Master Salad For Dinner Recipe
Salad For Dinner For Better Gut HealthIf you have signed up for my email newsletter, you know that I am on a mission to enhance my gut biome. I recently discovered my gut biome is less diverse than it should be and my ratio of bad to good gut microorganisms is not optimal. I suspect the same may be true for a lot of my readers and Americans in general. The culprits? Antibiotics and other frequently prescribed drugs, processed food, overconsumption of meat, alcohol, stress and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to disrupt a healthy and diverse gut biome. Why should you care about your gut biome? Emerging science is linking the gut biome to all sorts of health issues including inflammation, rheumatological disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, IBS, weight gain, allergies, liver disease and even mental health. So there is good reason to begin thinking about restoring and maintaining a healthy gut microbiota.
For some time I've suspected my gut microbiota needed a refresh, but I wasn't sure about how to go about reviving it. Through the help of a program called Zoe, I have learned that you can actually eat your way back to a healthier gut. The secret? Eat a lot more plants. Today I am sharing a master recipe for my dinner-time strategy for a healthier gut, something I have espoused for many years -- Salad For Dinner.
Note: I have no financial relationship with Zoe. I just love their service and think you may too.
So What is Salad For Dinner?Salad For Dinner is what I call a hearty salad that is diverse and sustaining enough to be a very satisfying dinner. My trick for making Salad For Dinner is to start with a large platter or shallow bowl and build a salad in layers. This recipe is designed to be a master recipe that you can use to make an infinite number of delicious and healthful salads. The focus is on lots of plants with the option of including some animal protein if you wish.
Plant Focus and DiversityThe focus of Salad For Dinner is plants -- lots of plants. Aim for at least five different kinds of plants. Vary the color of the plants you eat and you will get a wide variety of nutrients that will in turn support a wide variety of gut microbiota. When you eat Salad For Dinner on multiple nights, aim to get different types of plants into your salad each night. One of the best ways to enhance your gut biome is to eat not only a lot of plants, but a wide variety of plants.
First Layer -- GreensThe first layer is lettuce. Spread a layer of the lettuce of your choice over the platter. Use a single type of lettuce, or better yet, use multiple different lettuces. Options include:
- Butter lettuce
Second Layer -- Whole Grains and LegumesFor the second layer I like to sprinkle on some whole grains and/or legumes.
Whole GrainsWhole grains are complex carbohydrates that keep you satisfied and are an important source of fiber and other nutrients. Whole grains include all of the grain: the bran (the outside), the endosperm (the middle) and the germ (the center of the grain.) Refined grains are processed to remove the bran and the germ and with the processing a lot of important nutrition is also removed. I typically cook up a cup or two of a dried whole grain at the beginning of the week. To enhance the flavor of these grains I start by sauteing one half to a whole chopped onion in a little olive oil. When the onion is soft I add the whole grain, stir and cook it for a minute or two. Next I add either chicken or vegetable broth instead of water. Just follow the package instructions for the proper amount of liquid, as it will vary slightly by the different type of grain. One cup of dried whole grain will cook up to two or more cups depending on the grain. I keep a stash of cooked grain in the fridge so I can easily add it to my Salad For Dinner throughout the week.
.My current favorite whole grain is farro, but other whole grain options include:
- Pearl Barley
- Wheat Berries
LegumesLegumes are a great source of fiber as well as vegetarian protein. On average, legumes are 20 - 25% protein in their dried state. They are also an important source of resistant starch, which helps control blood glucose spikes and provides satiety.
Note: SNFD is an Amazon Associate and we may earn a small commission when you purchase from our links.My current favorites are French de Puy lentils or Beluga lentils. Both hold their shape and remain semi-firm after they are cooked, compared with flatter, flakier, and in my opinion, less tasty lentils. I use the same technique I do for whole grains and cook legumes with some sauteed onions in vegetable or chicken stock for added flavor. Additional options for legumes to add to your Salad For Dinner include:
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
- Soy beans
- Great White beans
- Kidney beans
- Black beans
- Lima beans
- Black-eyed peas
Roasted VegetablesFor the next layer I like to add roasted vegetables. Roasting is particularly good for firm, dense vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and beets. Roasting softens these vegetables and brings out flavor. For most vegetables I cut them into bite-sized pieces, toss them in olive oil, spread over a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast at 400 degrees for 10 - 15 minutes. Beets are the exception. For beets, I trim the greens, rinse with water and wrap in foil leaving the residual water on the beets so they steam a bit once they are wrapped. I roast the foil-wrapped beets in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 -60 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. Beets are done when they can be easily pierced with a fork. Allow to cool and then slip their skins off.
Vegetables can be roasted at the beginning of the week and then used to quickly assemble your Salad For Dinner, or you can make them the day you plan to use them. They can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. Options for roasted vegetables include:
- Green beans
- Brussels sprouts
Fresh Vegetables & FruitFor the next layer I like to add a mix of cut fresh vegetables and sometimes fruit, including:
- Finely sliced fennel (use a mandolin to get extra fine slices)
- Corn kernels (raw or grilled)
- Red onions
- Peaches & nectarines
Protein LayerThe protein layer is optional, but I personally find I like a bit of animal protein in my Salad For Dinner. For whatever reason, I feel better and definitely more satisfied when I include a little animal protein. I try to keep my quantity to 4 - 6 ounces per person served, particularly if I am serving meat, which I try to limit to a couple servings a month. If you prefer to go all in for vegetables and skip the protein consider being more generous with your legumes. You can make your life easy and use a store bought roast chicken or cook the protein yourself. You can use my method for poaching chicken, poach in advance and use it throughout the week. For thicker cuts of fish, chicken, steak or lamb I typically use a combination of searing and oven-roasting. It is easy and fool-proof, just increase the time for thicker cuts and use a thermometer to determine when the protein is done. For thinner protein cuts of 1" thick or less, I simply sear in a pan on high heat and then turn down and cook through to my desired doneness.
.Protein for Salad For Dinner can include:
- Salmon (we typically eat wild salmon at least 2 days a week)
- Other fish (halibut, Chilean sea bass, mahi mahi, cod)
- Turkey (I particularly like to use turkey thighs that I roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour)
Herbs, Nuts and SeedsAdding herbs, nuts and seeds to your Salad For Dinner is a great way to increase the diversity of plants you are consuming as well as boost the nutritional value of your meal and enhance the flavor and texture of the salad. Your options here are enormous, including:
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Poppy seeds
Flavor BoostersThere are five types of flavor boosters I use on my Salad For Dinner that can take a hom-hum salad to smack-your-lips delicious! A little goes a long way for most of these, so use mindfully.
Flavored olive oilThere are many great flavored olive oils on the market, but the brand I have used for over 10 years is Stonehouse. They have a variety of flavored oils including Persian Lime, Lisbon Lemon, Basil and my personal favorite, Hot Chili Oil that I put on everything. I simply drizzle a little of these oils over the salad to finish it off. You can use them in a dressing, but I personally like the punch I get from drizzling the flavored oil straight on to the salad.
Note: I do not have a financial arrangement with Stonehouse Olive Oil, I just love their products and think you will too.
Chili crispI recently wrote a post on Chili Crisp, highlighting several different brands. Chili crisp is simply a combination of a hot chili oil and crunchy garlic. Each brand is unique. Trader Joe's has a traditional Chili Crisp and recently added a Jalapeno Lime Chili Crisp that is amazing. I am personally a fan of S & B Crunchy Garlic. It is milder than many of the other brands in terms of heat, but it is bursting with umami flavor. I add a few teaspoons to my Salad For Dinner by spooning it over salmon, chicken, avocado or roast vegetables. A spoonful or two will rock your world.
Note: There are many chili crisps made with olive oil and a short list of straightforward ingredients. Sadly, S & B is not made with olive oil and it has a longer list of ingredients than I would prefer. Still, I make room for it as I think it is an absolute flavor bomb.
I typically use a teaspoon or two per person of chili crisp on my Salads For Dinner.
CheeseI have long been a fan of cheese, consuming it in larger and more frequent quantities than I probably should have. But the news on cheese isn't all bad when consumed in moderation. The research I have done shows moderate amounts of cheese can be beneficial and in fact helps calm inflammation, lower blood pressure, strengthen bones and teeth and provide calcium, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and a variety of minerals and vitamins. Health benefits vary with the type of cheese. Your best bet is to read the label and look for minimally processed cheese made from the milk of grass-fed cows, sheep and goats. In terms of flavor, a small amount of cheese can really enhance a Salad For Dinner. I use 1/2 - 1 ounce of cheese per person. If I am using a fresh cheese, like burrata, I will take the serving portion up to 2 + ounces.
Roasted garlicRoasting a foil-wrapped head of garlic for an hour at 350 F is a great way to add huge umami flavor to your Salads For Dinner. Slice the top of the garlic head, drizzle a little olive oil over the cut and wrap the garlic head in foil. After an hour, remove the garlic from the oven and allow to cool. Simply squeeze the soft garlic cloves over the salad, roasted vegetables or incorporate into your salad dressing.
.Use as much garlic as you like. Depending on the salad I use one head for 1 - 4 people.
Oven Roasted TomatoesOven roasted tomatoes provide intense and delicious tomato flavor even when you have so-so tomatoes to work with. Check out my post on how to roast tomatoes. When I wrote this way back when I typically used Roma tomatoes and they took about four hours to roast in a 225 F oven. Now I use smaller pearl or cocktail tomatoes and they are typically done in half the time. Whichever tomatoes you use, make up a big batch and store in the fridge to use all week long.
DressingNow that you have gone through all the effort of making a multi-layered, plant-forward, delicious salad to feed your gut biome, please promise me that you will finish the job and make your own salad dressing. Take a look at the ingredients on store bought salad dressing. They are long, often have added sugar and you likely will not be able to pronounce many of the ingredients. This is a bad sign from a nutritional standpoint. I like to make a big batch of salad dressing for the entire week. Start with a couple teaspoons of minced shallot. Add 1 part vinegar or citrus juice and whisk in 3 - 4 parts healthy oil. Season with salt and pepper. You can add a bit of mustard, honey, tahini, dried herbs or garlic if you wish. Here are some types of vinegar I recommend:
- Spanish sherry (my go-to vinegar)
- Red wine vinegar
- White wine vinegar
- Rice vinegar
- Apple cider vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar (I do recommend you mix balsamic vinegar with 50% Spanish Sherry vinegar or the dressing gets a little cloyingly sweet)
- Alternatively you can use lemon or lime juice instead of vinegar
- First press, extra virgin olive oil
- Walnut oil (you will love the aroma and taste)
- Hazelnut oil
- Avocado oil
- Sesame oil
- Sunflower oil
- Canola oil
- Flaxseed oil
Other dressing you might enjoy include my Ginger Carrot dressing, my Miso dressing and my Caesar dressing. All three can be made in large batches and used all week long. Each of these three dressings are addictively good and also healthy.
Salad For Dinner Master Recipe
Here is a simplified master recipe. You can refer back to the head notes for all the variations. Following this master recipe, you can easily create several very healthy, gut-nourishing and satisfying Salad For Dinner meals every week. Print
Master Recipe for Salad For Dinner
Salad For Dinner is a great strategy to increase your plant intake and nourish your gut biome. This recipe is meant as a guideline that will allow you to prepare healthy dinners quickly with a variety of ingredients. Stuck for ideas? Refer to the headnotes for lists of options for each main ingredient category.
Multiply this master recipe by the number of people you are serving. Prep time will be greatly reduced if you prep some or all of the ingredients in advance. With advanced planning your dinners can just be a matter of assembling the ingredients. No cooking required.
Leftovers can be used for lunch the next day or topped with an egg for breakfast.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Total Time: 15 minutes
- Yield: 1 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Cuisine: New American
- 1 – 2 cups greens
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup whole grains
- 1/4 – 3/4 legumes be more generous if you are not adding animal protein)
- 1 + cup roasted vegetables
- 4 – 6 ounces animal protein or tofu
- 1 t – 4 T flavor boosters, depending on booster
- 1 – 4 T mixture of fresh herbs, nuts and seeds
- 1 T homemade salad dressing or high quality olive oil
Arrange the ingredients on a platter in the following order:
- Roasted vegetables
- Flavor boosters
- Herbs, nuts and seeds
Drizzle with homemade salad dressing or good quality olive oil and enjoy!
Various Versions of Salad For Dinner
Chicken, Figs, Fennel , Arugula, Farro, Celery, Dill & Goat Cheese
Chicken, Spinach, Bell Pepper, Tomato, Cilantro, Beluga Lentils, Ricotta Salata
Chicken, Cauliflower, Spinach. Celery, Peaches, Blueberries & Goat Cheese
Chicken, Farro, Snap Peas, Celery, Apples & Walnuts
Grilled Zucchini, Roasted Broccoli, Tomatoes, Farro, Homemade Croutons and Caesar Dressing
How to Build Your Salad For DinnerStart with a platter and some greens. Add some whole grains or legumes. Add some fresh vegetables. Add some roasted vegetables.
Add a protein. Add your flavor boosters ane a homemade dressing or just some great olive oil. Serve and enjjoy!