"Salad Days" was a termed coined by William Shakespeare to describe a time of youth and innocence. Today the phrase "salad days" could just as well describe the first few days on a diet since one of the first things people do when they take the plunge into the routine of a weight-loss program is to buy fresh vegetables. Armloads of leafy greens, carrots, broccoli, and bean sprouts are purchased, washed, put away and. forgotten.
"I really planned on having a salad every night with dinner," a client told me in a typical scenario, "but by the time I would get home, I was too tired to start cutting up vegetables. Yesterday I opened my vegetable bin because I needed an onion and it was full of disgusting rotting lettuce and shriveled up carrots."
Just as typical is the individual who is committed to eating a large salad sprinkled with nothing but lemon juice every night. Predictably within a week or so, eating the salad becomes more an exercise in self-discipline than enjoyment. " I used to love salads," another client told me, "but what I really loved was the avocado slices, sugar- coated pecans, chunks of goat cheese, and, of course, the salad dressing. Eating lemon juice-coated lettuce leaves does nothing for my taste buds. I am thinking of getting a rabbit so the veggies do not go to waste."
So as the diet progresses, the salad days are just a memory or a soggy mess at the bottom of the vegetable bin.
Vegetables that have to be cooked usually don't even make it home from the supermarket. We may look at the rows of raw beets, parsnips, cauliflower or gigantic bunches of leafy kale and mustard greens when we are food shopping and leave them staring back at us. We say to ourselves: "The kale looks like it comes from a rain forest; the beets will turn my hands red; parsnips look like anemic carrots. And I hated cauliflower when my mother overcooked it."
"I wish supermarkets would run a video of how to prepare some of the vegetables I see in the produce section. Each week I tell myself that I am going to cook parsnips or turnips but then I lose my nerve and end up buying only string beans, carrots or tomatoes," said a friend. I responded with my own story of going to a nearby Asian supermarket and being afraid to buy much of the produce displayed there. "The shelves are filled with dozens of items that I am sure are very nutritious and taste good but I don't know whether I am supposed to use them in a stir-fry, or soup, or steam or boil them," I told her. " I limit myself to buying vegetables I recognize from eating in Chinese restaurants. "
Here are some suggestions that might get these foods out of the supermarket and onto your dinner plates:
- Buy fresh vegetables that are ready to eat. Grape tomatoes, bagged mixtures of leafy lettuces, grated or baby carrots, cut-up cauliflower and broccoli and packaged slices of green and red peppers require only removing from plastic before eating.
- Put your salad bowl on the counter before you leave for work in the morning to remind you to eat salad when you return.
- Invest in good extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a pepper grinder and peppercorns. These are the basis of a good salad dressing that you can make faster than unscrewing a bottle of salad dressing. And the olive oil and vinegar will last for months.
- Buy or sharpen a paring knife and make sure you have a vegetable peeler. The really cheap ones without the fancy handles work best. Get a chopping board and make sure it can be cleaned easily. Now you have the tools to prepare your own salad vegetables when you are ready to move beyond buying them already prepared.
- Making salads and salad dressing is an activity easily shared with other members of the household. I remember doing this when I turned 7 or 8 and could handle a peeler and knife under supervision. Most kids are able to handle tablespoons and measuring cups and all of them love to toss a salad.
- Salad ingredients do not have to be confined to vegetables. Apples or pears sliced thin, hard-boiled eggs chopped up, and leftover chicken, ham or turkey will turn the salad from a side dish to a main dish for lunch or a light supper.
- Frozen vegetables can be steamed or prepared in the microwave. But avoid the ones that come with sauces; they are high in calories and artificial ingredients. Avoid them.
There are also flavor strategies you can try which take only seconds:
- Lemon juice. If you don't have fresh lemons, use the juice that comes in the plastic lemon. Many cooked vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, string beans, and carrots perk up with a sprinkle of lemon.
- Roast vegetables. Microwave vegetables until almost cooked and put them on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Drizzle on a little olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt and roast them in a hot oven for 5-10 minutes. You can also microwave sweet potatoes until almost cooked. Then slice and roast them. They taste better than French fries.
- Use herbs, fresh or dried, to bring taste to cooked vegetables. Fresh dill snipped over string beans, cauliflower or carrots makes them smell like crunchy pickles and fresh basil chopped over steamed vegetables gives them a gourmet touch . Try adding slivers of fresh ginger to frozen broccoli before microwaving; it makes them taste sweet.
When you have time to do more than a few minutes of vegetables cooking, consider making soups. Pureed soups are perfect for those of us who hate measuring anything when we cook. All you need is a big pot to cook whatever vegetables you want to put into the soup, along with some store-bought broth and herbs. This is particularly useful for those vegetables that may be a little too old for the salad bowl. Once everything in the pot is soft and a little cool, put it into a food processor and blend. Also:
- Add yogurt or fat-free sour cream to cold spinach, carrot, broccoli or cucumber soups. Add small pinches of curry and cayenne pepper for a different taste.
- Too little time to cook the vegetables? Try a trick I learned when I had babies. Use pureed baby vegetables. They need salt and spice but do not need a food processor.
- Buy prepared soups (low sodium are best) and add your own vegetables to the pot.
- Use a rainy Sunday afternoon to put up soups that you can freeze.
- Keep the food processor or blender handy. A gazpacho, which is a soup containing fresh tomatoes and chopped summer vegetables, can be made in minutes and is great for those overripe tomatoes you haven't gotten around to eating.
When you have lots of time to experiment with vegetables, do two things: ask friends or neighbors who know how to cook vegetables that are unfamiliar to you (like artichokes or spaghetti squash). I have a Russian neighbor who told me how to prepare beets without staining my hands red.
Go to the Web and look up recipes. There will be more than you can use. If the recipes have reviews, read them. The reviews will tell you how easy or hard the recipes are to follow and whether they are worth doing. Print out one or two that you might use immediately and follow them. Don't put them in a drawer. You will forget you have them.
If you follow some of these suggestions, your "salad days" will turn into a permanent way of eating.
Published On: May 06, 2009