The Vegan Experience

The Vegan Experience: The Importance of Hearty Make-Ahead Salads

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Note: For the 32 days between February 1st and March 4th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!

Over the course of all my vegan comings and goings, there's one motto that constantly gets repeated in my head. Always be prepared. (Any similarities to existing mottos is completely coincidental). Nowhere is this more apparent than with lunch.

I'm the kind of thoughtful, loving husband who likes to ensure that his dogs and his wife are well-fed at all times, which means checking the fridge every day before I head into the office to make sure that there's an adequate supply of ready-to-eat (or at least ready-to-heat) food to satiate them during the 8 to 12 hours I'm out. It's a purely selfish endeavor, really. I just can't stand the thought of coming home to emaciated stick-figure versions of my loved ones listlessly pulling their skin and bones along the floor, Walking Dead-style, gnawing at the edges of the table or my oh-so-non-vegan leather couch in a desperate attempt to absorb nutrients.

Hearty make-ahead salads have become a staple for me, ready to be pulled out and consumed at moments notice, whether as a hearty dish at dinner, a quick midnight snack, or a full-on lunch. If they're not the Swiss Army knife of the vegan fridge, they're at least the duct tape or rope.

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There are a few keys to making a great make-ahead salad. Here's what I always try and keep in mind:

  • Use bold flavors. A hearty salad is not a palate cleanser, not a refreshing side dish, it's a course on its own, and should be flavored as such, whether that's with a boldly flavored dressing, or with plenty of flavorful ingredients.
  • Pick ingredients that stay crunchy. Nothin' worse than mushy, wilted greens, or vegetables that have turned brown from the acid in the dressing. I use ingredients that stay bright, fresh, and crunchy even after a day or two of sitting in the fridge. Hearty greens like kale or young collards are perfect, as are crisp vegetables like jicama, lightly blanched cauliflower, or carrots. Celery makes a great flavorful crunchy element. Nuts and dried fruit make great addition as well.
  • Include at least one "star" player. I'm talking an ingredient that will take the salad and change it from a side dish into a main course. Most often, for me this is beans, whether chickpeas, white beans, or black beans. Canned, rinsed beans are totally fine in this situation.
  • Season well, let your salad rest, and drain. Salt and other dissolved solids can pull moisture out of greens and vegetables, leading to salads with a watery build-up at the bottom. This can dilute flavor and throw off your dressing and seasoning. That's why I always make sure to season a make-ahead salad extra-well, knowing that some of the extra salt will get diluted into the extracted liquid, which I then partially drain off. If I have time the day I make the salad, I'll do it then (the liquid takes about an hour to get pulled out). If not, I'll drain the salad just before I eat it the next day.

With these basics in mind, there are any number of directions you can go. Here are a couple of my favorite salad recipes: three you've maybe seen here before and a brand new one designed to take advantage of the awesome pomelos I've been seeing around this season. It combines the bittersweet pomelo with crunchy jicama and bean sprouts, along with cilantro, peanuts, fried shallots, and a sweet-and-hot Thai-style lime-based fat-free dressing. Grapefruit would work just as well if you can't find pomelo.

What about you guys? Any go-to make ahead salads in your repertoire?

Get The Recipes!

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