It goes without saying that there is no better time than summer to make and eat salads—cool, refreshing, requiring no heat to prepare, and light enough to keep you feeling good. Salads are particularly welcome at lunchtime in the hotter times of year, but lunch salads also present a huge challenge. Namely, the dreaded limp lettuce syndrome, combined with leaky tomato-itis, browning and pervasive sog. For my forthcoming book, Bring Your Lunch!, I tested countless systems and ingredients for lunch salads, and came up with a few hard truths. It’s easy and quick to make salads for lunch, but you do have to follow the rules. Here’s what I learned, plus an easy, lunch-friendly salad to try.
* Get your container dialed. You need a spacious, leak-proof container plus a teeny one to put in there that holds your dressing, if you are needing to dress last-minute (more on that later). I mostly avoid plastic (just in case!) and use either a lightweight stainless steel or glass container with a snap lid; for dressing I like a baby food jar or a 4-ounce canning jar.
* Keep it cold: The enemy of crispness is warmth. If you have a standard-length commute, throw your container and an ice pack into an insulated bag (there are oodles, but I love the classic/classy Gourmet Getaway Tote by Built). If it will be more than an hour, or if you don’t have a fridge at work, you’ll need a legit cooler. (How cute is this mini Playmate?!)
* Forget lettuce. If you are dressing in the morning and eating mid-day, which is greatly more convenient than transporting salad dressing, you can’t make that arugula and tomato salad with balsamic vinaigrette. It will be inedible, watery mess after 4-6 hours. What you need is a salad base that withstands–nay, welcomes–marination. Raw kale or chard, green or red cabbage (my personal favorite), mature spinach, fennel and Brussels sprouts are rather potent freshly shredded, but delightful after a few hours soaking in salad dressing. And who says it has to be leafy? Build your salad on shredded carrots, beets, shaved raw zucchini, or grains. (This farro salad from Tasting Table would make a superb gourmet lunch.) On days that you simply must have a tender pile of raddichio, baby spinach, or red-leaf, tote the dressing separately (see above). Read on… »
A few weeks ago, Lindy West wrote this hilarious story for Gawker about attempting to feed herself for three days from Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest “detoxifying” cookbook It’s All Good. In order to do so, West spent $300 on groceries–again, for three days of meals. She ate well–millet falafel and quinoa salad were the highlights–but the story reenforced what is to me a frustrating, and inaccurate, perception that in order to be “all good” à la Gwyneth, you have to shell out a C-note a day on raw cacao powder and Manuka honey. (GOOP, GP’s website, sells things like $240 bath towels and $175 napkins.) And if you can’t? Well, bring on the frozen pizza and fruit punch.
As someone who is into healthy eating, but not on a GOOP budget, this message drives me crazy. It’s true that spending in our country is lopsided–we spend too much of our budgets on health care and housing and not enough on food. (A century ago, we spent nearly a quarter of our income on groceries, now it’s just over 6%–about half as much as the Netherlands, the healthiest country on earth.) This reduction in spending on food is presented as a “good thing,” but in fact it reflects the cheapening of our diets and we are seeing the rampant health effects of that cheapening. We eat truckloads of corn syrup, subsidized corn and wheat, and mass-produced animal products, whose deflated price reflects just how poorly raised those animals were.
All of this brings to mind that old chestnut, “If you think wellness is expensive, try illness.” Irritating to hear when you’re on a tight budget, but these words are true. Thrift means thinking in the long-term, and eating a “cheap” diet now only to suffer from expensive illnesses later (requiring, say, cholesterol or blood-pressure medications, or, as the alarming global stats reflect, diabetes treatment) is not thrifty. Fortunately, you can eat both well and affordably, without morale-crushing trips to Whole Paycheck.
Here are a few ways that I’ve learned to eat a healthy-foodie’s diet on a junk-food budget. You probably have strategies of your own–post them in the comments! Read on… »
I love living in apartments–you can keep your houses with their lawn care, leaky roofs, and energy guzzling! But, there are two things about house-dwelling that I covet: the mudroom, and a big old grill. (Apartment-dwellers with patios or decks pretty much have it all.) Grilling is my favorite way to cook almost everything, whether it’s salmon or peaches or asparagus (or…squirrel). While most people associate grilling with summer, every season offers foods that improve with a bit of char (think red meat, sweet onions, bok choy, winter squash). Year-round grilling is particularly easy if you do your grilling indoors, as I’ve always done, and as all fellow apartment dwellers ought to try. All you need is a heavy cast-iron grill pan and a good ventilating hood (or an open window), and you’re in action. I’ve had a brilliant, sturdy Victoria reversible grill pan for years, which has a griddle on the flip side perfect for pancakes. But there are oodles of grill pans out there, in various colors, sizes and price points. (I love this pretty Le Creuset number, and Lodge is always a reliable choice.) Yard or no, it’s time to get grilling! Here’s a recipe to try–stovetop-grilled marinated pork chops. Serve them with kimchi and rice, and grilled carrots dressed with sesame oil and a bit of soy.
Korean Style Pork Chops
Makes 4 servings Read on… »
Bring Your Lunch!, my second book and my first cookbook (!), comes out September 9, 2014, as an e-book original from Workman Publishing. Get your copy here or anywhere e-books are sold! It includes more than 75 tasty, wallet-friendly, portable lunch dishes, from two-minute-sandwich fixins to freeze-ahead soups and entrees, snacks, sweets, and DIY condiments. Plus, comprehensive chapters on shopping with lunch in mind, and equipment that will have you toting in style. It’s a perfect companion piece to my first book, Be Thrifty (not Cheap!): How to Live Better with Less. Pick up both today!