Lettuce Indulge Ourselves!


Salad.  I know! The word would always conjure up the “D” words to me…deprivation and diet.  Maybe that’s the way it used to be, but these days the “Salad” menu at most restaurants can run the gamut of simple greens with croutons and a tomato slice to a voluptuous salad topped with everything under the sun!  Whether eating out or in, it’s become one of my favorite go-to meals and I’d love to share how to banish boring and embrace exciting!

As a teenager concerned with my weight, a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips and a TAB would be a normal meal, until I discovered the dinner salad at Denny’s and my horizons were expanded.  Sliced cucumbers, grated cheese, tomatoes, and mushrooms, (SO exotic for northern Wisconsin in the 70’s).  Wow.  I felt so victorious, righteous and a bit smug ordering the salad and crushing my dieting dreams. 

I later found out that a salad was only as good as it’s rainbow of ingredients and how it’s dressed… or undressed, as the case may be.  That ranch dressing turned my healthy salad into a saturated fat bomb!  I do understand the passion for which most feel for ranch dressing and that it’s practically Un-American to badmouth it.  I can explain.

Before you begin to throw sourdough croutons at me, I want you to know that a salad can be many things, passionate and not punishment!  A peek at the salad section of many menus these days, you’ll find an enormous array of BIG salads.  Many of them come with bacon, cheese, and various assorted meat toppings, (some even breaded and fried), and when coupled with really almost any of the dressings served in restaurants (yes, even the house made “secret” family recipes), will absolutely derail an otherwise monumentally mouthwatering and motivating meal.

On this section of the menu though, is where you’ll find the building blocks for a creatively constructed order that will be a win in the wildly healthy department as well tantalizingly tasty, although you may be accused of imitating Sally in her famous restaurant ordering scene in “When Harry Met Sally”.  My husband regularly accuses me of explaining to the server how “even the chef didn’t know how good it could be” by the time I’m done revamping a dish that the rest of the world orders in two words. It may take a few extra (always) kindly delivered instructions, but believe me, your health is worth it!  Have fun with it and ask nicely!

The easiest way to begin is to find a salad with a good foundation that sounds appealing.  Let’s use a BBQ Chicken Tender Ranch salad, for example, that will also most likely come topped with shredded cheddar, blue cheese crumbles and bacon. SURE, that may sound appealing (Hello. My husband’s favorite!) but you’d be going as far astray of your health goals as if you’d just ordered the chicken tenders and fries…with a side of ranch! His other favorite!

If you’re lucky, that salad may also include tomatoes, cucumbers, black beans and red onion, a fantastic start!  With a huge smile, I would say, may I order the BBQ Chicken Tender Ranch salad with no chicken or cheese, and may I add a veggie burger patty, mushrooms, veggies, rice (check the “sides” and other salads for items you can request to be added to yours) and a side of BBQ sauce, Teriyaki or salsa to use as a dressing or order one of their offered dressings on the side, and just dip your fork into it if you must, for a flavor-filled bite with much less burden on the bod.

Sometimes I find restaurant menu salads with fresh strawberries, quinoa, red onions, pecans, chopped jicama, dried figs, cherries or cranberries, polenta croutons, anything on the menu is fair play in my creative ordering game.  Look at the menu and create a dish of your dreams! 

Once you get comfy with your ordering prowess, ideas will pop out at you from the magical array of options. Dishes are no longer available only as rigidly printed on laminated card stock but recreated to signal the chef that some of us love to eat out without gouging our goals or gorging our gullets.  I mean, the stuff is in the kitchen already.  It’s all in the way you “Jenga” them together and many of us who do, want to live a long, wildly healthy life! 

For this weeks, Wild Meatless Monday Adventure Challenge: Create a meatless, no cheese salad of your dreams in a restaurant (bonus points for bravery!) or at home. Don't forget to add cooked grains, cubed sweet potatoe, squash, corn, beans, whatever sounds soul-fillingly satisfying and let your wild imagination soar!

Love + Lentils,

Lauri signature with photo


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