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Low Carb Eats #3 - Good times with salads

Friday, December 13, 2013

Part of my low carb experience has been adapting 20 years of more plant-based experience to living without grains and without most meats. I went many years eating fish only occasionally, but it is currently a regular part of my diet. It is otherwise challenging to keep carbs low enough without resorting constantly to processed protein powders.

One excellent resource for a keto adapted / low carb high fat diet is "The Art and Science of Low Carb Living", written by two of the authors of "New Atkins for a New You". The idea of a "well-formulated low carbohydrate diet" is repeatedly mentioned. And what does that mean? Basically, get some veggies with your bacon, avoid relying on processed foods, and understand good fats.

One of my habits is to regularly make salads that try to hit some of those "well-formulated" points. My selection of greens and fats (from dressings, nuts, and cheese) is intended to help boost the nutrition I'm getting as well as to make me really, really happy with my salad.

My salads almost always start with romaine lettuce and baby spinach. This will provide far more micro-nutrients than iceberg lettuce. If my family weren't so picky I'd throw a selection of baby greens in there, but for now, we keep it simple. I worked slowly up to about a 50/50 blend.

Buying my lettuce bunched instead of pre-bagged is not much extra work, and the flavor is much better. Baby spinach, on the other hand, is so handy pre-washed in the large box. Because the leaves aren't torn, they don't start to get bitter. A salad spinner comes in very handy for washing and drying the lettuce. I usually tear the leaves into bite size (if I won't be shredding them) and then add the baby spinach before spinning. My standard salad has about 2 cups of lettuce and spinach per serving.

Dressings are an amazing part of the low-carb salad experience. You can readily find dressings that are 1g of carbs or less per 2 TBLS serving. Trader Joe's has a good selection of them. Some of the "Follow Your Heart" vegan dressings are also good choices. Read the labels, and give preference to those with no added sugar, and those not based on soy or corn oil. Part of that "well-formulated" equation is working a higher portion of Omega-3 fatty acids into our diet, which has become heavily skewed to Omega-6. Other than making these choices, I'm not tracking how much of each I get or trying to reach a specific ratio.

I put the dressing on first and toss well. This will help the other salad elements stay mixed in better, instead of slipping to the bottom. I usually add cheese next, just a TBLS or two per serving. Parmesan or romano add a sharp flavor, crumbled cotija (a Mexican cheese that is feta-like in texture, but milder in flavor), or cheddar are all tasty and low-carb options. Fine-grated cheeses spread the flavor all over, shreds give a little more "cheesy" experience, and chunks (especially fried "grilling" cheese) stand in for croutons.

If my salad will be my entree, I add two chopped hard-boiled eggs, or other protein. My daily protein requirement is about 75g, so I target 20g or so per meal, and moderate amounts in my snacks.

The final touch is nuts or seeds. These take the place of croutons. Almonds are a great low-carb choice, and Smokehouse almonds can really wake up a salad. My favorite is roasted and salted pepitas, because they're light and crunchy.

Here are a few of my favorite combinations, all on the romaine and spinach base:

Ranch dressing, cotija cheese, and pepitas (also excellent with chopped hard boiled eggs)
Salsa, shredded cheese, and warm taco meat (or in my case, taco-seasoned fake meat "crumbles")
Lemon-herb dressing and shrimp (also great with just baby spinach, no romaine)
Caesar dressing, fried "grilling cheese", and grated Parmesan (hubby particularly likes this with chicken and crumbled bacon).

My final "bonus ingredient" for salads is capers. They add a little pop of bright, salty flavor, but be careful not to over-do. They will overwhelm everything else.




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  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

WOUBBIE 12/13/2013 7:35PM

    I agree with Elizabeth - I never cared all that much for salads before, but now they taste so good!

I've been getting organic greens and cherry tomatos at ALDI. Not too expensive for a lunch selection.

I've had a hard time with dressings, because I'm also trying to avoid soybean oil and it's just in EVERYthing. I finally hit on something I like. Plain sour cream with whatever type of seasoned salt you're in the mood for. I've used regular seasoned salt, barbecue seasoning, Old Bay, plain herbs, Italian seasoning - they were all excellent. Not too heavy, not too overbearing.

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SHEL_V2 12/13/2013 6:57PM

    Yeah, I also find it funny that low carb living has brought the salad into my life in such a big and happy way. I'd so like to hang out in your kitchen, someday, L! I'm better at eating what I'm fed than I am at pushing myself to cook more veggies here, and my family is just no fun. The dogs will share my veggies. It's the people who are crabby about it.

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NOWYOUDIDIT 12/13/2013 5:50PM

    Never liked salad until I gave up the carbs! Now- YUM!!
Great ideas! emoticon

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ICEDEMETER 12/13/2013 5:40PM

    Isn't it great that the "salad" is so incredibly versatile? You can pretty much throw in anything that you are in the mood for.

I love to add in a handful or two of shredded cabbage, shredded brussels sprouts, finely chopped cauliflower or broccoli or asparagus to add to the "greens". If I'm in the mood for a bit of a sweeter taste, then I'll chop some pickled beets, or dried figs, or roasted apple chunks. If I want something a bit more savoury, then I've been known to throw in chunks of roasted squash, turnips, parsnips, or sweet potatoes. It doesn't take a lot to really add to the flavours (not to mention the nutritional profile!).

I pretty much always make my own "dressings", too. It could be something as simple as a mix of oil and vinegar (olive oil or toasted sesame oil with balsamic or red wine or malt vinegars) with a bunch of spices, or it could be a heated mix of ricotta cheese with spices and chunks of roasted garlic and onion, or it could be a bunch of mushrooms and onions sauteed in oil and vinegar, or even some home-made olive oil mayonnaise mixed with garlic and cider vinegar and mustard.

I love that I can have the same salad cold in the summer or with heated elements in the winter and have it taste totally different.

I couldn't imagine living in a world where "salad" means iceberg lettuce, a few little chunks of tomato, and a couple of shavings of carrot, all with a processed dressing... how sad would that be?!?

And now I'm off in search of this cotija cheese (I wonder if we even have it this far north)...

Hope you and yours have a great weekend!

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