Salads are one of the weakest meals known to man.
They are too “dainty.” They are best used as a side to a heartier meal. And there’s something simply, well, un-manly about them.
But there’s plenty good about them as well.
Most salads are at least 90% Real Food. It’s hard to fake all the fresh veggies and meat you find on even the salads you get from fast food joints.
But still, there’s something so… unsatisfying about salads…
Here I will reveal some secrets to making a salad that can stand on its own. A salad that is delicious to eat. One that takes very little time to prepare. And a salad that is 100% healthy.
Behold, the Epic Salad.
Why Guys Should Eat Salads
First and foremost, a salad done right is little more than fresh, unprocessed Real Food. Plants and animals. No weird “laboratory food”.
Also, salads are one of the easiest and fastest meals you can make.
In fact, it’s possible to make a tasty and healthy Epic Salad without having to touch a knife or turn on the oven.
And for these reasons it is the perfect summer meal.
The Epic Salad is healthy, tasty, and easy to make.
The Anatomy of an Epic Salad
Salads are in need of a serious PR makeover.
For too long we have seen them as low-calorie diet food. They taste like cardboard and two hours after finishing one you are starving again.
Hardly a manly meal.
But it’s time to forget all you thought you knew about salads. Here are the new rules.
A proper Epic Salad should contain the following components:
- Greens–The foundation (lettuce is the classic here).
- Plants–Raw veggies are the norm, but fruit, nuts, and even some cooked veggies are at home here.
- Animals–Cold meat is the obvious choice, but eggs and cheese fit the bill just as well.
- Dressing–This is where the flavor comes from, and where most salads go wrong (but more on that later).
The Choose Your Own Adventure Strategy
Did you ever read Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid?
They’re really great. You get to make up the story as it goes along based on the choices you make.
Epic Salads are the same way.
Unlike most recipes you’ll find, salads can and should be improvised. You don’t need to measure anything. You don’t need to time anything. You don’t even need any specific ingredients.
But I would make a couple of suggestions:
- Minimize ingredients.
- Make your dressing yourself.
One of the big failings most guys make when they learn to cook is catching the “everything virus.”
They think that their omelets have to be everything omelets. They think that their sandwiches have to be everything sandwiches… And they think their salads need to be everything salads.
But this needlessly complicates everything.
Adding a ton of ingredients is a crutch that people use when they are worried they can’t cook. By adding all these flavors and textures, you are betting that one poorly-prepared ingredient won’t ruin the dish–but you also make it boring.
If you really want to make outstanding food, challenge yourself to use as few ingredients as possible.
It will challenge you to find quality ingredients in the first place, and it will ensure that each time you make it that it will be unique.
And I’ll explain later why I think it’s crucial to make your salad dressing yourself.
Step One: The Greens
An Epic Salad should have greens as its foundation.
I’m sure you’ve had salad without greens before, and that’s great. (Potato and macaroni “salads” don’t count!)
But greens are such a great addition to any diet that it would be a shame to leave them out of the dish that they were born to be in.
Many types of greens will do the trick here. Lettuce is the classic, with green leaf, red leaf, and romaine leading the pack. (Just do yourself a favor and avoid iceberg lettuce. Yes, it’s cheap, but you’re essentially paying for flavorless crunchy water.)
You can also go the fancy-pants route and get things like field greens, spinach, and arugula.
The greens you want to avoid are dark ones such as kale and collards. These bitter greens require cooking before they are really edible. And that kinda defeats the purpose of having a quick salad!
I should also add here that prepackaged washed greens get the TGCC Seal of Approval. You end up spending a bit more money than if you’d by the greens in bulk and prepared them yourself, but the quality of bagged greens these days is generally pretty good.
But if you want to save a little cash, here’s how you can prepare the greens yourself.
First, fill up the kitchen sink with water. (Make sure it’s clean!)
Then, lay out a towel. Fold it if necessary for space. You can use hand towels or paper towels as well. You just want to make sure you have enough to absorb all the water from the lettuce.
Tear the leaves off the head of lettuce and throw them in the sink. Shake the leaves underwater for a few seconds to get rid of any dirt.
Now take the leaves out of the sink, tear them up into bite-size pieces, and spread out in a thin layer on the towel.
Then roll the towel up tightly and squeeze to get out the last of the moisture.
If you are going to use all the lettuce in a couple days, you can just keep the towel roll in the fridge, taking out leaves as you need them.
It’s a pretty weird technique, but I’ve found it to be the fastest way to prep lettuce when I’m eating lots of salad.
Step Two: The Plants
While greens are the foundation of any good Epic Salad, the other plants you add really give it personality.
With all the different tastes, textures, and colors in the plant kingdom, you’re sure to find something that you’ll enjoy.
The most obvious choices for salads are the veggies you can eat raw. Salads are inherently good summer meals and anything you can do to keep prep easy is optimal.
Here’s some good additions:
- Sliced Onion
This isn’t to say that your veggies MUST be raw. Leftovers can work here as well:
- Green beans
- Pea pods
Additionally, fruit and nuts are good additions that are often neglected:
- Dried cranberries
Like bagged lettuce, there’s a pretty good selection of cut-up fresh veggies at most supermarkets. These are generally pretty good, so feel free to use them if you’d like. Nuts and dried fruit are likewise ready to go out of the package.
But don’t think you’re stuck with the stuff that’s already prepared. A few basic knife skills such as peeling and slicing will ensure that you can throw any veggie you can find into your salads.
The possibilities for fruits, veggies, and nuts in your Epic Salad are virtually endless. Stick with just a couple selections and you’ll have a unique and tasty meal every time.
Step Three: The Animals
Don’t get me wrong, fruits and veggies are great. But you can rarely make a full meal out of them.
That’s where the animals come in.
Meat, eggs, and cheese are what truly make the Epic Salad live up to its name. They are filling, nutritious, and flavorful.
I like to grill up some steak or chicken on the weekends that I can cut up and use for salads all week long.
Another good ingredient is cheese. I’ve found that blue cheese works best in salad, but feel free to knock yourself out with whatever you have on hand.
Like veggies, you can often find lots of pre-prepared meat in the grocery store that is of pretty decent quality. From lunch meat to chunks of chicken, you have easy options if you don’t have any leftover ribeye on hand.
The one thing you want to avoid is any meat with added flavorings or sauce. Check out the ingredients list. Most commercial flavorings are mostly sugar and seed oil. And you’ll get a much tastier sauce in the next section…
Step Four: The Dressing
Most people think that salads are one of the healthiest options when eating out.
And that’s true, except for one problem: most pre-made salad dressing is god-awful.
Sure, it might taste good, but commercial salad dressings are often little more than insulin-spiking sugar mixed with inflammation-causing seed oils.
If you’ve done so well with the fresh veggies and meat in your salad so far, why sabotage the whole thing with some crummy salad dressing?
The Epic Salad can be lightning quick to prepare. You can use bagged lettuce. You can throw in pre-cut veggies. You can even use ready-to-eat meat.
But you should always make the dressing yourself.
By making your own salad dressing, you make sure that:
- You aren’t adding a whole bunch of extra sugar.
- You are using healthy oils rather than cheap and unhealthy ones.
It’s rare to find dressings that meet these criteria at the supermarket and even at sit-down restaurants. So here’s your chance to really make your salads healthy.
But don’t bail just yet. Making healthy salad dressing is as easy as counting to 3.
All you really need to remember is 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar.
To make the best salad dressing you need only five ingredients:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (An essential component of every kitchen.)
- Vinegar (Something decent, like wine, balsamic, or apple cider vinegar.)
- Dijon mustard (Another must-have. It beats the pants off of regular yellow mustard.)
The basic recipe for this dressing is as follows:
- Add vinegar.
- Add three times as much olive oil.
- Add a small spoonful of dijon mustard.
- Add some salt and pepper.
I make up all my sauces in 2 cup mason jars. They’re cheap, available everywhere, and they have measurement lines to give you a quick idea of how much you are adding.
Also, the oil and vinegar will separate out after a few minutes. Don’t worry, this is normal. Just shake it up each time before you add it to your salad.
If you’d like to change things up here, you can try adding some minced garlic or shallot. (A shallot is like a baby onion. Most supermarkets carry them.)
You could also try out adding some fresh herbs like parsley, dill, or oregano.
The dressing is where most salads stop being healthy. By following this simple recipe, you’ll always have a better alternative available.
Mastering the Epic Salad
Salads have the reputation of being healthy food, but using homemade dressing and adding animal products will make it truly epic.
And Epic Salads are one of my go-to meals during the summer when I’m looking to take advantage of all the fresh produce available and don’t want to heat up my house.
The prep is easy, it’s flexible, and it doesn’t require any measuring.
You can use the meat and veggies you like, you can make a healthier salad than you can find at a restaurant, and you can make it a real meal–you’ll feel full for many hours afterwards.
You can prep everything ahead of time in batches to keep the time you spend in the kitchen at a minimum.
It’s the ideal lunch–you can toss everything in a big bowl and take it with you to work.
Learning how to make an Epic Salad is one of the most important skills you can learn in the kitchen.
Don’t let it pass you by.