How to make super salads
While experimenting with organic seasonal vegies, herbs, nuts, seeds and fermented side dishes over the years, I’ve tried and tested many ingredients. I’ve found that, by incorporating a wide selection of bitter leafy greens into my super salads, I can create power-packed lunches on the run or, combined with a piece of grass-fed organic meat or wild-caught seafood, quick after-work meals or easy Sunday lunches. Plus, salads are a great way to pack good vegies into your daily diet.
For my partner Nic, our girls and me, super salads are much-loved staples. We often have an organic roast chicken in the fridge so we can easily toss together a quick creation using our favourite greens, including kale, spinach, chard, mizuna, radicchio and sorrel. Over the past three years, we’ve also enjoyed growing our own herbs. It’s a satisfying way to stay connected with the Earth, move in time with the rhythm of each season and leave a smaller footprint.
When it comes to making your salads, herbs and spices are the kingmakers and, as a chef, your best friend. Get to know the tastes you and your family love and, remember — the fresher, the better.
I strongly encourage you to embrace bitterness. Learn to love the sharp bite of dark greens and enjoy experimenting with a wide variety of flavours to find your own personal super salad stars. Don’t be shy — turn up your favourite tunes, get into the kitchen, prep well, then be brave and bold with your ingredient choices.
I’ve passed on recipes for salads and salad dressings that I love and are popular with my family, friends and community. A particular winner for me is a lightly spiced raw carrot salad that I recently made during filming The Paleo Way. It comes recommended after taste-testing by the discerning (and fussy) camera crew. With its base of grated carrots combined with olive oil, chilli, ginger, sumac, raw honey, toasted almonds, coriander, mint, apple cider vinegar, lemon and currants, it’s a tasty and healthy treat.
Don’t negate almost all the benefits of your fresh salads by topping them with processed dressings — especially the low-fat ones. As always, it’s best to learn to make a fast, easy dressing by drizzling on some good-quality fats, including olive oil, avocado oil or macadamia oil, along with a squeeze of lemon, or enjoy the nutritious delicious delights of vegies in the raw.
For some super salads, a good-quality homemade dressing can be the pièce de résistance and, like herbs, can help transform the dish from so-so to sensational with just a quick drizzle. It’s vital to use the right oils, though, which is why I’ve given a simple breakdown later in this article.
I like to use good-quality extra-virgin olive oil as a base for my dressings and I slowly whisk it into to a mix of raw apple cider vinegar, grated garlic, Himalayan salt and pepper. Yummo! There are so many combinations, so many flavours, so many choices. Man, I love food!
The final star in my super salads is fermented foods in the form of sauerkraut or sauerkraut juice added to a dressing for its dynamic probiotic goodness. Fermented food is live and active, helping to pre-digest vital nutrients. By including these in your diet every day, you’ll soon see what incredible nutritional value they have.
Fermentation allows the nutrients from the rest of the ingredients to be even more powerfully absorbed by the body and helps to optimise that all-important gut flora, so it’s a win-win all round.
The good oils
There are myriad good oils that do a great job of making an excellent, flavoursome base for dressings. Here are some of my favourites:
- Coconut oil. At colder times of the year, I try even harder to protect my body from the season’s ills and chills through what I consume. It’s why I incorporate extra-virgin coconut oil into my family’s diet daily to keep our health on track. High in good saturated fats that help our bodies and brains to thrive, virgin coconut oil has antiviral and antibacterial properties to support proper immune function. It’s my go-to oil for almost everything in (and out) of the kitchen.
- Olive oil. For salads, I love to drizzle on good-quality, extra-virgin olive oil or use it as a base for a lemon and garlic emulsion. Olive oil is well known for its health benefits and is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. Plus, it brings crisp, organic salad leaves alive. Just remember that it doesn’t do well at high heat, which is why I never use it for heating or frying foods.
- Avocado oil. Made from the pressed flesh of avocadoes, this oil has a rich flavour and makes a good dressing when combined with balsamic vinegar. It’s high in unsaturated fats and vitamin E.
- Macadamia oil. This oil has a delicate buttery, nutty flavour and tastes equally great in an oil-based dressing or in a version of your favourite homemade mayonnaise.
King Prawns With Preserved Lemon & Avocado Salad
16 raw king prawns
3 tbsp lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp chopped dill
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 red capsicum, seeded & finely diced
Handful coriander leaves
Handful dill leaves
½ red capsicum
2 avocados, sliced
1 Roma tomato, seeded & diced
1 birdseye chilli, seeded & finely chopped
¼ red onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped preserved lemon
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Cook the prawns in salted boiling water until pink and firm, 2–3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool completely. Peel and devein, keeping the tails intact.
Combine the olive oil, lemon juice and dill in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Whisk to combine, add the prawns and toss until well coated. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate for 5 minutes in the refrigerator.
Meanwhile, make the avocado salad. Place the capsicum, skin side up, on a baking tray. Roast in the oven for 10–15 minutes, or until the skin blisters and blackens. Place the capsicum in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to steam for 5 minutes. Peel off the skin, remove the seeds and discard. Chop the capsicum. Combine the avocado, roast capsicum, tomato, chilli, onion, preserved lemon, coriander, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl and gently mix. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Spoon the avocado salad onto a serving platter, top with the marinated prawns, garnish with the diced raw capsicum, coriander and dill leaves and serve with a drizzle of extra oil.
Moroccan Carrot Salad
80mL extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp raw honey
1 tsp peeled & grated fresh ginger
1 fresh red chilli, seeded & finely chopped
½ tsp ground sumac
4 large carrots, peeled & grated
Handful activated almonds, toasted & chopped
Large handful chopped fresh coriander
Handful mint leaves, chopped
¼ cup dried barberries or currants
Sea salt & cracked pepper
In a large serving bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, honey and ginger until well combined. Add the chilli, sumac, carrots, almonds, coriander, mint and barberries or currants. Toss, season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper and serve.
Warm Baby Beetroot & Sorrel Salad With Cashew Cheese & Walnuts
2 bunches baby red beetroot, about 20 beetroots
2 tsp coconut oil, melted
½ bunch thyme
Sea salt & cracked pepper
80mL extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp good-quality red wine vinegar
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup activated & toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup cashew cheese
½ bunch chives, cut into 5cm lengths
Handful sorrel leaves, red-veined preferred
½ cup packed dried cherries
Preheat oven to 200°C (180°C fan-forced). Wash beetroots. Trim stems, leaving 1cm intact. Place beetroots in a flameproof baking dish and sprinkle with coconut oil, thyme and salt and pepper. Cover dish tightly with foil and roast for about 40 minutes, shaking the pan after 20 minutes, or until tender. Remove beetroots from dish. When cool enough to touch, peel and cut beetroots in half.
Combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice and half of the walnuts in a screw-top jar with a little sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Shake well.
Thickly spread the cashew cheese on a large platter and top with the warm beetroots. Drizzle the beetroots with some of the dressing, and then scatter over the chives, sorrel and dried cherries. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with the remaining walnuts. Serve warm. Pass the remaining dressing at the table.
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp Himalayan salt or sea salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Soak the cashews in 750mL water for 2–4 hours. Drain and rinse well.
Place the cashews in a food processor, add the lemon juice, salt and pepper and pulse for a minute to combine. Add 60mL of water and continue to process until smooth. Can be stored in the fridge for 5–7 days.
Young Coconut & Chicken Salad
½ red onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
Fish sauce dressing
80mL fish sauce
2 tbsp peeled & grated fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1–2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped
3–4 tbsp lime juice, or more to taste
1 tbsp raw honey (optional)
600g boneless, organic chicken thighs, skin on
3â…“ cups coconut milk
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp peeled & grated fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
4¼ cups finely shredded cabbage
2 handfuls coriander leaves
1 handful mint leaves
1 handful Thai or holy basil leaves
½ cup shredded carrot
2 young coconuts
3 tbsp fried shallots
2 tbsp fried garlic
80g activated almonds, roasted & crushed
To pickle the onion, combine the onion and vinegar in a bowl and let sit for 20 minutes, then drain.
To make the fish sauce dressing, in a bowl or large jar, combine all ingredients and set aside.
To cook the chicken, place the chicken thighs in a pot and add the coconut milk, 1 cup water, fish sauce, ginger and garlic. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, 10–12 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred the meat.
To make the salad, in a large bowl, combine the cabbage, coriander, mint, basil and carrot and toss well.
To prepare the coconut bowls, using a large, sharp, heavy knife, cut the coconuts in half around the middle. Pour out the water and reserve it for another use. Using a large kitchen spoon, gently run the spoon between the flesh and the peel in a circular motion around the coconut while trying not to break the flesh. Carefully slide the spoon underneath to the bottom and lift the coconut flesh from the peel, leaving it in the coconut bowl. Repeat with the remaining coconuts.
When you’re ready to serve, toss the chicken into the salad and add the fish sauce dressing to taste. Top with the fried shallots, fried garlic, almonds and pickled onion.
Divide the salad between the four halved coconut bowls, scooping out the young coconut flesh as you eat the salad.
Makes: 5 tbsp
4 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cups coconut oil, melted
Combine the shallots and coconut oil in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the shallots start to turn golden, 2–4 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as they may colour faster depending on how thin they are sliced. Lift the shallots out with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Makes: 4 tbsp
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup coconut oil, melted
Combine the garlic and coconut oil in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the garlic starts to turn golden, 2–4 minutes. Keep a close eye on it as it may colour a lot faster depending on how thin the garlic is sliced. Lift the garlic out with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Pete Evans is a chef, paleo ambassador, health coach, restaurateur, media personality, author and more. W: peteevans.com.au
How to make super salads
When it comes to constructing a big salad packing a nutrient-dense punch, Pete Evans says itâ€™s a case of the more bite, the better.