This oil-free vegan ranch dressing gets its creaminess from cashews and has less than 30 calories per 2-tablespoon serving.
We’ve all been there. You’re trying to eat more greens but you just can’t face another lunchtime salad. Maybe it’s because of the prep involved, maybe it’s because it feels like the North Pole outside, or maybe it’s because you’re just sick and tired of chomping your way through a big bowl of raw veggies.
So you either reach for something a little (or a lot) less nutritious or you use all your willpower to just force down that salad. If you’re lucky, you discover mid-salad that “Hey, I kinda like this salad.” If you’re not lucky, you wind up feeling either guilty for choosing something less nutritious or resentful for having had a less than thrilling lunch. So what to do? I have a few tips to make salad-eating easier and more enjoyable, plus a vegan ranch dressing that you can personalize to your taste buds’ content.
Tips for Making Salad Your Meal (When You’d Really Rather Eat Pasta)
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
You’re much more likely to stick to your salad resolution if your salad isn’t a chore to make. Have your salad ingredients prepped and ready to grab and throw together. To me, the most time-consuming part of making a salad is washing, drying, and chopping the greens. For a while, I was buying packages of those prewashed salad greens, but not only are they expensive, they often go bad quickly.
Now I make my own ready-to-eat lettuce packets by using a FoodSaver to seal cleaned and chopped romaine lettuce in quart jars (see this great post for details). Once a week I prep all my lettuce and then, when lunchtime rolls around, all I need to do is empty a jar into a bowl and add the rest of my salad ingredients. (You don’t need to have a FoodSaver; a few of those “green bags” or containers will work almost as well.) Other ready-to-use salad greens to have on-hand include broccoli slaw, baby spinach, and alfalfa or clover sprouts. With the greens already chopped, you can throw together a salad in just minutes.
Start thinking of your huge salad as the base for something else. Hummus I’ve already mentioned, but get even more adventurous and top that big bowl o’greens with Chickpea Salad. Or think outside the fridge and top your salad with something hot: balsamic chickpeas, chili beans, red beans, spaghetti sauce, or even your leftover bean soup. The hot topping will wilt the greens and warm up the whole salad, making it much more comforting on a cold day.
If giving up bread has left you craving sandwiches, let your salad be your bun! Try your favorite burger crumbled over your salad. Some of my favorites are Curried Eggplant-Lentil-Quinoa Burgers, Roasted Beet Burgers, Sweet Potato Falafel, and Red Bean-Chipotle Burgers.
Spice It Up
Don’t count on your salad dressing to deliver all the flavor to your salad. Add spicy, sweet, or tangy ingredients that make every bite sparkle with flavor. If you’re a fire lover, sliced or chopped jalapenos add an interesting heat, but if you’re looking for a tamer flavor, toss on a little salsa. Throw on some diced apples or pears or a few raisins or dried cranberries for a hint of sweetness. You may not think you like fruit in your salad, but give it a try. (My favorite combo is balsamic vinaigrette or ranch dressing, chickpeas, diced apples, raisins, and walnuts.)
Just Do It
A few times this week I was not in the mood for a salad…until I started eating it. Sometimes you just have to push past your aversion and make that salad. You may be pleasantly surprised at how satisfying it is.
Find a Salad Dressing You Love
A good salad dressing can make even a plain Jane salad interesting. I like a lot of flavor and tang in my salad dressings, and some of my favorites are Susan’s Lite Goddess Dressing, Low-Fat Tahini-Chickpea Dressing, and Holy Moly Spicy Chipotle Dressing.
But if hot spices and sesame flavors aren’t your faves, here’s the basic template I use to make a creamy vegan ranch dressing that my daughter loves. It’s highly adaptable, and though it uses cashews for creaminess, it still contains less than 30 calories per 2-tablespoon serving.
Hidden Cashew Ranch Dressing
- 1/4 cup raw cashews (see note about soaking)
- 1 1/4 cup plain, unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used Westsoy)
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (more if using Meyer lemons)
- 1 clove garlic (or 1/4 tsp. garlic powder)
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons chives raw or freeze-dried, snipped
- Place all ingredients except parsley and chives into blender and process on high until smooth. Add parsley and chives and blend on low briefly to incorporate them. Check seasonings and add more as needed, but remember that the flavor will get stronger over time. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend. Stir or shake before serving.
Nutritional info is approximate.