Here’s my personal revelation:
The time to make salad is not when you want to eat salad. Because then chips.
I’m convinced that a main reason people don’t eat more salads is because their first thoughts are soon avalanched by all the -INGS required to get from brain to fork: rinsING, spinnING, blottING, peelING, choppING, slicING, dicING, then OMG-I-forgot-I-gotta-make-the-dressING, followed by measurING, pourING, whiskING, blendING.
It’s true you can buy one of those pre-washed packaged salads from the grocery store and slap some bottled dressing on it, if you don’t mind the sad aftertaste of chemicals and despair. Pressed for time and facing limited options, we’ve all done it. But I always knew I was cheating myself out of a better salad-eating experience. And for me, every salad needs to be an event, or why bother?
This seems to confuse my husband. On occasion he tries to be helpful. As with most things in his mind, all my foodie concerns can be boiled down to a simple mathematical equation.
Husband: You could make a salad.
Me: With what, honey?
Husband: I don’t know…(voice trailing as he rummages in the fridge crisper drawer)…here, found some lettuce. And a cut-up piece of tomato. Boom. Salad. See?
Me: (blank stare)
No, honey. That is NOT a salad. That’s compost.
Because I try to get in as many plant-based meals as possible, I audition salads like it’s my full-time job. And only a select few make the cut. How do I know I have a contender? An audition-worthy salad, once you eat it, makes you stop thinking about food for the rest of the day. Until chocolate. Which doesn’t count, because it’s not a food. It’s medicine. For my soul.
Take the salad above. It’s my latest kitchen sink creation, helped along by companion recipes I adapted or stole from others (full credit given below). So extra, I couldn’t even fit all its parts into camera view.
Wow, you say. That’s…a lot going on there. Wait, is that ramen I see under the egg? Why is it so busy?
Because taste. And texture. And umami. And bedazzlement. There’s really no excuse for bland, even where a salad has only one key ingredient. Is there anything sadder than a sad little salad served in a sad teacup-sized-bowl with a side order of sad dressing? No. There is not. And this brings us back to the question of INGs.
You cannot wait until you want a bedazzled salad, to make a bedazzled salad. I promise that you will get no further than dragging the lettuce and cutting boards out before you stop and say to yourself, You know what…?
Because the egg needs to be hard boiled. And the leftover raw kale salad, a leafy green star in its own right, brought forward from last night’s dinner. And the ahi tuna steak you got for a steal at ALDI (more on that later) defrosted, seasoned and pan-seared. And the scallions pre-sliced. And the ramen boiled. And the avocado peeled. And the carrots shaved. And so on and so on. Nobody’s taking all that on at 6:40pm after work for a salad.
But what if I told you that the spicy tuna sauce, as well as the asian vinaigrette used for drizzling, was already sitting in mason jars in your fridge? And the leftover raw kale salad, deliciously seasoned in smashed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt, had been marinating away since last night? The sliced cabbage and scallions ziplock’d and ready to go? The raw tuna ready to be “Salt Bae’d”…
…and thrown in the pan?
I cannot promise you that the setup for this salad is “easy.” Only that it’s worth it. In my kitchen, depth of flavor requires layering. Interesting and unexpected combinations and textures. And preferably the freshest ingredients you can find and afford. The key to enjoying bedazzled salads on the regular is not to load up on prepackaged shortcuts, but rather advance prep as many fresh options as possible before needed.
So. I’m sorry to break it to you, but this is not a salad you are going to enjoy tonight. You may enjoy it three nights from now or some day next week. You have homemade mayo to make first. Fish to defrost. Avocados to ripen. And maybe some bok choy to pick up from the market. Or not. Customize your own version. Schedule your meal prep on a Saturday or Sunday, so that you can not only throw together a salad like this on demand, but also enjoy meals for days by stretching your prepped bounty across other menu items.
Because nobody has time to be doing all this work for one flipping salad, bedazzled as it is.
Recipe below. Don’t worry if it seems imprecise. By design, this is a “handful of this” and “handful of that” kind of recipe. Use your best judgement, season to taste and make substitutions as desired.
Bedazzled Asian-Inspired Salad
- ramen noodles MINUS seasoning packet, cooked, drained and seasoned with a few drops of sesame oil and soy sauce (throw away the seasoning packet that comes with the ramen)
- 1 boiled egg, quartered
- 1 bunch of cooked baby bok choy, ends trimmed (Tip: I throw the raw bok choy in with the boiling ramen during the last 2 minutes of cooking, then drain and toss both together)
- handful of sliced napa cabbage
- handful of chopped romaine lettuce
- ahi tuna steak, cooked (Tip: slice in half lengthwise, season with kosher salt and pepper, then pan sear for 2 minutes on each side, or until cooked through)
- 1 carrot, shaved
- 2 scallions, chopped fine
- 1/2 avocado, sliced
- handful of raw kale salad
Mix together the cooked ramen and vegetables, except scallions. Top with tuna, avocado and egg. Drizzle vinaigrette to taste, garnish with scallions and top with a dollop of spicy mayo.
Note: Looking for a gluten-free ramen? My favorite is brown rice and millet ramen noodles from Lotus Foods, which comes in a convenient 10-pack.
Asian Vinaigrette (Adapted from: Raising the Salad Bar, by Catherine Walthers)
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, unseasoned
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon finely-minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (option: gluten-free/low sodium tamari, or soy-free Coconut Aminos)
- 3 tablespoons walnut oil (the original recipe suggest canola or grapeseed)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
The original instructions say to whisk, but I found that I could get a creamier result by just throwing everything into the blender for 10-20 seconds. Of course I quadrupled the recipe, because there is no end to the uses for this dressing. Can be made several days ahead, keeps for 1 week in the fridge.