A restaurant menu with great salad options is the best – like Iron Hill’s. It’s easier to resist the burgers and pizzas when the salads sound so scrumptious. However, I find it difficult to create these huge, multi-ingredient salads at home as I never seem to have the long list (and small amounts) of add-ins in my kitchen – like who randomly has Chinese noodles on hand?
I’ve found that the easiest “fun” salad to recreate for dinner is a Mexican style salad. Why? Well so many of the ingredients are pantry/freezer staples! If they aren’t staples in your house, at least know that if you buy them and don’t make your salad right away, they will be fine for months! I literally bought a gigantic bag of brown rice when I got married, and I used it for this salad. Canned beans (black would be ideal, I used red kidney as it was what I had), frozen corn, frozen edamame, jarred salsa, balsamic vinegar/olive oil and frozen chicken breasts should be items you have around your kitchen. Buy fresh lettuce and jalapenos and you’re good to go! I skipped the cheese here to keep it light, but cubed or grated jack or cheddar cheese would be wonderful to add as well.
Speaking of keeping calories in check for salads at restaurants, there are a few no-no’s. Any veggie, fresh fruit, and lean protein is A-okay. Avoid bacon, crispy wonton noodles, tortilla strips, cheeses, and egg yolks. Get your dressing on the side and then either dip your fork in with each bite or dip your bites in the dressing. Avoid creamy dressings at all costs (Ranch Dressing – 140 calories per 2 tbsp. serving). Items like avocado and olives, though heart healthy, are somewhat high in calories and should be eaten in correct portions (an entire avocado has over 300 calories). Another perk of a mexican style salad is that salsa makes a FANTASTIC dressing and has negligible calories. This salad is gluten and dairy free, FYI.
To make this salad as low calorie as possible, skip the olive oil and just use salsa as your dressing. Go lighter on the beans and rice, and up the veggie content. To make it a bit heartier, douse the olive oil generously and use lots of rice, beans and chicken. You could add cubed cheese and crushed tortilla chips as well. A great option for a couple – you dine on the same meals but his could have upwards of 400 calories more than yours – with your increased veggies you don’t have to feel sad that his dinner is better, as they will look identical!
Lastly, do you know about complementary protein? Protein is made up of 20 amino acids – a complete protein (like chicken or yogurt) is one that has all of those twenty amino acids. Complementary proteins are two incomplete proteins (maybe has 11 or 15 of the amino acids) that together, form a complete protein. Rice and beans together are one of these complementary pairs, as are peanuts and almonds. So, (in a sense), when you eat rice and beans together your body says “thanks for the chicken!”. This dish is protein PACKED with both chicken AND rice and beans.
Grilled Chicken Salad, Mexican Style
10 oz bagged romaine or mixed greens, or 1 small head leaf lettuce, torn, rinsed and dried
1 1/2 c. cooked brown rice (cook according to package directions)
1/2 c. black or red beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. frozen or canned corn – thawed if frozen, drained if canned
1/2 c. frozen shelled edamame – thawed
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped (leave some seeds in if you like spicy)
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 chicken breasts, grilled or sauteed, sliced into strips
1/3 -1/2 c. of your favorite salsa (I LOVE LOVE Sweet and Smoky Peach Salsa from Trader Joe’s)
4 corn tortillas, toasted on burner (that’s right, you can put them right on a gas burner and just flip when toasty)
1. Arrange lettuce on two plates or large, flat bowls.
2. Top with rice, beans, edamame, corn, and jalapenos.
You don’t see corn in this salad because it’s not actually there. I WANTED corn, so I microwaved it in a small bowl. Next morning when I went to warm up my coffee the sad corn was sitting there, sadly looking at me with a sad expression.
3. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar (if you want to dirty and extra bowl, you can mix them together before drizzling).
4. Arrange chicken strips on top and spoon salsa over chicken. Serve with toasted corn tortillas.