Dinner With The Omnivore

Salads and summer fitness

Posted on: October 7, 2011

Probably, given the number of zombie epics I watched last winter

The alpine winter diet of lard, cheese and beer is undeniably tasty, but it’s a bit hard on the waistline and probably isn’t doing vitamin levels any favours either. In fact if it wasn’t for the skiing and sunshine we’d all emerge in May looking like overfed maggots. Fortunately summer offers the chance to address these pressing health and fitness issues via swimming, cycling and not sitting on your fat arse all evening swilling wine and watching zombie movies.

The summer challenge then was to find appealing lunches which aren’t the seasonnaire sandwich, one of my favourite midday options, but a tad on the calorific side for someone aiming to become less porky, stuffed as it is with cheese, mayo and carbs. I did try fruit at one point, but it was a bit of a non-starter really as I don’t actually like it much in its most convenient forms. Bananas aren’t bad, and grapes, melons and strawberries always appeal, but standard stuff like apples or peaches just doesn’t do it for me unless it’s cooked. And since cooked fruit usually involves pies or those almond tart things you get in the patisseries, it’s not about to feature prominently on the diet and exercise menu.

But perusal of Casino’s tourist-oriented picnic shelves suggested that little boxed salad foods might well be the way forward. Not actually purchased from the supermarket, clearly, but their stock is certainly a useful source of ideas. And after minimal experimentation it transpired that salad in plastic tubs was indeed a winner. Plenty of variety, nice fresh food and appropriately summery. Pity the weather was anything but summery for most of the time, but you can’t have everything.

First favourite was the Indian chickpea salad which proved perfect salad-in-a-box material along with a hard boiled egg and a squeezy pack of apple compote (see, the cooked fruit solution) and I ate it for nearly a week before getting bored enough to branch out into alternatives. And many tasty alternatives there were:

Faux Greek Salad – pasta based, making it very faux indeed on the Greek front. Mix with spring onions, fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, sliced black olives and little bits of feta cheese, then drizzle with garlic oil. Not very much feta or it gets overwhelming, so buying it under oil in little jars turns out to be best value, despite the fact that it looks more expensive.

Rice ‘n’ beans – I didn’t eat much rice-based lunch despite the fact that it’s a favourite, as leaving it in your bag in an increasingly warm hut all morning is just asking for food poisoning really. But given July’s consistently arctic weather I reckoned I could probably get away with it. This one consists of white basmati rice and (you guessed it) pulses, my usual combo being chickpeas and lentils with chopped spring onions and a splodge of soy sauce. Works well with all kinds of pulses, and sweetcorn does the biz as well.

Brown rice & prawns – more lunchbox roulette, this time with brown basmati, prawns, spring onion, sliced gherkins, chopped capers and either cherry tomatoes or pineapple. Add chopped anchovy and Thai fish sauce for more fishiness. I think I ultimately preferred the tomato version, though pineapple worked quite well. It seems you can only buy it in huge tins, but as this gives you an excuse to have sweet and sour pork for dinner it can only be a plus.

Lentil salad – yes it’s pulses again. Gosh I’m such a healthy eco-freak. Mix of tinned puy lentils, spring onion, cucumber and cooked beetroot. I know the beet thing sounds slightly odd, but give it a go – you’ll be surprised.

Rice salad weather

Carrot vinaigrette – flagrantly stolen from the supermarket picnic repertoire, this one, and you wonder how they have the brass neck to charge what they do for a load of grated carrot covered in salad dressing. Fresh and tasty, and you can obviously try different dressings for a bit of variety. Adding raisins gives a bit of extra zing as well, assuming you like raisins.

Celeri remoulade – another supermarket picnic staple, but amazingly bland compared to the home made version. This one thanks to JC, who spent an entire afternoon perfecting the remoulade following a row with his boss over what should go in it. Turns out it tastes best made with three parts olive oil, ditto mayo, one part mustard, some capers and a minced garlic clove. Mix with grated celeriac, but add only just enough sauce to coat the veg. Improves for a day spent sitting in the fridge, so you can make it in advance and use it on days when you get up too late to spend time putting lunch together.

And finally ……

Random generic salad – for the end of the shopping week when you’re taking pot luck with the contents of the fridge. Any carb (rice, pasta, couscous, wheat) plus a bit of protein (chopped chicken, prawns, smoked salmon, pulses, cheese) and whatever vegetable matter is lying about (salad veggies, grated carrot, sweetcorn, gherkins, sundried tomatoes). Drizzle with flavoured oil (the stuff out of the feta jar is a good wheeze), soy, Worcester sauce, sweet chilli sauce, Thai fish sauce etc.

This being part of the annual effort to carry on fitting into the same jeans I didn’t venture into dressings based on mayo or creme fraiche and nor did I get too involved with cheese or bacon, but adding those options opens up a whole further world of salad possibility. I did accessorise a bit though, with hard boiled eggs prominent on the menu along with cereal bars, fruit compotes and the odd banana. I have to confess to being led into temptation by some Nutella muffins at one point as well, but I refuse to feel guilty about what I eat. Besides you can’t expect me to exercise iron willpower all of the time.

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