Healthy Salads

Healthy Salads

StrawberryAvocadoSaladAlways an integral part of our culinary landscape, salads have taken many years to arrive at their current position in the limelight. In his Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson writes that the term was derived from the Latin word sal (salt) which came from salata or salted things such as the raw vegetables eaten in classical times with a dressing of oil, vinegar or salt. Davidson also notes that the word turns up in Old French as salade and then again in late 14th century English as salad or sallet. The first English book on the subject of salads was Acetaria: A discourse of Salletts by John Evelyn, published in 1699. The book is surprisingly forward thinking and goes as far as suggesting health benefits can be derived from ingesting various greens. But it wasn’t until Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife was published in 1824 that Americans were widely introduced to the concept of assembling a salad with greens from a vegetable garden.

Not surprisingly it was the metropolitan areas such as New York City where high-end restaurants were responsible for putting salads on the culinary map. In the later part of the 18th century, Delmonico’s in New York City began preparing “luncheon” salads for its wealthy, mostly women patrons. About the same time, in 1893, the Waldorf Hotel (later the Waldorf Astoria) served its first eponymous named salad consisting of finely sliced apple, celery, chopped walnuts and a mayonnaise-based dressing.

Big Name Salads

Although it would be many years before salads would be ubiquitous on American restaurant menus, the Caesar Salad and Crab Louis certainly helped pave the way. In 1923 San Francisco’s Palace Hotel became known for offering a mixed green salad served with a Green Goddess dressing. Later in the early 1940s the Chef’s Salad became a popular lunch item on the Ritz Carlton Hotel’s menu also in New York City. Los Angeles’ Brown Derby is known for creating the now famous Cobb salad. These upscale institutions were instrumental in harnessing salad with a reputation as a dish of the elite.

The Bar

And then came the salad bar. There seems to be little agreement historically as to when this new buffet style, assemble-your-own-salad table came about, but several accounts indicate they were introduced in the early 1960s. What is undeniable, however, is the fact that these “bars” took hold of our country in the 1970s and became a fixture in virtually countless restaurants across the nation. Arguably it was this very invention that has led us to our current state of salad excess. With a veritable smorgasbord of items to choose from it is often difficult to resist the temptation of piling our plates high. Likewise at home, this convenient dish is often at risk of becoming a “catch-all” main course, often laden with far too many poorly selected ingredients.

Back to Salad Sensibility

While salad has been reinvented throughout the decades, it remains an all-American favorite. Today, with healthful eating habits on the rise, salads continue to be a sensible meal choice.  Heeding Dr. Michael Roizen’s advice will help restore this classic to its rightful place and bring it back to its original healthful state.  Dr. Mike, who, with Dr. Mehmet Oz forms what Oprah calls “America’s favorite doctor team”, suggests that “learning to recognize proper portions and using nutrition information wisely will keep us from overeating without realizing it.” After all, as noted cookbook author, Barbara Kafka points out, “salad tells the story of food in America. It is who we are.” (Saveur, 2007)

Smart Salads-At the Heart of Eating Well Today

Because salads have historically been aligned with “nutritious and healthy eating,” it has become de rigueur to toss in everything but the kitchen sink under the guise of “healthy eating.” When a salad weighs 3 pounds and is primarily comprised of foods high in saturated fat and empty calories it is no longer healthy. In fact it could even be considered a “senseless” salad.

It is time to take back the salad and reclaim it as it was originally conceived as a dish of raw vegetables grown in the garden. Certainly we don’t need to revert to meager portions of mixed greens and barely a sprinkling of dressing, but rather it is time to consider the “smart” salad, a delicious modestly sized, medley of fresh ingredients bursting with tastes of the season and well balanced flavors and textures. With the abundance of nutritious grains, nuts and legumes there are countless protein-packed combinations that can be paired with tasty and smart results.

Your Salad’s IQ

What’s the recipe for a Smart Salad?  Great ingredients, good choices and the right portions.  Smart Salads can include ingredients from all of the food groups including fruits & vegetables, nuts & grains, and vegetable protein foods such as tofu and tempeh.

Two key things to consider however, are that the portion size be consistently within recommended dietary allowances, and when choosing foods with fats?select wisely; keeping saturated fats to a minimum. For example, choosing walnuts will add alpha linolenic acid, the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid, as well as crunch and flavor to any salad.

Smart Salad combinations are endless herb salads with chevre drizzled with a champagne vinaigrette, quinoa dotted with bell peppers; arugula tossed with walnuts, strawberries and a balsamic dressing and the list goes on. Salads can indeed be entrées or main courses, but careful selection of ingredients and mindful attention to the serving size will define them as smart, rather than senseless. With so many fabulous whole foods to select from, refining the salad with smart choices assures its healthful place on the table.

Walnut, Orange & Feta Ensemble


  • 3/4 cup (4 oz.) crumbled vegan feta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Nondairy milk, if needed
  • 1/2 cup California walnuts, toasted & finely chopped
  • 2 large seedless oranges
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil

For assembling the salads

  • 3 – 4 large handfuls (6 – 7 cups)  lettuce, or mixed greens
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, blend the vegan feta cheese and thyme.  If the feta is too crumbly to hold together, beat in a teaspoon or two of milk.  Shape the feta into eight disks, about 1 1/2 inches across.  Roll them in walnuts, pressing gently so the nuts adhere and the disks are coated on all sides.  Place on a plate and set in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Section the orange segments by using a sharp knife to slice the peel from the oranges cutting deeply enough to remove the white skin and membrane; then carefully cut the orange flesh from between each segment.

In a small nonstick skillet, boil the balsamic vinegar until it has reduced to about 1/4 cup.  Watch it like a hawk, this happens quickly.  Pour the reduced vinegar into a small cup and set aside.

Lightly brush a nonstick skillet with the olive oil and place over medium-high heat.  When the pan is hot, cook the walnut-coated feta disks about 2 minutes on each side, to brown them lightly.  Transfer to a plate.

To assemble the salads, you will need 4 large plates, preferably rectangular or oblong, although round dinner plates will work, too.

In a large bowl toss the letttuce with the olive oil and chives, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Divide the greens among the plates.  Place two walnut feta disks on each plate, atop the lettuce. Top with orange segments.  Drizzle a tablespoon of reduced balsamic vinegar over each plate.

Serves 4

Royal Walnut Spiced Tempeh Salad

  • 4 slices of tempeh
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus salt to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed between your fingers
  • 1/2 cup California walnut halves
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 large handfuls (about 8 cups) mixed greens
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Grilled flat bread or pita bread, to accompany the salad

To cook the tempeh, you will need a skillet about 10 inches across and 2 inches deep.  Place the tempeh in the pan and sprinkle with the onion and garlic. In a small bowl stir together the cumin, ginger, paprika, cinnamon, pepper, salt and saffron; sprinkle over the top, turning the pieces to coat them evenly. Distribute the walnuts and raisins around the tempeh strips and add the water.

Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.  Remove the tempeh to a plate and cover it loosely with foil.  With a slotted spoon, remove the walnuts and raisins to a small bowl and set aside.  Reserve the liquid in the pan.

In a large bowl, toss the salad greens with the cilantro, parsley and mint.  Add the olive oil and toss to coat the leaves evenly.  Add the chopped lemon or lemon juice, toss to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To assemble the salad, cut the tempeh diagonally into slices about 1/2-inch thick.  Spread the prepared greens on a large platter and arrange the tempeh slices around and over the greens, overlapping the slices slightly.  Sprinkle the walnuts and raisins over the salad, then spoon some of the reserved cooking liquid over the tempeh to moisten it.  Serve with grilled flat bread or pita bread.

Serves 4

Chef Charlie Ayers is the former executive chef for Google. He lives by the creed “eat, drink, and be merry.” Visit him on the web at


Author: VegFamily

VegFamily is a comprehensive resource for raising vegan children, including pregnancy, vegan recipes, expert advice, book reviews, product reviews, message board, and everyday vegan living.

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