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Salad: If We Like it, Why Are We Eating Less?

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Americans are not eating enough salad. That’s because, according to at least one food marketing research group, it takes labor to prepare.

As one chef observes, even boxed salad mixes aren’t a solution, and might be part of the problem as we slink around avoiding salad. This chef was quoted earlier this week in the Chicago Sun-Times as saying that boxed greens sit around too long, get slimy and end up being so unappetizing we don’t use them anyway.

Red and gold beets, roasted and tossed with sliced onions and olive oil, make a simple but good salad.

There is even hard data to tell us we are eating way less salad than we used to. In the Wall Street Journal, market research firm, NPD Group, was cited as saying Americans are eating salad with our meals 20 percent less frequently than we did in 1985.

Oh, let’s think back to 1985. There were far fewer ready-made salad products (if any) on grocery shelves back then. In 1985, you were doing well to find some romaine or red-leaf lettuce to put with your iceberg lettuce, much less mesclun or arugula and herbs or triple-washed baby spinach. If you were so inclined and industrious, you could grow your own. Or, pick some up at a well-stocked farmers market.

Oh, wait. I don’t remember any of those being around in 1985, either.

So, what’s the big deal about salad?

Eating salad is good for you. If you make it right and don’t add a lot of cheese or sugary dressing, it isn’t high in calories, but it does contain fiber and vitamins. Add colorful vegetables, and it is a nutritional hero. Toss in a hard-boiled egg or protein-rich grain, such as quinoa, and it’s Iron Man, Hell Boy and Wonder Woman rolled into one.

Salad Nicoise at The Pomegranate, composed salad with grilled fresh tuna.

Really? So why are so many Americans guilty of salad avoidance?

I think the marketing research group is right. We find preparing it a pain. It seems so much easier to slap a meat patty in the pan, season it with salt and smother it with salsa or steak sauce than it is to compose a salad.

If this starts to sound preachy, the preachy-ness is aimed straight at myself. Even I, a true salad devotee, succumb to laziness  when it comes to preparation. I’ll skip salad because the thought of all the slicing and dicing and lettuce washing and preparation of dressing makes me feel whiny. I’ll paw around in the refrigerator to find the boxed baby spinach only to see a slime-puppy or two in there and lose my motivation. I’ll look around for an avocado or a can of petite artichoke hearts and, not finding them, say, “Well, humph, I guess no salad tonight.”  Then I haul my lazy ass back to the living room, pick up my cell and spend a few minutes on Angry Birds. Because, you see, even an idiotic game is better than taking those vegetables out of the the fridge and preparing them.

My husband will come home and wonder about dinner and I”ll say, “Oh, would you like a salad?” He’ll say, “Only if you make it.” Then I stare at him until he says, “Or, we could go out.”

Replay this scenario around the nation and you have a country that is eating 20 percent less salad.

How do we fix this situation?

I am not sure there is any one solution. But because I am a food writer (and lover of salads), I keep trying to find it. Here, I’ll share some of the Salad Strategies (for mostly vegetable salads) my inner adult uses to outwit the lazy child:

Damien Watel's Watermelon, Tomato and Feta Salad

1 . Plan ahead. Oh, I know—boo-rring. But in truth, putting those salad ingredients into your shopping cart is strategy No. 1. Just get ’em in there. You can deal with the consequences when you get home. Choose from any of these: colored peppers, lettuces of varying kinds, the darker the better, sweet onion or red onions, beets, summer squashes, vine or Roma tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, eggplant, green beans, carrots, sprouts if you like them, fresh corn, cucumbers and even watermelon. And, don’t forget the avocados (as if you would).

2. This is a corollary to No. 1. Get some ingredients to keep around in cans and jars: I always keep a can or two of small artichoke hearts (not marinated) on hand because they are so good in a salad. Toss into the cart some hearts of palm (true salad deliciousness here), good albacore tuna, anchovies, sliced beets, olives, pepperoncini, sweet pickled pepper rings, a jar of roasted red peppers, garbanzo beans, black beans, bean salad …
3. Get a strong-flavored, salty cheese that crumbles: You’ll have this for dressing, if you want, or for sprinkling on top of your salad for a little extra flavor —not because you want cheese salad. Suggestions are cotija ( in the Mexican cheese area), feta cheese, shredded Parmesan, asiago, Roquefort or a good blue cheese. Bacon, too, bears mentioning.

4. Now, go home and have a barbecue. Really. Put some of the squashes, sliced in half lengthwise and lightly oiled with olive oil, eggplants, asparagus, corn on the cob, onions, whole heads of garlic — whatever else sounds good on the grill before you do the meat. Make enough grilled vegetables for dinner and for saving over the next couple of days for salads. If you vary roasted veggie salads with fresh, salad becomes more interesting.
5. For flavor, I use plenty of olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs like dill, chervil, thyme or cilantro in any salad. I rub the salad bowl with a fresh garlic clove, then mince it up and toss into the salad. If you have good, juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes with plenty of acidity, then you can dispense with an acid and use only a good quality olive oil. At the most, just use a few drops of red wine vinegar or lemon.

Think about flavors, but also about color and texture. Then, consider all the great things in your salad and enjoy — with or without that slab of meat on the side.






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