Hello from my dark hostel room located somewhere in the Iceland countryside! My sister and I arrived this morning and after a full day of on/off sleeping in the car, floating in a hot spring on pool noodles, and splayed out on soft Icelandic grass, I am officially jet-lagged. So, while I wait for sleep to wonderfully overtake me again, I will write to you on a topic more light-hearted than usual: salad toppings.
July was my month of detox. The first day I had to tell people that sorry I couldn’t eat the delicious naan pizza they had cooked for lunch, I was met with a quizzical, “Do you mean you’re on a diet?” Not a diet, I replied between crunchy mouthfuls of bok choy, because a diet is about losing weight and a detox is about feeling well. They may look the same on the outside (i.e. munching tasteless bok choy you’ve packed for yourself in a little Tupperware), but are fundamentally different in intention.
I could end the month without having a lost an ounce, but if I feel like my body has been restored to how it should be, I would count it a success. A diet, on the other hand, could consist of drinking black coffee and taking appetite suppressants, until you are stick-thin but quite unhealthy.
I would try to stay on fruits and vegetables for the month, I told myself. This restriction expanded over the course of the month (carrot cake muffins have vegetables in them right??). More on that later.
But I did start out the first few days packing leaves of bok choy and an incredibly bitter Japanese salad green called misuna. This selection of nutrition only left me feeling absolutely exhausted, however, and little patience at the end of the day. Not exactly the picture of full health.
The game-changer for me was one afternoon when I was definitely not going to finish out the day with the meagre amount of vegetables I had packed for the day and stumbled into a Mandy’s, where I ticked off boxes for a make-your-own gourmet salad that turned out to cost a whopping $18.
Yet, as I savoured the fresh mozzarella, grilled bacon bits and honeyed cashews, and felt my strength return, my thought was – I can totally make this at home! I could be strong, have fun and exercise my creativity while still detoxing! What a revelation.
The next three weeks were spent experimenting with ways of cooking vegetables, combining cheeses, whipping up dressings so that I looked forward to each gourmet salad I had packed myself for lunch. Curiously, what I discovered through the detox, was that my desires began to change. What I craved now was the crunchiness of my home-roasted curry cashew mix, the sweetness of a beet slowly caramelized, the soft tanginess of goat cheese.
For those of you who thought salads were boring, you are about to be proven wrong. This was the short-list of my favourite salad ingredients and dressings:
Top Salad Ingredients
I’ve written before on how I’ve grown to be generous with myself and splurge on avocados. Indeed, I still don’t get over the way the knife slices into ripe flesh and the halves twist cleanly apart to reveal the walnut brown against a smooth pale green canvas.
I blend them into my banana-blueberry-kale-flax for added creaminess. I also whipped up an extremely improvised guacamole with mashed avocados, a squeeze of lemon juice, chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of paprika, salt and pepper.
Avocados are extremely versatile – did you know they can be used in brownies and ice cream as a vegan twist? Bottom line: I love avocados and would gladly pay the exorbitant price for them, although finding them on sale also makes me supremely happy.
I had bought a ton of black beans for the Mexican lady at the coop to make burritos with. In trying to be helpful, I pre-cooked them in my slow cooker, only for her to tell me that she had her own beans and that I could keep the ones I had.
Faced now with six large mason jars full of cooked beans, I had to concoct some creative way to incorporate them into my meals. My first attempt was a black bean hummus.
My second was a black bean quinoa patty, which ended up quite tasty. I stayed up one night flipping black bean burgers to no end (I ended up with something like 30 burgers), but later thanked myself when adding two patties to my salad became a quick, no-think way to “beef up” (in the most vegan way possible) my salad.
Anyone who is vegan/vegetarian knows that tofu, along with beans and nuts, are your source of protein. With some extra-firm tofu, I made up this honey-sesame-miso tofu, consisting of a scoop of miso dissolved in several splashes of soy sauce, a drizzle of honey and sesame oil. Coating the tofu in this glaze, I then baked it for 30 min or so. Yum.
If you want a hearty salad, this is the way to go. How my mom always cooked them was by coating the squash in an olive oil-herb mix and roasting in the oven for 45 min – 1 hour. I did my sweet potatoes that way the first time, but the second time around, I experimented with caramelization. I will never look back.
They emerge from the oven with a sheen of glaze, the deep red now shiny instead of dull. The light touch of honey only enhances the beet’s inherent sweetness (did you know beets could taste this good??)
I improvised my caramelization recipe, but if you would like one, here it is.
Speaking of caramelization, sweet nuts have to be one of my favorite snacks. I had asked Sandra to pick up a bag of bulk cashews from Costco but they came to me raw, soft and tasteless (not exactly how I like it).
So, I spent another full night roasting cashews (as you can see, food prep was largely how I spent my nights :P). I made two recipes – one was a savoury, spicy flavour, the other a dark, caramelized one.
I stored them in tightly-closed mason jars, and ate them as a snack or sprinkled as a salad topping. The cashews lasted me the whole month, and I currently still have the last remnants of them sitting in a clear Ziploc in my travel bag (they tided me over the WOW flight over where they serve you absolutely no food – you even have to pay for your blanket!!! anyways.)
Before this detox, I had never bought goat cheese. But then, I came across this recipe for a caramelized beet, squash, cashew salad with goat cheese. It felt so extravagant to buy this tiny tube of squeezable cheese for $6. But, then again, it wasn’t like I was going to learn how to make goat cheese, so buying the tube it was.
I felt my salads just step up to a whole new level when I squeezed my dollops of goat cheese on it. I later experimented with other kinds of gourmet cheese – specifically bocconcini – which melted beautifully into my salad when I poured my warm vinaigrette on it (recipe to follow under wilted spinach salad). But seriously, cheese is such a game-changer.
OK, this didn’t go in my salad, but I usually started (and ended) each day of my detox with a couple swigs of fridge-fresh kombucha.
I had fun trying out fermenting various summer flavours: raspberry/lime/basil, as well as hibiscus/lavender/lemon were some of my favs.
So, at Mandy’s, I discovered the Green Goddess – a tangy sour cream-based dressing with a lot of herbs. I tried to recreate it at home (with everything save the anchovy fillets) and had it over my salads for practically half the month. It was that good.
My first phase of salads looked like a base of spring vegetable mix, topped with the miso tofu, black bean quinoa patties, guacamole, roasted sweet potato, and hard-boiled egg paired with this dressing. The bean patties soaked up the dressing, which added to their deliciousness.
My second phase of salads was sparked by the beet, cashew, goat cheese recipe. It came with this maple-balsamic dressing which nicely complemented the sweet-tangy combination of the salad.
Growing up, one of my favorite things my mom would make was this wilted spinach salad. She would caramelize onions and mushrooms in the sugary red wine vinegar until they melted together in wilted goodness. Then, still warm from the pan, she would pour it over the spinach and sprinkle with bacon bits and hard-boiled egg.
As we neared the end of my month, the memories of the only salad I really liked as a child inspired me to try my hand at it. Of course, I added some of my own twists, like the bocconcini which melted under the warm dressing (more of that melted goodness!!).
And those are my recommendations, friends! If you were to ask me how my month was, what you just read I think quite aptly summarizes a large part of where my head space has been.
Back to that carrot cake muffin, though.
I think words like ‘salad’ and ‘detoxification’ easily conjure up emotions like fear, guilt, shame. We feel guilty for not wanting to give up our cravings for sugar and carbs. We don’t want our freedom to be restricted.
Let me throw something crazy out there: what if you don’t actually crave the carbs? What if your body actually craved the beets, cashews and goat cheese, but you just didn’t know it yet?
I believe a large reason why I was able to stick with the detox the whole month was because I made it more about paying attention to what I desired, more than suppressing what I desired.
So, eating the wilted spinach salad and registering how it felt in my body. Did I feel energized, satisfied? Did I experience joy while eating it?
And while I said at the beginning that my desires changed during the detox, it was more that I discovered what I really did desire. I desired to feel strong, clean, well.
What this also meant was that sometimes on a Saturday, I did really want a carrot cake muffin with a mocha while chilling at a cafe. And so, yes, I did get it.
You gasp. How can it be called a detox if you ate a MUFFIN?? OK, calm down, you nit-pickers. 😉
So, I ate the muffin, but then paying attention to how I felt after the muffin made me realize that the salads were in fact more satisfying to my desires. And so, the next day, I would go back to the salads. I actually wanted it.
My hypothesis is in fact that this principle applies to many things in life. As in, we may not actually desire the myriad of things we tell ourselves we need, but it’s a desire more rehearsed from habit than true longing.
So then, inculcating new habits is simply an exercise of asking ourselves – do I really want this?
Sorry if this became more philosophical than I had intended. I really just wanted to say that salads are awesome and hopefully I’ve inspired you to be more creative with yours.
And that unless there are more episodes of jet lag (fingers crossed), I will probably not be posting much this month, as I aim to be more present with my family during this vacation. Until next time!