Sensational Salads #1

Copy Cat Olive Garden Salad

I’ve wanted to do a series of posts on salads for several months now. I’m not a picky eater and there are many foods I love, but I have to honestly say salad is one of my favourites. I used to say I enjoyed salad, as long as someone else made it. I always felt that by the time I chopped all the veggies and got it ready, it was some how disappointing. However, over the last few years, I have made a few discoveries which are primarily based on my own personal preferences. I can honestly say that salad is not only one of my very favourite foods, but would rank pretty high for my whole family. My 16 year old son will often request salad when asked what he wants for dinner. Here are a few tips to help you jump on the salad band wagon.

How To Really Get Hooked on Salad:

Starfrit Spiralizer
  • Find a variety of salads that you love! DO NOT stick to the same old salad every time! We probably have at least 3 completely different salads each week.
  • Make salad your main course and use meat as a salad topping. Although we are not vegetarian, I can say that we have definitely moved away from red meat. We still enjoy a steak, pork tenderloin and ground beef for burgers and spaghetti sauce, but it is much more limited than it used to be. We will often have meat as a salad compliment and chicken and fish are much more present in our regular diet than they were in the past.
  • Be creative and try a variety of add-ons. For me salad is mostly about a great dressing. Once I find a dressing I like, I will often play with the other elements and change it up. Lately, one of my favourite salad additions is chopped brussel sprouts!
  • Be creative in your presentation….I will often spiral, shred or ribbon cut my vegetables to add interest. A salad that looks amazing often tastes great too!
  • Think colour! I often see a salad as art…I always try to add a splash of colour!
  • Use a variety of greens to create different textures, flavours and colours in your finished salad.
  • Cheese please! Although we don’t always add cheese to our salads (especially when we are being mindful of calories), it is a great way to add flavour. Some of our favourites include feta, Swiss, manchego, aged cheddar and Parmigiano Reggiano!
  • Double the recipe! We definitely have a few staples when it comes to salad dressing. I find that making a double batch will often last a week or more in the fridge.
  • Be mindful! Although a salad is often packed with veggies, don’t fall into the same trap that I did several years ago. I would eat a delicious homemade salad for lunch at work every day. I always felt like I ate well and a list of the foods I was eating would have most people agreeing. However, despite what I felt were healthy choices, I noticed that I was starting to put on weight. Be mindful of what you are adding to your salad if weight/calories are a concern. Nuts and seeds are a great source for nutrients and healthy fats, but they are also extremely high in calories. After months of eating my “amazingly healthy salad”, I did a calorie count and discovered that my lunch salad was often exceeding 700 calories! Although they were seemingly healthy calories packed with nutrients, a calorie is a calorie and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why I seemed to be gaining weight. I still eat nuts and seeds, but I am just more aware of what I’m adding to my salads and the overall caloric impact.

Sensational Salad Add-Ons for a Typical Lettuce Salad:

The fruits, vegetables, meat and other ingredients I add to a salad are often determined by the type of salad I’m making and whether the dressing is sweet or not. I will follow a salad recipe pretty close the first time, mostly to see if the dressing is a hit or not. After that, I will often use the dressing, but adapt the salad ingredients based on what flavours I think will meld nicely with it and what I have on hand. Below are some of our favourite salad fixings that go beyond the basic carrots, celery, cucumber and tomatoes.

  • beets (I often spiral cut them with this inexpensive Starfrit machine I have)
  • mushrooms (I like to slice mine paper thin)
  • avocado
  • brussel sprouts (chopped)
  • kale
  • peppers (red, green and/or yellow)
  • radicchio
  • chopped artichoke (canned)
  • red cabbage (and/or regular cabbage)
  • granny smith apples
  • pear
  • peaches
  • mango
  • strawberries
  • fresh homemade salsa (fruit based is especially good and often means you can eliminate the dressing altogether)
  • Nuts (pistachio, pecan, walnuts, peanuts, slivered almonds, pine nuts, etc. – I usually opt for raw nuts, but also love candied nuts with some salads)
  • Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, etc.)
  • Cheese, freshly grated
  • Meat (pork tenderloin, steak, taco meat, salmon, chicken breast/rotisserie chicken)

When I first started making more gourmet style salads, I really just sought out a few dressings that I loved that became my “go to’s” for a basic salad. I have actually posted this recipe a few times already, but it is definitely one I use regularly.

Lime Vinaigrette

Lime Agave Vinaigrette – courtesy of Lyn Genet-Recitas (The Plan). I love this dressing because it is simple to make and the lime flavour gives it a very fresh taste. I will often add green apple or pear to this salad just because it goes so nicely with the lime flavour. (If you don’t have Agave, use honey or one of my favourites…maple syrup.)

Stay tuned as I will be posting several new salad and dressing recipes over the summer, but until now, here are some links to previous posts that highlighted some of our family’s favourite salad recipes.

Bring on the Spinach, but Don’t Forget to Wash it First!

I am a big fan of spinach and consume most of my spinach in the form of salads.  Although it is considered to have many health benefits when eaten fresh or lightly cooked, some believe that nutrients can be lost when it is frozen.  I always knew spinach was a healthy choice, but recently learned a bit more about spinach, its health benefits, and even a few cautions.  Please read to the end of the post if you would like to check out our two favourite spinach salad recipes.

Spinach Warnings and Cautions

If you are like me, then you too probably love the idea of buying the pre-washed containers and/or bags of spinach and other greens.  However, in recent years, there has been new information regarding these pre-washed packages.

  • It is really important to wash all of your fruits and vegetables.  Don’t be fooled by the “pre-washed” advertizing on the label.  Generally, rinsing really well under cool water is enough, but there are other options available.  Personally, I couldn’t live with out my salad spinner to remove the excess water after washing.  For an extensive guide to washing fresh produce, follow this link.
  • Spinach is one of the foods that was named on the (Environmental Working Group) “Dirty Dozen” list of foods contaminated with pesticides.  When considering buying organic, the “dirty dozen” list helps you to make choices that fit your pocketbook by highlighting those foods that are considered to be the most contaminated.  They also provide a list of the “clean fifteen”.  Again, their lists can help to guide your shopping and enable you to make well-informed choices when deciding whether to buy organic or not.  Follow the link to check out the lists.
  • Some cautions have been noted for those with kidney or gallbladder problems as the oxalates in spinach may interfere with the absorption of calcium and could possibly crystallize.
  • It has also been suggested that those with thyroid problems may find spinach more reactive (causing inflammation).  This could possibly be reduced by purchasing organic and cooking your spinach.

Health Benefits of Spinach

Many deem spinach the most superior of all “super foods”. Spinach is a very nutrient dense food.  Spinach:


  • is a high source of vegetable protein
  • has very high levels of both Vitamin K and A
  • is good source of folate and folic acid
  • provides 25% of the daily recommended values of iron, magnesium, potassium and  Vitamin C
  • is a good source of dietary fibre
  • contains carotenoids and flavonoids (which act as antioxidants)
  • also contains manganese, Vitamin B2 and B6, phosphorus, Vitamin E, zinc, copper, selenium, niacin and omega 3 fatty acids

You can see that spinach is jam-packed with nutrients and antioxidants.  With all that spinach contains, it is no wonder that it is considered to be a super food.  Some of the health benefits related to regular spinach consumption are:

  • its anti-inflammatory properties (asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis)
  • its ability to help protect against cataracts and macular degeneration
  • its importance for bone health (Vitamin K, calcium and magnesium)
  • its ability to help manage cholesterol damage to arteries (Vitamin A)
  • its properties that help protect against heart disease

3 different flavonoid compounds in spinach that not only serve as antioxidants but may also reduce the risk of cancer

Read more:

My Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Favourite Spinach Salad Recipes

The first recipe is a recipe I received from my friend Lise.  I have made it many times and have also had it served by others at potlucks and dinner parties.  It is a delicious blend of flavours and always a crowd pleaser.  I don’t know the original source and thus can’t give credit, but here it is:

Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Poppy Seed Dressing

Spinach Leaves (organic and washed ~ please!!)
Fresh Strawberries ~ washed and sliced
Toasted Almond Slivers ~ toast lightly in a non- stick pan, stirring constantly until lightly golden in colour
Feta Cheese ~ optional (but a very good addition)


spinach salad with strawberries

Photo borrowed from The Gourmand Mom

1/3 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of vinegar
1/4 tsp. of paprika
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 1/4 tsp. minced onion (optional)
2 T. poppy seeds
2 T. sesame seeds

Place dressing ingredients in a jar or other container with a lid.  Shake and pour over salad just before serving.  Toss and serve.

Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

spinach salad with bacon

Photo borrowed from Closet Cooking

Yum! Yum! Yum!  This is one of our favourite dinner salads.  The dressing is delicious and the presentation is truly gourmet restaurant style!  You will love this.  It reminds me of the Boston Pizza Spinach Salad.  I found this recipe online at the food network.  Don’t be grossed-out by the bacon drippings (fat) that is used in the dressing.  Mark my words, that is the secret ingredient that makes this dressing a step above all others.  Enjoy!