Salad! It’s Worthy of Exclamation Points.

It’s a new year, and with it comes a litany of self-improvement pledges most of us don’t intend to keep: get organized; finally learn French; lose weight; take up beer enemas; et cetera.

But really, among all of those things, weight loss is the resolution most frequently pronounced, and (often) the most easily forgotten.  It’s easy to see why: people, resolutions are fleeting. Pie is eternal.

/ Would never abandon you. /"

Nevertheless, at this time of year, I feel that it is incumbent upon me to present you with healthier-side-of-junk options.  Because despite my Vegenaise addiction, my love of combining baked goods with cookie dough (peanut butter cookie dough brownies, y’all), and my tendency to drink more beer than water (my metabolism wishes I was kidding), I love salads.

Salads.  They seem so boring.  I literally just yawned after thinking too long about iceberg lettuce.  But contrary to the uninteresting incarnations of salad one usually conceives, salads have capacity for whimsy; they’re like the cupcakes of entrees (stay with me).  Think about cupcakes: there are s’more cupcakes; fluffernutter cupcakes; s’more fluffernutter cupcakes (for the catatonically stoned); peanut butter and jelly cupcakes; banana split cupcakes; creamsicle cupcakes; cupcakes paired with wine (okay, a quick detour into Chubby Town: banana cake/peanut buttercream/shaved chocolate paired with Beaujolais.  Prepare to have your mind blown).

(Sorry about that Bubba-Gump-esque diatribe about cupcakes; I’m done, I promise.)

Anyway.  Much in the way that delicious cupcake combinations draw on inspiration from other dishes, salads can be interesting, a culinary delight in a bowl.  For example:

The Pizza Salad!  The pizza salad is not quite the comforting, carbohydrate-coma-inducing experience that actual pizza is.  It is, however, delicious.  Consider the veggies you like on pizza: spinach, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, red peppers, olives, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, fennel…(okay that’s enough).  Throw your choice toppings on a bed of romaine, toss with a little tomato-basil vinaigrette, tofu ricotta or grated soy cheese, and croutons (or toasted bread.  Pizza needs crust), and top with a dribble of vegan ranch and red pepper flakes (for an authentic pizza experience).

Kind of like this?

The Stir-Fried Salad!  Similar to a chicken-sesame salad, except, you know, sans chicken carcass, consider the elements of stir-fry: teriyaki tofu, snow peas, green onions, bok choy, broccoli, shaved carrot, cabbage, almonds, water chestnuts, and ginger-y dressing (for an easy one, combine rice vinegar, soy sauce, ground ginger, agave, and sesame oil).  Put it on a bed of greens, and voila! (Is my salad-pushing beginning to remind you of the Slap Chop guy?  I’m sorry.  I assure you that I have neither a coke problem nor a tendency to beat sex industry workers.  As far as I know).

The Chicken Dijon Salad!   I’m not a huge proponent of mock meats, but I support the use of TJ’s Chick’n Strips (or Gardein) in this recipe (if you’re opposed, marinated tofu would make a fine substitute).  Sautee the strips in garlic and serve on a bed of butter lettuce with tomato, thinly sliced shallots, blanched green beans, and heirloom tomato.  Make a Dijon vinaigrette by whisking together Dijon mustard, olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, agave, tarragon, salt, and white pepper.

Indian Curry Salad! When you go to an Indian restaurant, what do you order (besides samosas and IPA)?  If you have a soul, the answer is probably chana masala and aloo palak.  Toss chickpeas with boiled potatoes, and finely chopped tomatoes and onions.  Make a tangy, creamy dressing with vegenaise, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, salt, cumin, garam masala, and coriander (for heat, add some cayenne).  Serve this creamy dream on a bed of spinach (bonus if it’s warm and causes the spinach to wilt a little).

Maybe these aren’t the 40-calorie salads prescribed by sadistic weight-loss programs, but they are the sorts of salads that you actually enjoy.  And in the end, isn’t enjoying a dish full of vegetable goodness more fulfilling than losing five vanity pounds?

(Narcissists: please don’t answer that question.)

My Standard “So You’re Going Vegan” Spiel

Since it’s the new year full of new starts and resolutions and hopes and dreams and hangovers, many people tend to transition to veganism around this time of year (including me, initially, in 2003 – for about a week before I failed miserably and tried again in a few months). I thought that my lengthy tirade about just how the hell to do it would be appropriate and hopefully help a couple folks out.

I majored in nutrition and food science, so my friends that go vegan often come to me first when they have questions about how the hell to do this giant life change. First, I congratulate them and teach them the secret vegan handshake, then write them novels like this on what it’s all about (mostly, though not entirely, the hokey pokey). Veganism is a pretty big deal in that it changes aspects of your life you’ve never even considered before and makes you a much bigger pain in the ass to your friends and family. You will also get really good at reading ingredient labels, answering questions about whether or not you eat honey, and lecturing fools on just how much more healthy protein you get in your diet than they do.

this was for a friend that had specific questions about protein, energy levels, and weight gain.

*disclaimer – though i did get my degree in nutrition and food science, i’m not an RD and these are my (relatively well-informed) opinions and what i’ve found works for me*

-ease into it. if you haven’t already, start slowly transitioning more and more meals to be veggie. the first time i tried vegan i dove into it headfirst and didn’t last a month. a few months later i had begun eliminating dairy and egg from my diet (i was already vegetarian for a long time) and it was much easier. if you start slow, and build up, say give yourself a month or so, it’s easier to do than doing all at once. at least, it was for me.

-protein is NOT going to be a problem, seriously. if one more person asks me where i get my protein i’m going to start biting them. most americans get WAY too much protein anyway and it’s bad for your kidneys. as long as you’re not eating just fries and chips and bread (the most wonderful things in the world, of course), you’ll be fine. it just takes healthy eating and a little foresight, which everybody should be doing anyway. I highly recommend using this site: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ it’s a good diet tracker, and gives you an idea of how each plate should look. i used it all the time when i was studying and teaching nutrition. easy ways to make sure you’re getting enough protein:

  • BEANS. seriously. they are your best friend. i always have like, four cans of garbanzos in my pantry.
  • nuts. not too many, because it’s easy to eat like 2 cups of them in one serving and realize you’ve just consumed all your fat for the day, but peanut butter is awesome and a really good source of healthy fats.
  • whole grains. i eat almost exclusively whole grains – breads, brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, etc. and avoid white bread where i can. much higher in protein than the bleached stuff and better for you in general – vitamin, fiber, energy, and calorie-wise.
  • dairy alternatives like soymilk and soy yogurt. i eat a lot of soy so i try to limit it to one or two meals a day instead of all three and use unsweetened vanilla almond milk by Blue Diamond (everyone’s favorite, you can get it at trader joe’s) on my cereal. but i’m not so much concerned about it being soy as eating too much of one thing. these are also good sources of calcium.
  • our bffs, tempeh, tofu, seitan, and veggie meats like Gardein. learn how to work with all of them. tofu needs to be pressed to not be soggy, tempeh needs to be steamed to get the bitterness out, and seitan can be kind of rubbery. gardein is awesomely meatlike. i use it maybe twice a week or so at the most – i don’t use that many veggie meats too often anymore.

-energy levels shouldn’t be a problem. if you’re eating more fruits and veggies, which you definitely will be, and especially whole grains, you’ll have more energy. exercise is of course super important for that too.

-weight gain? i can pretty much guarantee you’ll lose weight. i lost a good 15 pounds in my first few months of being vegan, and another 30 over the next year or so. and kept it off…mostly, haha. But yeah, you’re going to be eating way less saturated fat and much, much more fiber (get ready to poop at least 3 times a day), so you’ll probably lose weight pretty rapidly. again, if you’re eating like shit and surviving on potato chips and pasta you won’t lose weight, but you’d get sick of that real quick.

-on a side note, you don’t need a lot of supplements. vegans really only need to supplement their diets with B12 (since it doesn’t exist in a vegan diet except for small amounts in nutritional yeast, which is a delicious cheddary cheezy powder that is awesome), calcium (which all women should be taking anyway), and a good omega-3, -6, and -9 fat supplement (most people just need an omega-3 since they get plenty of -6 and -9 in their diets, but vegans need a little extra. helps me a lot with PMS and stuff). i take a cheap multivitamin just to cover my bases on the B vitamins, and since i was a little low in D last time i got a physical. but calcium and an omega fat blend, a teaspoon or two of that oil a day, and that’s it. tastes nasty but goes down easy with OJ or in a smoothie.
i would recommend getting some vegan cookbooks. being vegan means that you’re going to have to cook for yourself a lot, and you’ll enjoy it, too, because it’s so rewarding and gives you a lot more variety than just sticking another Dr. Praeger veggie burger on the george foreman every night (though i fucking love those burgers). my favorite, and every vegan’s favorite author is Isa Chandra Moskowitz. her blog has awesome recipes on it, and links to all her books:

http://www.theppk.com/

Every single one of them is worthwhile. my copy of vegan cupcakes take over the world is covered in stains because i use it all the damned time. i recently got her Appetite for Reduction book, which is low-fat vegan cooking, and have been very impressed with it. the baked falafel, cajun bean balls with cajun spaghetti, baked onion rings, and almost everything else in there have been fantastic save for one or two duds. Veganomicon is great to have because I use it more as a reference. it’s got guides in the front section on how to roast, grill, etc. almost any veggie, prepare any grain, soak any bean, and it’s awesome. veggies are your new best friends – you’ll be inhaling kale, broccoli, and collard greens like they’re air. (which, again, will help boost energy levels and lead to weight loss!) the recipes in there are sometimes a little involved but they’re all winners. the chickpea cutlets are the fucking BOMB. and Vegan Brunch is great for impressing your friends and making them all sleepy full of greasy delicious hash browns and tofu omelettes and coffee cake.

there are a buttload of blogs and forums out there too. vegweb.com is great for whenever you want a basic recipe to go from for a particular food.

I know that’s a novel, but i really get excited when people tell me they’re going vegan…it’s such a great thing to do for yourself, and for the planet. it definitely works for me.