Building Your “Tasting Muscles”–and Putting Them to Good Use

Fast Food Hamburger Picture

Fascination with fast foods has led to more than flabby abs. Homogenized flavors have left our tasting muscles flabby, too.

The ill consequences of our couch potato culture aren’t limited to flabby abs and saggy triceps.  All the homogenized foods that comprise the bulk of our diet have gradually eroded our “tasting muscles,” too.

Never knew you had tasting muscles?  You’re not alone. I am just now discovering them from several pieces of evidence that have come my way.

  • First, I made a couple recipes that I developed a couple years ago.  I distinctly remember liking them at the time, but was disappointed in their lack of flavor when I revisited them.   Seems my tasting muscles had grown to desire more and fuller flavors.
  • Next came a wardrobe makeover.  Seems totally unrelated but hear me out:  My first exercise was holding up each item in my wardrobe to see if it was complimentary or not.  After the first few tries I was completely frustrated.  “Why can’t I tell the difference between complimentary and awful?” I complained to my personal “closet transformation” expert.  “Be patient,” she told me.  “Over time you build the ‘muscle’ to distinguish between the two.”  Sure enough, over a year or so, I developed the ability to see how her color choices were just right for me, and why my former black and white wardrobe was all wrong (even if it was convenient.)
  • The final piece of the taste puzzle came from our Whole Kitchen Meal Making Classes over the last year.  We do a lot of tasting and evaluating in those classes.  We taste dishes with a little spice and more spice, we taste vegetables cooked al dente and on the softer side, we taste with and without a sprinkling of  lemon, and we taste dishes that could use a little work and decide what to do with them.  While these exercises are very empowering for class members, they also reveal how we often lack the skill–or muscle–to wield this newfound power.

Piecing together these pieces of evidence has led me to a theory:  Could we have been spoon fed processed and prepared foods for so long that we’ve lost the ability to discern tastes, know which ones we like, and play with them to suit us?

One of the “greatest” food innovations in the last few decades has been the ability to homogenize foods across vast regions, so you can experience the same Big Mac flavor whether you are in Paris, Beijing or Denver.  While eliminating all risk from a food outing has some advantages, there are plenty of disadvantages, too,  like being unable to savor the magnificent array of tastes that lie outside the narrow, “processed foods bandwidth.”

But why bother training and building our tasting muscles to savor the flavors of the rainbow if we can just be spoon fed processed and packaged foods?  Because, simply put, those processed and packaged foods are killing us!  And we all know those sugar-laden yogurt cups, energy (a/k/a candy) bars, diet sodas and frozen meals are wreaking havoc on our bodies!

Not only do we know this, most of us would love to replace those havoc-wreaking foods with vegetable-rich meals filled with whole grains, nuts, beans and lean proteins.  That can’t happen, however, as long as we’re slaves to our flabby tasting muscles.    Having been stunted and malformed by a homogenized diet, those muscles won’t allow us to venture forth and relish and be happy with the taste of real, wholesome, healthful foods.

Sure we could go on a “diet,” forcing ourselves to eat just salads, dried out chicken breasts and toast with half a teaspoon of butter.  That route is no fun at all, however, which explains why “diets” routinely fail.  Who wants to live in a way that isn’t deeply pleasurable?

Alternatively, we could develop our tasting muscles to delight in the goodness and taste of real foods.  Trust me, there is a miracle waiting to be experienced here.   Local, seasonal foods  produced with care are magnificent–if your tasting muscles have been let loose to love them.  Learn what flavors make you feel good and how to apply those flavors in ways that make you feel deeply satisfied and happy with a meal.  Very quickly, you’ll no longer want the security of bland, homogenized, processed foods.  Instead you’ll want all the pizzazz and rewards of adventurous–and far more healthful–real foods meals.

Want to begin developing your tasting muscles?  Ready to begin challenging your taste buds with new, pleasurable flavors?  Join any of our cooking classes or demos and open the door to a lifelong tasting adventure and all its delicious rewards.

Take It From the Expert

Heart Box of Strawberries

“[Our] fast-paced, fast-food, fast-exercise lifestyle closes a doorway of perception that decreases our pleasure threshold.  We become acclimated to low-health, low-pleasure, mass-produced food.  Our pleasure vocabulary decreases and we live, unaware, in a world in which our experience of joy never measures up to its true potential.”

Marc David, The Slow Down Diet, Eating for Pleasure, Energy, & Weight Loss

Marc is a nutritionist and eating psychologist who has researched and written extensively on the possibility of pleasure in eating to transform and improve metabolism.  Listen to my interview with Marc on the importance of Vitamin P(pleasure) in our diet.

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Diet Season Is Coming! Plan Now for After the Diet

Does that title sound like negative, defeatist thinking or what?  Let’s just call it factual.

Pic of Day Planner

Just like planning for a successful day, plan for success after the diet is over.

By definition, a “diet” is an interlude of eating differently than normal, and at some point, that interlude has to end.  Since we know that’s the ending to every diet story, why not plan for a good exit strategy?  What will eating look like for the rest of your life, once your diet interlude is over?

Take Luann.  She faithfully attended a commercial exercise and eating program for 12 weeks and came close to achieving an ideal weight.  As her program was winding down, she had the good sense to see a dietitian to set up a long-term healthy-weight eating protocol.  But then she faced the most challenging job of all:  making meals that fit those healthy eating guidelines, morning, noon and night, day after day, seven days a week, month after month and year after year–without getting bored silly or stressed to insanity.

You might find yourself in exactly this position two short months from now:  The holidays will be over, New Year’s resolution will have been made and you will have faithfully stuck to a diet for a few weeks.  Now what?  Default and stumble into defeat or gracefully execute the exit strategy?

Why not plan ahead for this fairly inevitable point in time, probably around January 31, when you’ll be tired of dieting, the rest of the year will be looming and you can’t bear the thought of eating any more turkey breast salads.  You’ll look with satisfaction at your weight loss, but then wonder, maybe with a little trepidation, “How can I do healthful eating for the next month, the next six months, the next year?”

Here’s how you do it:  You head to the kitchen, have fun, and eat lusciously!  “What?!” you say.  How can the kitchen be a place for fun, much less healthy meals that are luscious, and all for the long term?

Despite what every fast food ad would like you to believe, the kitchen can absolutely be fun when it’s not an annoying obstacle course but is instead set up for smooth meal making, with interesting recipes and new flavors.  And healthy eating can be completely luscious when you are familiar with  healthful foods and have the building block cooking skills to transform them, easily and confidently, into delightfully delicious meals.

Here’s the best news.  You don’t have to figure how to do this on your own.  Join one of our upcoming Whole Kitchen classes.  Learn an entirely manageable system for putting together wholesome meals, day in and day out, naturally and easily.  Don’t just dream about deliciously healthful meals–find out how to make them show up on your dinner table.  Have the support of others, from beginners to advanced cooks, all journeying to the land of Everyday Good Eating.  Find out how fun, engaging and exciting the world of real foods can be.

Monday, November 29:  Healthy Holiday Cooking and Eating

Starting in Early January:  New Sessions of Whole Kitchen Cooking Classes (just in time to get prepared for after the diet)

Women, Weight and Protein

Canned Chicken to the Rescue!

Did you know there’s a connection between what’s in your pantry and what’s on your thighs?  It’s true, so pay attention to this often overlooked part of the kitchen–not only to what’s there, but also to what’s not there–like high-quality canned chicken that can stave off a hunger attack in a hurry.

Weight loss is a perpetual issue among us, sadly.  Eating loses so much of its fun when accompanied by worries about weight.  So can I share a trick that helped me break out of the

I just discovered Shelton's brand but assume it will be good, as I've always been impressed by their products.

perpetual eating cycle that was threatening to turn me into a weight worrier?

Protein Balance It’s nothing new and it’s very simple, as with everything else about healthy weight eating.  And I know it works.  Just yesterday, I was on the road and had breakfast at a Whole Foods:  roasted veggies, roasted beets and yummy chicken curry salad.  I was amazed when lunchtime rolled around and I hadn’t even registered a blip on the hunger meter.

So if it’s simple and effective, what’s the catch?  As always, implementation.  For me, carbs like bread, cereal, tortillas, bagels, muffins, pretzels, chips and crackers were always easy things to have on hand.  And they were easy to grab quickly to stave off hunger.  Proteins, on the other hand, were far more problematic.  I cooked animal protein only rarely, and it was rarer still that I had any leftovers.  Plus, animal proteins have to be refrigerated, are messier to eat, and just didn’t hold the satisfying appeal of, say, a muffin.

Pantry Stockers for Healthy Weight Meal Making So it was with delight that I discovered canned chicken, but not the miserable, indescribable stuff swimming in salt water that’s sold at drug stores.  No, a can of Valley Fresh Organic Chicken is packed with clearly identifiable, very moist pieces of breast meat in a tasty broth (which can be used as a cooking element of its own as explained in the Bits and Pieces article.)  Would I serve canned chicken as a main dish for dinner?  Of course not.  But is it perfect for adding a hit or protein to a salad I’m throwing together for lunch?  You bet, and here’s a recipe where I used it:  Green Salad with Chicken plus Fresh Fruit and Herb Dressing.

Now, About the Cost. Valley Fresh is more expensive than vapid drug store chicken because of a time-honored principle we all know:  “You get what you pay for.”   Pay $1.79 and you get barely a serving of chicken that tastes like nothing, is mostly water and grosses you out.  Or pay $3.69 and get a can of chicken that makes two, really tasty protein servings and is not contributing to environmental degradation.  Make it even cheaper with a 10% case discount at Vitamin Cottage–and then you always have something on hand that can turn off the perpetual hunger machine–and help you return to a place of eating joy.

Learn more about how to stock the pantry to make healthy weight meal making easy in the Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Meal Making.

Hooray! You’re Not Stuck with the Taste Buds You Got

Transforming Our Taste Buds from Foe to Friend

In the battle against the bulge, the tiny taste bud is a formidable foe.  Just look at the defeats it drives us to:  right past the salad bar and into the fast food lane, straight to the cream-laden pasta dishes in the buffet line, and directly to the vending machine when the afternoon begins to yawn.  Face it, we’d all be skinny as rails if we could just muscle these tiny despots into submission.

So it seems appropriate to give some consideration to the thousands of little organs on an average tongue that seem to wield such outsized control over our eating decisions.  Despite the feeling that we are forever enslaved to their despotic whims, can I suggest a more hopeful view:  We’re not stuck with our taste buds.  It is entirely possible to reform them into allies who support, and even encourage, healthy eating choices.

My Story I came to this hopeful viewpoint after seeing delightful results in my life.  For many years, I was a donut junkie.  In my old law office a huge box of donuts and pastries would be delivered every Friday.  I couldn’t resist having a donut.  And a croissant.  And then another croissant.  Yes, I was a pastry pig, and I was no better than a bear in sight of honey when the donut box came in the door.

My pastry pig days ended abruptly, however, after my two children developed food sensitivities and we had to adopt a wheat-free, dairy-free diet.  So ended a diet comprised of mostly bread and cheese products.  It got replaced with a dazzling array of other tastes and flavors from  vegetables, fruits, nuts, meats, alternative grains and beans.

I don’t know the exact point at which it happened, but I distinctly remember a day, about two years into this new diet, when I drove by a donut shop and wasn’t tempted in the least.  How could that be, I wondered, remembering my helpless donut days at the office.

That’s when it dawned on me:  My tastes had changed!  What a powerfully, freeing realization that was.  Even better was the fact that I hadn’t even tried to change them.  By just focusing on the foods that supported our health, my taste buds changed, becoming an ally that supported my choices.  In the years since, several other developments have confirmed my hopeful hypothesis on the malleability of our taste buds.

Nutritionists Are Noticing Too For instance, over the past few years, I’ve begun seeing articles that document other encouraging stories of taste bud reform.  In fact, a recent article acknowledged that “[i]t really is possible to develop a taste for healthy foods you’ve avoided for years, nutritionists say.”  The article then suggested several ways to tweak your taste buds, from taking things slow and adopting an adventurous attitude to building on familiar flavors and avoiding over- or under-cooking.  (Alison Johnson for The Daily Press, reprinted in the Daily Camera, April 7, 2010.)

Strength Training for Taste Buds Soon after my donut revelation, I read Strong Women Stay Young by Mariam E. Nelson, Ph.D., which documented the importance (and benefits) of strength training.  Dr. Nelson explained facts that are now common knowledge, i.e., “[m]uscle cells atrophy if they aren’t used,” and weight lifting reverses that process by using and stressing muscles instead of leaving them sedentary. (p. 28)

This process seemed like a good way to explain what had happened to my taste buds.  Over the years, as my life became busier, my diet shifted increasingly to bread and cheese products since they were fast, easy and transportable.  Eating such a limited range of foods, however, was comparable to leading a sedentary life.  Because they weren’t challenged, my taste buds sank to the lowest level, appreciating and craving only the most elementary flavors and foods.  Not until I began stressing them with more complex flavors did they regain their robustness and sophistication.  Eventually, I no longer wanted “baby foods,” whose cheap sugar and salt deliver an immediate pleasure jolt but not long lasting satisfaction.  Instead I craved full-bodied foods with deep, rich, rewarding flavor.

Ayurveda and the Six Tastes Ayurveda, a five-thousand-year-old medical healing system from India, contributed yet another perspective that explains how my taste buds became an ally on the healthy eating journey.  I was introduced to this system through Jennifer Workman’s Stop Your Cravings, which explained the Ayurvedic theory of the Six Tastes.  According to this theory, foods are sweet, sour, salty, astringent, pungent or bitter.  When foods are combined so that all six of these tastes are present and balanced in a dish or meal, we will experience complete satisfaction.

My donut days represented the exact opposite of Six Taste balance.  By settling for a diet based on just bread and cheese, I not only stunted my taste buds’ development, I starved them of satisfaction, too!  That’s why I couldn’t stop eating donuts and pastries, because my taste buds were craving full satisfaction, not just a temporary sugar high.

Neuroplasticity Most recently, I’ve been reading and hearing about this fascinating development in brain science.  The idea is that the brain is malleable like plastic, even after childhood.  So it’s possible, even as we age, to “rewire” our brain circuits with targeted training.  The theory offers hope that we can address limitations that are seemingly beyond our control.  For instance, a friend is creating a documentary about a woman, paralyzed in a car accident, who has regained sensation in and movement of, her paralyzed limbs.  Another friend with MS can raise her arm high above her head, a feat that was supposedly medically impossible.

Maybe, in a similar vein, neuroplasticity can serve as a metaphor for taste bud reform, offering hope that seemingly intractable taste buds can be remolded in our favor. There is certainly a lot of neural circuitry involved in tasting, as messages are relayed back and forth between taste buds and brain.  So it’s not unthinkable that deliberately exposing taste buds to an ever-broadening array of tastes could rewire the brain to like and crave an ever-broadening array of foods.

The Bottom Line I’m seeing that there are a number of ways to imagine the process of transforming our taste buds.  Regardless of the imagery you use, however, the end result is a happy one:  We’re not stuck with the taste buds we have.  Have hope:  They can be transformed into friendly allies on the healthy eating journey.

Next Up:  Practical tips for setting taste bud reform into motion.

What Makes Whole Grains So Hard to Eat?

. . . and Why Is It So Hard Saying Good-Bye to White?

I’ve been noticing a strange thing:  Magazines and cookbooks in the “health” category frequently feature recipes calling for refined white grains rather than whole grains.

Here’s an example from just last week.  A well-known health magazine has four cooking features.  In three of the four, the carb of choice is a white one:

  • “Banana Walnut Muffins” sound pretty healthy but they’re made with all white flour and sugar.
  • There’s a section on using won ton wrappers.  Clever, but won ton wrappers’ main ingredient is white flour.
  • And then there’s a quick-cook dish made with pearled barley, another refined grain.  At least it’s more nutritious than most refined grains but the fact remains that whole barley can be cooked with no greater time investment by using a slow cooker.

Why this half-hearted embrace of whole grains?  Eating quality grains is no less than one of the four main pillars of healthy eating.  How can it be so routinely ignored?

It’s not like we don’t need help getting whole grains into our diets.  Women aged 31-50 would need to increase whole grain consumption by over 250% and decrease refined grain consumption by 50% to meet the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for whole grains, which only require that three of our six daily grain servings be whole.  (Men have even more work to do!)

In real life, these statistics play out like this:  A super fit body builder buys boxes of white flour crackers at Costco, even though she is a model of healthy eating in every other way.  An energetic mom serves her family only lean beef, chicken and fish but rounds out the weekly meal lineup with a couple big white pasta dishes.  Or a trim 50-something guy likes to go light at night, so he orders a virtuous vegetarian sandwich–on a white baguette.

What makes it so darn hard to eat whole grains?  It’s not like we’re being asked to eat alien-sounding stuff like kohlrabi, kale or rutabegas.  Nor are we being asked to stop eating carbs altogether.  We’re simply being asked to eat whole grain versions of our white favorites.

Here are some theories about what makes the whole grain shift so challenging:

  1. Lack of Knowledge? Maybe we don’t know that there is such a thing as whole grains and that they are nutritionally superior to refined grains.  Maybe we never knew that things like tortillas, hamburger buns, cakes and French toast are all grain products that can be made from whole grains.
  2. Confusion? Maybe we don’t know where to look for whole grain products.  Maybe we don’t know how to tell if a product is whole grain or not.
  3. Taste: Maybe we’re afraid of what whole grains taste like (which might be warranted if your first exposure was whole wheat lasagna ten years ago; it resembled lead in many ways.)
  4. Uncertainty? Maybe we don’t know how to use whole grains.  Can you just substitute whole wheat flour for white in your favorite muffins?  What kind of whole grain noodles would taste good with pesto sauce?
  5. Comfort Or could our whole grain reluctance come simply from a deep, underlying sense that whole grains just don’t cut it when it comes to comfort?

While all five theories are helpful, to my mind, the comfort one gets to the real heart of the problem.   Think about it:  White foods and comfort go together like grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s Tomato Soup.  The star of every birthday party:  A white flour cake.  The highlight of practically every great kid get-together:  Hot, fragrant, white flour pizza.  The sure fire remedy for all that ails:  Chicken noodle soup or mac ‘n cheese, your choice.

Searching back through my fondest childhood memories, I invariably melt into visions of the fluffy white pancakes my mother made us every Friday morning before school.  No doubt most of us would find many of our fondest memories inextricably wrapped in white stuff, from Thanksgiving pumpkin pies, Christmas strudels and the Sabbath’s challah to graduation cakes, wedding cakes and mom’s lasagna.

So it’s no surprise when some health nut wants to put your grandma’s marinara on whole wheat noodles and you reply, “No way!”  My Jewish neighbor put it this way when asked about whole wheat challah.  “It can be done,” she said, “but . . . well, you know. . . .”  I think we probably all know that it’s tough to wedge whole wheat into our comforting food memories.

Mess with comfort foods and memories and you mess in dangerous territory.

If there’s truth in this theory, then it might not matter whether we know the importance of whole grains, or feel perfectly knowledgeable about where to buy whole wheat flour and how to use it.  Our desire for comfort is going to trump any whole grain virtue we can muster.

What do you think?  Do you struggle to get three out of six whole grain servings each day?  Have you thought about what makes it so challenging?  Share your ideas and I’ll share them in the next newsletter.

Summer Refreshment: Cure for the Mid-Afternoon Doldrums

Make Iced Green Tea

It’s 3:00.  The vending machine is calling, or maybe the doughnuts left over in the break room.  You know it’s suicidal to indulge those cravings, but work is so boring and you’re so tired and . . .

Here’s an alternative.  Maybe more than sugar and calories, you need refreshment—as in something cool, revitalizing and calming, like Iced Green Tea.

Pomegranate ice cubes in the foreground; Lemon balm sprigs to the side; my lovely rosebush in the background

Pomegranate ice cubes in the foreground; Lemon balm sprigs to the side; my lovely rosebush in the background

Years ago, a good friend told me about the surprisingly satisfying taste of green iced tea, but I just couldn’t get excited about it.  Green tea seemed bland enough when hot; I could only imagine what a cold cup might taste like.

Things changed a couple weeks ago when I ran across a new decaf green:  Whole Foods’ Green Tea with Lemon Myrtle.  Admittedly, it was the price tag that drew me in.  While most teas now run $3.00 to $4.00 for a 20-count box, this one had 40 bags for $4.00—and it was organic to boot.  Remembering the crush of heat that waited outside the air conditioned grocery store, I decided it was finally time to try iced green tea.  Now I’m hooked.

Ayurvedic Balance There may be a good reason iced green tea is just the ticket for me on a hot day.  According to the Ayurvedic thought system, I’m primarily a “Pitta” gal.  As Jennifer Workman, Ayurvedic practitioner and author of Stop Your Cravings explains, we pitas get hot and bothered easily.  Happily, with something bitter, astringent and sweet our irritability evaporates and we get realigned into balance.  Conveniently, my new tea is both astringent (green tea) and bitter (lemon myrtle), in one easy-to-make, no-calorie beverage.  See the ice cube suggestion below to incorporate a little low-calorie sweetness.

Vatas and Kaphas Will this tea be as beneficial if you’re not a Pitta?  Yes!  Although Pittas are predisposed to irritability, anyone can get hot and bothered when the circumstances warrant, and summer’s heat certainly qualifies as just cause.

Good as a Tummy Tuck? Not really, but among the dozens of health facts to hit the airwaves recently there was a study about green tea’s ability to reduce tummy flab.  Sure can’t hurt to try!

A Special Touch Toss in a couple pomegranate juice ice cubes for a little sweetness.  Make a batch from pomegranate juice, then store in a plastic zippered bag or storage container in the freezer.  Not only will they be quite handy, they won’t acquire a nasty freezer burn taste.

Brewing in the Post-Hippie Era Remember the sun tea craze?  It was a great idea:  Why waste energy brewing on the stovetop when the sun could do the work?  Now it’s possible to go one step further and just brew in the frig.  Put a pitcher in the frig at night and it can go to work in the morning.  Three good reasons to go this route:

  1. Your refrigerator doesn’t have to cool hot or warmed tea, saving energy.
  2. You get better taste.  As explained by tea connoisseur Beth Johnston of Teas, etc., cold water draws out or pulls the flavor from the tea , “a much slower and gentler method [than hot water brewing] that results in a smoother, more subtle, naturally sweet tasting tea.”  
  3. As or more importantly, you’re spared from potentially dangerous bacterial growth.

How’s that?  Both water and tea leaves can harbor bacteria.  Sun tea water reaches only 130 (F), never the 195 (F) required to kill all this bacteria.  So left in the nice, warm sunshine, it can quickly grow and multiply to dangerous levels, enough to make you sick. 

Getting It to Work Of course you can drink iced green tea any time, but it does me the most good at my 3:00 p.m. low point.  So fill a water bottle at home and stash it in the office frig.  Alternatively, consider brewing a bottle at work.

No Whole Foods? No problem.  Any green tea will do.  Add a slice or two of lemon to your glass.  Or, when throwing the tea bags in your brewing water, include a few sprigs of lemon balm, one of those great herbs that comes up year after year without your doing a thing.  Or check out some of the greens that Johhston offers, especially Premium Lemon Citrus Organic.

To a refreshing and uplifting afternoon!

Healthy Eating Tips: Small Plates, Big Vegetable Bowls

Nutrition experts have discovered another trick to combat overeating:  Smaller plates.  You’ve probably heard about the research from Cornell University showing that smaller plates lead to smaller portion sizes.  Great idea, but I think there needs to be an exception for vegetables–salads in particular.  In fact, there needs to be not just an exception but a reversal of the rule.

In other words, follow the small plate approach for the meat and starch portion of your meals.  But inasmuch as only one in ten of us eats the recommended daily quota of vegetables, stick with a BIG plate (or at least a separate small plate) for vegetables.  If small plates lead to small portions, then it stands to reason that big plates will lead to bigger portion sizes.

In the case of salads, consider using a big bowl instead of a plate.  That way, you can adequately toss salad and dressing.  I discovered this trick when a Mad Greens restaurant opened nearby.  It is like a restaurant-controlled salad bar.  You pick out the ingredients of your choice and the staff assembles it.  But here’s the key:  the salad is assembled in a BIG metal bowl, so it can be easily and thoroughly tossed.  In the end, every piece of the salad is perfectly coated, and it tastes superbly flavorful, even with a only a couple squirts of dressing.

Eating my Mad Greens salad was an “ah ha” moment.   The low-fat 90s had taught me to avoid the globs of dressing restaurants ladle on salads.  Instead, I always ordered my dressing on the side.  At home, I never dressed the entire salad so the leftovers could be stored for the next night or two.

So I grew accustomed to pouring a little dressing on top of my salad and then semi-mixing it in, since it is impossible to properly toss a salad on a tiny salad plate or piled next to meat and potatoes.  Salad would end up all over the table.  So for years I made do with a semi-dressed salad:  Some bites would have mouth-puckering amounts of dressing; some would have none.

Mad Greens introduced me the taste of a well-dressed salad-and happily, it isn’t dependent on GLOBS of dressing, just proper tossing–and for that a big bowl is the key, just like it’s the key to eating a goodly portion of salad.

So in a happy coincidence, I could achieve two good things with one simple change.  I first began serving my salads in a round plastic storage container.  A mixing bowl will also work.  But today, I found a very lovely yellow bowl (probably a small casserole dish?)  at The Peppercorn, our local kitchenware store extraordinaire.

Depth is a key characteristic for a good salad eating bowl.  This one does a perfect job containing a salad of winter vegetables topped with canned tuna steaks, sun-dried tomatoes and raisins.  My current dressing fav is shown, too.  Annies Sesame Shitake Mushroom.  Lots of flavor, no fake stuff.

Depth is a key characteristic for a good salad eating bowl. This one does a perfect job containing a salad of winter vegetables topped with canned tuna steaks, sun-dried tomatoes and raisins. My current dressing favorite is shown, too. Annie's Shitake & Sesame Vinaigrette. Lots of flavor, no fake stuff.

Depth is the most important thing to look for (besides being cute and coordinating with your current dishware, of course.) While there are plenty of salad serving bowls, most are too shallow and/or flared to contain a feisty salad.  In the picture, I included a regular soup bowl for a point of comparison.

If you are looking for a good bowl on-line, I happened upon one at Silvermark’s site:  http://silvermk.com/product_detail.cfm?id=16.  You can also find all sorts of other great salad-making apparatuses there.

Caution:  Hazards Ahead!

As with anything, watch out for imbalances.  In the case of salads, the imbalances can come in a couple forms:  Non-vegetable ingredients and salad dressings.

First, keep in mind that big bowls are a trick for eating more vegetables, not oversized amounts of ham, cheese, smoked turkey,  pasta salad and myriad other non-vegetable toppings in a typical salad bar.  Homemade salads aren’t usually overburdened with high-calorie additions, since who has the time to prepare them?  But faced with a salad bar spread of enticing toppers, all cut and ready to go, it’s easy to overload.

Second, we know that the calories in dressing can often outweigh those in the salad itself!  Big bowls are a way to strategically spread the dressing so it is put to effective use.  This way, it’s possible to dress a larger portion of salad vegetables with the same amount of dressing.  Watch out that you don’t end up doubling the dressing as you increase salad size!  If it helps, measure out the dressing before adding.

If your salad could still use a little kick after it moderately dressed, here’s another trick:  Instead of ladling on more salad dressing, sprinkle on some extra vinegar (e.g., brown rice or balsamic), some freshly squeezed lemon juice, a few grinds of pepper or a shake of cayenne.  Even salt (just a little) can help bring out the flavors without a lot more calories.

Happy vegging!

Here’s a recipe for Tuna Salad with Homemade Balsamic Dressing

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