How To Make A Great Salad (without cheese!)

This summer I've set a few goals for myself. Most of them are around getting and staying healthier. I've been actually enjoying yoga for the first time in my life, trying to cut back on sweets and trying very hard to eliminate cheese from my diet for the summer.
Why cheese? Cheese is delicious, right? Well, that's the problem. I treat cheese like chocolate and coffee, I think they are so delicious that I can really go overboard. If it were up to me, I'd have cheese at every meal and then more before bed :)
However, I realize all that cheese can't be good for a girl. So, just as a test of willpower, I've been trying to cut cheese almost entirely out of my diet. I'm not going nuts over it, but where I'd usually top my scrambled eggs with sprinkled cheddar, I'm using salsa or sliced avocado. When I want pepper-jack in a sandwich, I'm trying to replace with extra veggies like beets or shredded carrots. It's nowhere near as delicious, but I am losing my taste for it, or rather, my need for it in my food.
However, the place where I have struggled the most has been in salads. I love a creamy goat cheese crumble or chunks of salty feta in my salads, so I've had to find satisfying replacements to make my salads delicious. I think I've done okay, so I'll share with you, the anatomy of a delicious salad, with no cheese!
First, start with your favorite lettuce. I usually gravitate towards the arugula or baby spinach, but I also think adding shreds of endive or radicchio can be great for contrast!
Then, add a protein

I like hard boiled eggs, cooked just barely hard. I do this by putting the eggs in cold water, turning the water on until it comes to a boil, and then turning it off and letting the eggs sit in the water until it returns to room temperature. I find this helps prevent the eggs from becoming rubbery or gray. Instead of or in addition to eggs, you could add chick peas too for your vegetarian protein kick!
Next, add something creamy
I like avocado, because it crumbles and coats the lettuce, almost like a cheese would. It also has folates, healthy fats and Vitamin E that are great for your overall health. Mostly, it tastes indulgent every time, even though we know it's good for us!
Then, you'll need something sweet
I like a little palm-full of dried cranberries and walnuts. You could of course substitute any fruit though: grapefruit, orange segments, figs, pomegranate seeds, strawberries, the list goes on. I think the nuts help add crunch and flavor too.
Finally, you need flavor
I love the punchy, strong flavor of red onion. I think its sweetness along with its intensity really makes the salad. If you hate onion, try beets, carrots, jicama or roasted eggplant to jazz things up.
My last secret ingredient is something seedy
You may have wondered what the little black dots were on all my salad photos above. They were chia seeds! If you don't know about the benefits of these little powerhouses, check this website for details. However, in addition to all the wonderful health benefits of sprinkling these in your salads, I also love the added texture of a seed. Some of my other favorites include flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds or poppy seeds!
Your final step, once you've chosen your favorite ingredients is assembly

In terms of presentation, I like to separate each ingredient into its own little section, so whoever is eating it (even if it's just me) can see exactly what they are eating, and toss it together themselves. On this particular night, I also added roasted chicken breast that I baked in lemon juice with olive oil, garlic, shallot and adobo seasoning.
And just for kicks, I tossed the roasted shallot and garlic in with the salad for extra flavor!
So whatever it is you're trying to kick....whether it's cheese or coffee or chocolate or cursing...there's always something you can replace it with. Maybe it won't be as good as the original, but the body is amazingly resilient, and we can get used to lots of things, if we just give them a chance. (Lizzy's been trying to tell me this for years and I'm just starting to get it). So from one imperfect, cheese-lover to a reader, I hope you stick with whatever your current goals are! Even on those tricky weekends :) Have a good one!

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