The Mediterranean diet has become wildly popular around the world. Chances are you’ve heard of it. Though generally classified as a “diet,” here at That Salad Lady, we consider it as being a well-balanced eating style. From the vegetables, fruits and whole grains to the nuts, seeds and olive oil, we love everything about Mediterranean cuisine. It is this very wholesome blend of ingredients that inspired our “Mediterranean Chopped Salad” bowl recipe.
A Few Facts About the Mediterranean Diet
Unlike most ethnic cuisines, there’s no single Mediterranean-style eating pattern or diet. The diet label essentially refers to the culinary trends shared by the 18 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. All these countries have their own traditional eating patterns but with common food and nutritional characteristics. Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), for instance, is a staple in the Mediterranean diet and is characteristically rich in monounsaturated fats.
Both alone and in combination, EVOO and other foods that encompass Mediterranean cuisine have been proven to be especially beneficial in the prevention and treatment of a wide range of health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and chronic (long-term) inflammation. In keeping with tradition, our Mediterranean Chopped Salad bowl recipe encompasses many of these foods, which among others include:
- A rich combination of deeply colored vegetables and fruits including romaine lettuce, red cabbage, red bell pepper, tomato and black olives.
- High-quality pasta for hearty flavor and texture, good fiber and additional nutrients.
- An EVOO-based dressing paired with balsamic vinegar and honey for subtle sweetness and even more nutrition.
As complicated as it might sound, this is one of the easiest salad bowls to make. It’s vegan-friendly, gluten-free, packed with flavor and full of yummy crunch – and you won’t believe how light yet incredibly satisfying it is.
THE BALANCING ACT
If you’re watching your weight or carbohydrate intake, you’re probably pondering ways to substitute the pasta we’ve mentioned above. Lucky for you, low-carb pasta options are widely available so experiment with the different varieties and see what you like.
Like many starchy foods, pasta has long been the dieter’s nemesis as it drives up calorie and carb counts. Still, this doesn’t mean it lacks nutrition. There’s no escaping the fact that pasta is relatively high in calories and carbs. However, unlike other diets, the Mediterranean diet is less focused on counting calories and carbs and more centered on the overall nutritional value of whole foods.
When it comes to pasta, it’s the protein and fiber content that generally separates the “bad” from the “good.” Both are natural appetite suppressants that help you eat less throughout the day. Whole-grain pastas typically house the most protein and fiber followed by veggie and legume-based pastas, which are often gluten free as well.
Whether whole grain, veggie or legume-based, the key to eating pasta lies in portion control. Oftentimes, the problem with pasta is not the pasta itself – it’s the fact that people eat too much of it.
Below we suggest sensible portions of pasta – just enough to complement all the sweet and savory flavors of the vegetables, fruits and other ingredients in the recipe. If you’re following a particular diet, consider trying a pasta that’s high in protein and low in carbs. But if your diet is more all-inclusive, by all means, prepare our recipe as is.
Now, let’s talk more about what’s in our Mediterranean Chopped Salad bowl and why.
Powerfully Pigmented Veggies
If you’ve checked out our “Five Bowl Basics” you already know that deeply colored vegetables will get you the most nutritional bang for your buck. The deep colors come from various plant pigment phytochemicals (“phytonutrients”) such as carotenoids and flavonoids which have powerful antioxidant and immunity-boosting effects.
Our recipe is packed with purple, red and green pigmented veggies that help ward off many common diseases and illnesses. We’ve already mentioned a few of these ingredients but collectively they include romaine lettuce, red cabbage, red bell pepper, red onion and scallions (green onions).
The recipe calls for romaine hearts (the center leaves of romaine), but feel free to experiment with other lettuce greens. We love the crisp texture and mildly sweet flavor romaine hearts bring to the bowl. While not as deeply pigmented as kale, romaine contains nearly double the carotenoids housed in light-colored lettuces like iceberg.
With its crunchy texture and peppery, earthy flavor red cabbage is a perfect complement to romaine hearts. It also packs a powerful nutritional punch. In fact, largely due to its deep purplish-red hue, red cabbage contains 10 times more flavonoids and antioxidants than green.
Then there’s red pepper, which is the ripest and sweetest of all peppers and, to us, the best flavor addition to our Mediterranean Chopped Salad. Besides the various disease-fighting carotenoids it houses, red pepper also contains a dense cocktail of other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.
Finally, we round off the veggie ingredients with red and green onions to add pungent, spicy and subtle sweet flavors to the blend. Both are naturally rich in antioxidants including vitamin C. As onions are most potent when eaten raw, this recipe is a great way to reap their nutritional benefits.
Sweet, Tart and Savory Fruits
Along with all the powerfully pigmented veggies, our Mediterranean Chopped Salad bowl recipe contains a tasty trio of sweet, tart and savory fruits, specifically tomato, apple and black olives. Each of these fruits is incredibly nutrient-dense and very pleasing to the palate.
First up is the oh so sweet tomato, which is packed full of vitamin C and countless other health-promoting nutrients (study up in our Nutrition Glossary to learn more). We suggest using Roma tomato, as it has more of a thick, meaty texture and doesn’t add a lot of juice to the blend. Grape and cherry tomatoes also work – and they’re equally nutritious.
To bring in the tart our recipe includes Granny Smith apple, which is relatively low in sugar and loaded with phytonutrients and fiber. Like all apples, Granny Smiths contain a specific type of fiber called pectin. Pectin specifically supports intestinal balance, reduce blood sugar levels and promote heart health.
We round out our fruit trio with the savory flavor of black olives. Unlike green olives, black olives are fully ripe and therefore softer and a lot less bitter. Though relatively higher in calories, black olives are equally nutritious housing large amounts of fat-soluble vitamins, antioxidants and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Pasta for Mediterranean Authenticity
Hmm, what more can we say about pasta? Truth is, pasta was born in the Mediterranean, so we have no gripes with including it in our Mediterranean Chopped Salad bowl recipe. Owing to protein and fiber, pasta provides superior satiation (filling effects) along with a good dose of B vitamins and other micronutrients.
For a gluten-free salad bowl, we suggest using either a veggie or legume-based pasta. If there’s not a “gluten-free” label on the product packaging, check the ingredients label to ensure it doesn’t contain the term “wheat” or display a separate “contains wheat” statement. We chose a gluten-free veggie-based rotini enriched with leafy greens (kale, broccoli and spinach). If gluten isn’t an issue for you, feel free to choose a whole wheat or whole grain rotini instead.
Once again, if you’re watching your weight or carbohydrate intake, consider trying a high-protein, low-carb rotini or even a fusilli. Most varieties are enriched with essential micronutrients, which is a huge plus. Whatever your eating style, we want you to experience the added layers of both texture and flavor pasta brings to the bowl.
Optional Ingredients for a Flavor Boost
For even more flavor (and nutrition) we suggest a few optional ingredients: (1) cheese, (2) bacon and (3) chia seeds.
As cheese and bacon have long been viewed as dietary devils, you’re probably surprised to see them as options. If you follow a vegan diet, obviously you can leave them out (or opt for your favorite vegan substitutes). But we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a little bit about cheese and bacon for those who wish to add them.
Here at That Salad Lady, we believe in enjoying cheese. Cheese is also a classic ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. Besides being a valuable source of fat, protein and calcium, cheese is packed with beneficial probiotics that support gut health. For a nice mild flavor with good creamy texture, we suggest using Gorgonzola cheese for our Mediterranean Chopped Salad bowl. You can also use blue or feta cheese, as they’re equally flavorful and nutritious.
Then there is bacon, which can actually be a nutritious add-in when used sparingly and paired with vegetables and other whole foods.
Whether pork, turkey or meatless, the texture and sheer saltiness of bacon lends itself perfectly to a great salad bowl. In and of itself, bacon is a good source of quality protein and other essential nutrients (check out our Nutrition Glossary to learn more). We chose turkey bacon for our recipe, but you can experiment with other types and see what you like.
Though chia seeds aren’t as controversial as cheese and bacon, you may or may not have them sitting in your pantry. If you have them, we highly recommend using them. Just a little sprinkle can add a whole lot of fiber, good protein and plenty of omega-3s to your bowl.
Our Sweet Mediterranean-Style Dressing
For a classic Mediterranean-style dressing, few ingredients are better than EVOO and balsamic vinegar. But we sweeten the deal by adding a little bit of honey and herbs to the mix. We can promise that our dressing won’t disappoint, as it’s deliciously sweet and enhances all the rich flavors of our ingredient combo. Even better, it all comes together in just five minutes!
Now, we do understand that convenience is sometimes an issue. If this is the case, just use a balsamic vinaigrette or sweet Italian dressing instead.
If you choose not to include bacon, pasta is literally the only ingredient that requires cooking. Just grab a large pot and cook the pasta until al dente according to the packet instructions. This essentially means cooking it to the point that it’s slightly chewy but still firm when you bite into it. Pasta boiled al dente makes the starch more easily digestible, which helps prevent blood sugar spikes.
The cooking time for pasta is generally about 8-12 minutes but taste it periodically to ensure the texture is right. When you’ve reached the point of al dente, drain the pasta in a colander and then run it under cold water to stop the noodles from cooking. Once drained, transfer the pasta to a bowl and let it chill in the fridge until you’re ready for it.
Cooking the Bacon (Optional)
If you’re building your bowl with bacon, we suggest making bacon crumbles or bits. You can do this by thinly slicing your bacon strips lengthwise and then cutting them horizontally into small chunks prior to cooking (see recipe below for additional instructions).
GET YOUR CHOP ON
Our Mediterranean Chopped Salad calls for first shredding the cabbage and then chopping the rest of the veggies and fruits (except for the olives) into bite-sized pieces – it’s a “chopped salad” of course. Needless to say, chopping is the bulk of the work. It’s good practice for building up your culinary skills! As always, using a high-quality chef’s knife will make the process a whole lot easier.
We suggest chopping everything in one take. Once the veggies and fruits are chopped up, combine them all in a large colander, rinse and shake up the mix well for a nice, even distribution of colors and then transfer the whole mixture to a large salad bowl. From there, let the mixture chill in the fridge until you’re ready to build your bowl – you can even store this overnight.
BUILD YOUR SALAD BOWL
When you’re ready to build your bowl, add the olives and chilled pasta to the chilled veggie and fruit mix and stir them together until well blended. Consider this to be the base of your Mediterranean Chopped Salad bowl.
If using our sweet Mediterranean-style dressing, add all the ingredients to your blender or food processor. With variable speed units, start with a low speed and then gradually increase it to a higher speed until the mixture is perfectly smooth.
If you don’t have a blender or a food processor, simply add all the ingredients to a jar with a twist off lid or even a bowl and just shake or whisk until everything’s well-mixed.
Whether you use our dressing or another type, it’s best not to “dress” the base salad blend until you’re ready to eat. Dressing can cause the veggies and fruits to get soggy and, if you’re planning for leftovers, you won’t be as happy with your creation the next day. When it’s time to eat, add the bacon and cheese (if using) to the base blend and then add the dressing to taste. Stir the mixture together and top it all off with sprinkles of chia seeds.
All put together, the actual blend is huge, large enough for eight generous servings at about 315 calories each. That includes all ‘optional’ ingredients except for the dressing. Our founder, Nina, generally eats hers with added protein (see “finishing touches” below) over the course of a few days, as she generally eats one large meal a day.
It’s all about building a bowl that works best for YOU.
Add Your Finishing Touches
To boost the protein content and overall filling effect of your salad throw in a handful of chopped chicken breast, shredded salmon or a sliced hard-boiled egg. Visit our Nutrition Glossary for more ideas, as it’s all about making YOU confident in building YOUR bowl.
SHOW US YOUR BOWL
That Salad Lady wants to see your bowl! If you like it, which we are sure you will, drop a comment below and tag pics on Instagram with @thatsaladlady, #thatsaladlady and #buildyourbowl. If you love it, pin it on Pinterest and share it on Facebook and Twitter using #thatsaladlady.
Mediterranean Chopped SaladCourse: Appetizers, MainCuisine: MediterraneanDifficulty: Easy
Vegan-friendly, gluten-free and packed with flavor and full of yummy crunch, you won’t believe how light yet satisfying our “Mediterranean Chopped Salad” bowl is.
- Base Salad Blend
1-2 romaine lettuce hearts, chopped (about 4-6 cups)
1/4 head red cabbage, shredded or chopped
1 medium red pepper (orange or yellow peppers also work), cored, sliced and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 large red onion, sliced and chopped or diced
4-6 green onions (scallions) with tops and bulbs, thinly sliced
3-4 Roma tomatoes (vine, grape or cherry tomatoes also work), seeded and chopped into bite-sized pieces (about 1 cup)
1 medium Granny Smith apple, cored, sliced and chopped into bite-sized cubes
1 can black olives, pitted and drained
4 cups dry veggie or legume-based (rotini or fusilli noodles), cooked al dente*
1 cup Gorgonzola cheese crumbles (blue or feta cheese crumbles also work)(optional)
8 strips of bacon, pan-fried or oven-baked, sliced and chopped into tiny bits (optional)**
2-3 tablespoons chia seeds (optional)
- Sweet Mediterranean-Style Dressing (Optional)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar***
2 tablespoons pure, raw and unfiltered honey****
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Get Cooking and Chopping
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil, add the pasta and cook it until al dente according to the packet instructions.
- When you’ve reached the point of al dente, drain the pasta in a colander and then run it under cold water to stop the noodles from cooking. Once drained, transfer the pasta to a bowl and let it chill in the fridge until you’re ready to build the salad.
- If using bacon, thinly slice the strips lengthwise and then cut them horizontally into small chunks.
- Fry bacon pieces over medium heat in a skillet or sauté pan, turning them often as they cook. The bacon pieces will shrivel into bits during cooking. Once brown and crispy, remove the bacon bits and place them on paper towels to drain. Set aside.
- Combine chopped romaine, cabbage, bell pepper, red and green onions, tomato and apple in a large colander or similar dish.
- Rinse and ‘shake up’ the mix well for an even distribution of colors and then transfer the mixture to a large salad bowl.
- Cover the bowl and let the mixture chill until remaining ingredients are prepared or even overnight.
- Prepare the Dressing
- If using the sweet Mediterranean-style dressing, add all the ingredients to your blender or food processor.
- With variable speed units, start with a low speed and then gradually increase it to a higher speed until the mixture is perfectly smooth.
- If you don’t have a blender or a food processor, simply add all the ingredients to a jar with a twist off lid or even a bowl and just shake or whisk until everything’s well-mixed.
- You can store any extra dressing in a tightly covered container for up to 10 days.
- Our dressing can be substituted for a balsamic vinaigrette or sweet Italian dressing if you wish.
- Build the Salad
- Add the olives and chilled pasta to the chilled veggie and fruit mix and stir them together until well blended.
- Portion out the above mixture according to your needs, divide the bacon and cheese (if using) to suit your portion size, and then add the dressing to taste.
- Stir the mixture together and top it all off with sprinkles of chia seeds.
- *If gluten isn’t an issue for you, feel free to choose a whole wheat or whole grain rotini instead. If you’re watching your weight or carbohydrate intake, consider trying a high-protein, low-carb rotini or even a fusilli.
- **Use whatever type of bacon you prefer. We generally use turkey bacon as the additional salt enhances the flavor of the salad bowl.
- ***You can find white balsamic vinegar at your local supermarket, generally wherever you’d find other types of vinegar and cooking oils. You can also use regular balsamic vinegar if that’s all you have.
- ****Raw, unfiltered honey varieties come at a relatively higher price point so if those don’t fit in your budget, at the very least, ensure that the honey you choose is 100% pure.
- To boost the protein content and filling effect of your bowl, throw in a handful of chopped chicken breast, cooked shrimp or even roasted extra-firm tofu. Chopping up or shredding the breasts of a precooked rotisserie chicken can be delicious, cost-effective and time efficient.
- The noted calorie count applies to 8 servings with ‘optional’ ingredients but without dressing. Depending on your eating style, you can double your portions and eat less meals or store the base blend (minus the chia seeds) in the fridge and eat multiple bowls over the course of multiple days.