Spring comes and I want to change my diet somewhat.
In the winter I make batches of stew to take for lunch each day, and I eat a lot of winter squash baked in the oven.
Spring, summer and into the fall, I have a daily lunch salad of raw vegetables.
In traditional Chinese medicine, there’s the idea of not eating cold food or a lot of raw food because both are hard on digestion. I eat my salads at room temperature, and I feel better in warmer weather if one of my meals is made up mostly of raw vegetables. Part of the year I grow my own lettuces, and in the summer, I grow dozens of tomato plants.
I hear people talking about “grabbing” lunch on the fly. I often see people driving in cars shoving a sandwich into their mouth.
Food-as-medicine is the opposite approach. It requires planning ahead, i.e. shopping and storing a lot of good ingredients in order to be able to make a salad any time. It involves taking time to wash, chop and mix, and to sit down and enjoy eating.
I’m just as busy as the next person so I have a system for how to continuously make great salads. It does not include mixing large quantities of veggies and storing them for days. That just ends up as a pile of mush ready for the compost bin.
Being able to make a good daily salad means I shop several times a week and have a well-stocked fridge.
A salad is a great way to have a balanced paleo/primal meal: mostly veggies, topped with a protein food, and healthy fats.
When I was 21, I studied early childhood education with a spiritual teacher who had a rule that every dinner we ate had to have at least two different vegetables on the plate. She had no scientific explanation for it but she believed it was best to eat a combination of micro-nutrients at each meal.
I’ve followed that rule ever since, so that even for my morning greens with eggs, I grow and combine different types of kale, chard and spinach, rarely eating just one at a time.
For salads, I’ve expanded the rule to include multiple colors and multiple types of vegetables at a time, for two reasons: one is that it’s beautiful and more enjoyable, and the other is that the colors in various veggies signal different types of anti-oxidants. My hypothesis is that eating a half pound of broccoli in a sitting is not as good as eating a half pound of three or four different types of vegetables.
Everyone can benefit from having their own system. Here’s how I make salads:
I use a big salad bowl only for a group. For a salad for one or two, I use a large plate per person. I cover the plate with washed and torn greens and let them dry and reach room temperature while I wash and chop other items.
Frequently, though, I chop a number of things ahead of time and have them in their own glass jars in the fridge ready to add. So if I’m slicing radishes, cucumbers or carrots, I’ll slice a bunch and keep them for salad the next day or two. I chop raw cauliflower or purple cabbage finely and store. I often have pre-cooked some beets, stored and ready to slice. I don’t chop red onions or parsley or basil from the garden ahead of time.
But when it’s time to make a salad, a lot of ingredients are ready to go. I layer on top of the greens whatever veggies I have handy. I aim to combine the greens with a root vegetable (carrot, radish or beet) a cruciferous vegetable (cauliflower, cabbage or maybe a side of kraut), cucumber or tomato, and usually a half an avocado (which is a tree fruit and a great dose of good fat).
Personally, I’m not a vegetarian, so I top the salad with some form of animal protein, whether that’s tuna, a can of Wild Planet sardines, cheese, sliced meat, maybe something left over from the previous night’s dinner.
I’m not at all a fan of commercial salad dressings. Even those from a health food store may be loaded with additives and ridiculously expensive. I drizzle my salad with high quality olive oil and red wine vinegar which is just enough to not drown out the taste off the veggies. (I do not use industrial seed oils such as safflower, canola, etc., ever, because they are inflammatory.)
For work-day lunch salads, I layer a glass container with greens, and add the other veggies on top, plus the protein food in its own carrier, and then I carry separately a small glass jar of olive oil and red wine vinegar.
What about fruit salads? Well, mixing up a large amount of fruit can yield mush unless it’s for a group to eat soon. I tend to eat fruit one or two pieces at a time, though I often make an after dinner fruit plate. This might be a sliced apple, a peeled tangerine and some berries, with a few walnuts or pistachios. Multiple colors, multiple anti-oxidants.
A number of years ago, I went to a daylong seminar with Zen teacher Ed Brown, the well-known chef and author of the Tassajara cook book. He put simple, vegetarian cooking and eating on the map starting in the 1970s. I brought my 1973 copy of the Tassajara cookbook for him to autograph, and he chatted with us about cooking (though the teaching that day was about something else).
Ed mentioned that in his experience, very few people will cut up a plate of fruit for themselves. They’ll eat an apple or banana but they just won’t take the time to cut even a single piece of fruit and put it on a plate. He said that when he offers people a simple plate of cut-up fruit, they find it amazing and even extravagant.
It does take time to make something that is beautiful for the outer senses of sight, touch and taste and for the body’s inner senses of what it needs. That’s not time taken away from some other pressing task. It is part of the whole endeavor of eating well.