear in mind that it’s a seed, not a grain, so you’re adding to your protein content, as well as a whole bunch of other great nutrients!
Pasta Salad. Pretty sure every family has some recipe or another for this, so I won’t bore you, but let me just tell you this: There’s a health food restaurant in South London called Whole Meal that used to (and might still – it’s just been a while since I paid a visit) serve these amazing salads that you sort of built on the spot, as they had all the ingredients in plain view, and so you just sort of pointed – a bit of this, some of that – or else they just put everything in. One of those things was pre-cooked and sauced fusilli pasta – what we’d call Stateside pasta marinara, and what the Brits call pasta Bolognese. It was freaking awesome to have a little bit of cold pasta with sauce in my salad. If you’ve got some left-over from last night’s dinner, you could add a scoop!
*A note on pasta & rice…while a towering salad of raw vegetables is perfectly guilt-free, other ingredients, like carbs and dressing especially, are not guilt-free…just remember that a cup of cooked rice is about a serving size, and in a full plate of salad, I never put more than 1/2 cup, because otherwise the rice weighs down the salad. Ditto pasta.
Nuts are Nice. Okay, that heading’s cheeseballs, but I was stuck. Walnuts are just awesome in salad…try this: Per person – 1 grated carrot; 1/2 apple; 1/2-inch nub minced ginger; 1 tbsp raisins; 1 tbsp chopped walnuts; 2 tbsp kidney beans; 1 tbsp dressing from one of my earlier posts. Just awesome. My mom made an excellent baby spinach salad with fresh strawberries and pecans when I was out to visit – that one went really well with a sweet onion dressing she had on-hand. The other day we went hiking with some friends who had made the lentil-rice-tomato salad discussed above, and they threw in a handful of hazlenuts. Sliced almonds are also excellent…and again, you’re getting good fat and extra protein.
So are Seeds. Somebody stop me. No seriously. But I’ve already gone over this one, so I won’t go on.
Do Something Different. There’s really no big risk in trying a vegetable you’ve never tried before. Or in a way you’ve never had it. I was so desperate for raw vegetables in the Philippines that I started grating zucchini into my salads, and it was actually delicious (though not too much…I only use about 2 tbsp per person). Celeriac is awesome for a mash, purée, soup, or just roasted, but it’s also really lovely grated into a salad. Beetroot is great boiled and peeled, but it’s so nice grated raw into salad (plus it’s juicy, so it makes your sauce go further). Fennel sliced really thinly makes for a delicate, crisp, aromatic topping to a fancy dinner salad. Just take some risks…you might find something really healthy you didn’t know you liked before!
Fruits! With an exclamation point because they’re delish. I’ve mentioned strawberries and apples and raisins above, but there are so many you can add for a gutsy splash of sweet and/or sour. Anything dried – cranberries, apricots, figs – will add a chewy texture that goes nicely alongside the crispness of a salad. Tangerine/manderine/clementine slices look really sexy on a salad plate, and go so well with a flavorful lettuce and Asian sauce (see below). More color, more nutrients, more flavor…
And Herbs! Herbs get an exclamation point because A) they are also awesome, and B) I can’t alliterate with them because I’ll either upset the North Americans or everyone else in the Anglophone world. Anyway, cilantro (coriander), basil, parsley (though I strongly believe this one has no place outside of a tabouleh)…Herbs add a gorgeous layer of flavor to salad that I find quite sophisticated. Here’s one of C’s specials: Per person – 1 carrot, cut into quarters lengthwise and thinly chopped; 1 tbsp thinly sliced red onion; 5-6 whole black olives; 3-5 mint leaves, roughly chopped; 3 tbsp chickpeas; pinch quatre épices; 1 tbsp standard vinaigrette.
Dress It. Of course, no salad is complete without its dressing. I’m not a huge fan of store-bought ones because they’ve just got so many freaking ingredients, and that often means not-what-I-consider-whole-food. You can find a great go-to vinaigrette on one of my earlier posts, and I highly recommend having something similar to hand all the time, because not having dressing is a good excuse to not eat salad, and nobody doesn’t benefit from more salad in their diet (loving my barely-legal negatives in that sentence, incidentally). Two more really nice (if I do say so myself) recipes (both are good for a salad for about 4):
- Asian Inspired: 3 tbsp soy sauce; 1 tbsp sesame oil; 1-2 tbsp sunflower oil; juice of 1/4 lemon. Whisk all ingredients together. Awesome for anything with grilled tofu or chicken, particularly with rice noodles! Add something spicy if’n you fancy.
- Palestine Inspired: 1 tbsp tahini; juice of 1/4 lemon; 1 tbsp water; 1-2 tbsp olive oil; pinch salt & pepper. Whisk lemon into tahini with the water until creamy. Add olive oil, salt and pepper, and whisk until smooth. Awesome on a green salad with beetroot, and a good reason to make falafel!
And here’s where I’ll leave it…I think I’ve delved deeply enough into this one, but I really can’t emphasize how great salad is, and how good I feel after I’ve eaten a particularly amazing one…you guys have any favorite recipes? Share away in the comments!