“The colors of a fresh garden salad are so extraordinary, no painter’s pallet can duplicate nature’s artistry.”—Dr. Sun Wolf, professorsunwolf.com
“The salad is the main dish.”—Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
It was the colors that first attracted my attention–vibrant hues of varying shades. From claret to crimson; deep purple to indigo; and, sunshine orange to all shades of earthy greens, this artist’s palate-like bowl seemed to have it all. As if I were a playful, curious kitten, drawn to a piece of dangling string, my body made a beeline towards the vivid dish of food art.
“Lauren, what is that bowl of deliciousness?”
Lauren, a seventh grader who makes regular appearances in my lunchtime study hall, attempted to smile while chewing as she held up the universal sign for, “Wait one moment.” Allowing her to silently chew, I appraised the contents of her reusable lunch bowl. From what I could tell, I saw blueberries, strawberries, and other assorted brightly hued morsels on a bed of what appeared to be lettuce.
It wasn’t unusual for Lauren and me to discuss food. The previous year, Lauren had been part of my 3rdperiod, 6thgrade class, which falls during “snack time,” a time set aside for hungry middle school students to eat a quick snack at the beginning of class. Lauren, who has a passion for good food, and dances nearly every evening of the week, typically took advantage of this time to fuel herself with mostly nutritious and yummy food choices to sustain her physical efforts. Thus, she and I occasionally had sidebar conversations regarding her latest, or my latest, food/beverage obsessions.
These brief conversations would sometimes resume during lunchtime study hall as Lauren was a regular attendee in order to best manage her time due to her after school dance schedule. Through these conversations, Lauren and I discovered we shared an affinity for Larabars, herbal and green teas, reusable water bottles, as well as assorted types of salads and fruits. What’s more, Lauren possesses an infectious personality, and she is able to easily flow between relaxed, silly conversations with peers to a more formal style of dialogue with adults.
“It’s a salad my mom and I create, but I made this one,” Lauren finally answered while still gnawing at the remains in her mouth.
Once she finished chewing, she continued to describe the ingredients in her salad, explaining that the ingredients might occasionally change, depending upon what her mom is able to pick up at the grocery store.
“Well, most of the time I make it myself,” she confessed with a wry smile, eyes twinkling with truth, “but sometimes, Mom makes it for me.”
Listening carefully to the ingredients, I wandered back to my desk to eat my lunch, as I did what the students around me were doing, complete my own schoolwork as I ate. Gazing at the contents of my lunchbox, I saw a baggie of carrot and celery sticks alongside cucumber slices. Additionally, there was ½ No Cow protein bar and ½ Larabar plant-based protein bar. Sure, I had cleaned and cut the vegetables myself; and to be certain, I sure did love my protein bars with coffee, but my lunch wasn’t near as colorful and fresh looking as Lauren’s salad. I began to fill with pangs of food envy!
“Lauren, tell me those ingredients again, please? I am going to write them down, and add them to my Kroger click list.
As she told spoke, I carefully recorded each ingredient on a sticky-note. My mind began to fill with possibilities that would be tasty additions to her salad.
“Do you add any sort of dressing?”
She affirmed my hunch; no dressing for her, but my mind was already thinking about how good a balsamic glaze would be, like the one I had eaten earlier in the month at Fuel in The Market in downtown Huntington, WV. I further began thinking about how good walnuts, or crushed cashews, would be—like my favorite salad at Black Sheep, another Huntington restaurant. Then, it hit me. Granola!
Last summer, before the start of school, John and I traveled to the Alderson/Lewisburg area of WV. One evening, we dined at a Lewisburg eatery known for fresh, local, farm-to-table, organic ingredients called Stardust Café. It was at this local eatery that I tried a salad called, “Trust Me.” It was described on their menu as their signature salad, and it was topped with granola. Our waitress convinced me that granola on salad was indeed a tasty topping. And, it was! Why not make Lauren’s salad topped with one of my latest food obsessions, Julian’s Bakery ProGranola, Vanilla Cluster? Hmm . . .
In that moment, I giddily declared to Lauren, “I am writing about this salad, and sharing it with others. It will be forever known as, “The Lauren Salad!” Lauren, being Lauren, merely giggled as her focus returned once more to eating and working.
Thank-you, Lauren, for sharing your delicious recipe with me. It is a joy to have you as a student as well as to share your vibrant, flavor-filled, nutritional bowlful of goodness. Keep on making those inspiring, healthy lunches. Additional gratitude goes to, Pam, Lauren’s mom, for allowing me to photograph her daughter and publish her recipe creation!
From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals!
The Lauren Salad
3, or so, cups favorite salad greens (Lauren enjoys iceberg lettuce, but I enjoy all variety of greens.)
¼ cup shredded carrots
¼ cup sliced celery
1-2 tablespoons dried cranberries (I prefer the less sugar variation.)
½ cup grapes (I left these off my salad, but Lauren says she enjoys adding grapes.)
¼ to ½ cup blueberries
5-8 sliced strawberries, depending upon size and taste preference
2-3 teaspoons of favorite balsamic glaze (I never see Lauren eat dressing on her salad, but I love the way this brings the flavors all together! I especially enjoy a strawberry-fig balsamic glaze.)
Optional toppings: walnuts, slivered almonds, chopped cashews, pistachios pieces, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, etc, and my personal favorite, granola!)
Hint: While I rarely ever eat meat, you could certainly add your favorite meat protein, or for that matter, plant based protein, to this salad. Ideas include, but are not limited to: hard boiled eggs; grilled meats; bean or bean-based patty; cheese, especially, chevre or Parmesan. With quality salad ingredients, the choices seem endless!
In a large bowl, layer all vegetable and fruit ingredients in the order in which they are listed.
If using balsamic glaze, drizzle over salad ingredients.
Sprinkle with favorite optional toppings. (I personally like 1-2 tablespoons chopped black walnuts and 3-4 tablespoons of granola.)
Serve immediately; or, if packing ahead for lunch: Keep balsamic glaze in a separate container, and the toppings in another container. When ready to eat, add glaze followed by toppings.
Makes one large, healthy salad.
Hey, Lauren, Keep on making those inspiring, healthy lunches!