Do wintertime salads make you sad?
For those of us living in a four-season climate, produce can leave a lot to be desired in the winter. The cucumbers and tomatoes taste sad and flavorless, unless you are willing and able to shell out mad money on the premium greenhouse-grown versions.
One of the things that inspired Project Takeout Breakout was the salads at my favorite restaurant which serves Thai and Lao food. They taste bright and refreshing and amazing, not like diets and “clean eating” and sadness.
When I learned to make them at home, I realized that the secret is so, so simple. Not to sound like a clickbait cliche, but this one trick will transform all your salads into meals you can’t wait to eat, instead of sad reminders of the lost days of summer.
That trick is this: use a LOT of fresh herbs. Like, a lot. It may seem like way too much to a western palate, but fresh herbs can account for at least 1/4 of the total volume of vegetables. (Though you can certainly use more, or less, based on individual taste).
Many Thai and Lao salads rely heavily on scallions, cilantro, basil, and/or mint. Along with lime juice for tartness, fish sauce for saltiness, and a bit of sugar for sweetness to balance those flavors out. And hot peppers if you like them! Once I realized what made my favorite takeout salads sing, I knew I could do the same at home.
Right now, it is the middle of winter where I live. My lettuce comes from all the way across the country, instead of down the street from the local farm where I work. And yet I can still make my salads sing with plenty of fresh herbs and scallions. I’ve been doing this with all my salads, even the ones that aren’t following a southeast Asian recipe.
For salads with a Mediterranean accent, you can use basil, or parsley, mint, chives, and dill (either separately or any combination). For salads with a southeast Asian accent, you can add cilantro, basil, scallions, mint, or any of their cousins that can be found at Asian grocery stores.
The best tool to get fresh herbs in your salads quickly and easily? I use kitchen shears and snip them directly into the salad. You can use a knife and cutting board, but if you don’t feel like taking one out, kitchen shears work great.
As far as cost goes – herbs add maybe 3 to 10 dollars per week to my weekly grocery budget this time of year, depending on the quantities and varieties I buy. During the summer when I receive herbs in my CSA share and grow them in pots on my porch, that will go down a lot. For me, it is worth the extra 3-10 dollars per week in my grocery budget. I use them in many recipes, not just salads….and they make my food taste so amazing that I feel satisfied with what I make at home and don’t miss takeout, so I end up spending less money in the end.
And…. did you know that herbs are a great crop for home gardeners to grow, even if you don’t have much space? They grow well outdoors or in containers, so if you are interested in growing your own, you can save some money that way. I’ll be doing that when the weather warms up.
Now that I know this trick, I can make salads exciting, all year round. This makes it easy to enjoy eating vegetables. Try it and let me know what you think!
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