Each month FBC member and nutritionist, Sondi Bruner, takes a favourite dish and shows you how to adapt it to be allergen-friendly, as well as delicious and healthy. This month she's giving the boring salad an overhaul that vegetarians and vegans alike will applaud (or just those of us who like, to quote Seinfeld, "a big salad"!).  

7 Allergen Friendly Ways To Bulk Up A Salad

Editor's Note: This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure is at the bottom of the article.

A few years ago, I was invited to a networking dinner. I hesitate about dining at large, generic restaurants, as there often isn't much to eat for someone with my food sensitivities. The event organizers assured me that the venue would prepare a special meal for me, so I merrily agreed to attend.

It was the middle of January. What did I receive, you ask?

A pile of arugula, scattered with chunks of pears, with some sort of fruity dressing I could barely taste. Sitting amongst strangers, I plastered a smile on my face, internally weeping while everyone else gorged on their warm, hearty meals.

Stop The Sad Salads

I don't know where everyone got the idea that people who don't eat meat, dairy or gluten gnaw on lettuce and call it a day, but this has to stop (and is this why everyone keeps asking where plant-based eaters get their protein? Because yeah, there ain't much protein in a mouthful of iceberg).

I have strong feelings about salads. If you want to serve me a simple spinach salad drizzled with vinaigrette as a side dish, no prob. But when you try to pass it off as a bounteous entree, then we're going to have words.

There are loads of ways to bulk up your salads to make them flavourful, satiating and enjoyable. Here are y of my favourite ways to create a hearty, filling and simply sensational salad! And - gasp - sometimes you don't even need to use lettuce!

1. Gluten-Free Whole Grains

Peach and Barley Salad

There are a wide range of gluten-free whole grains to choose from that can provide heft to your salads. Quinoa is a popular choice these days because it is packed with fibre, minerals and protein (it actually has all the essential amino acids we need, just like animal sources), plus it's pretty tasty, too.

I also like using cooked buckwheat, brown rice, wild rice and millet. I recently found a bag of sorghum at my local grocery store, cooked it up, and paired it with a salad that I brought to a potluck. Most gluten-free whole grains offer a nutty, chewy flavour, a good dose of protein, and they contain stress-fighting and energy-boosting B vitamins.

One To Try: Peach and Barley Salad With Asparagus and Candied Walnuts

2. Beans and Legumes

Mexican Quinoa Salad with tomatoes, corn and beans

Like many whole grains, beans and legumes are a wonderful source of protein, and they are rich in fibre, which helps to support our digestive health, balance our blood sugar, and lower cholesterol. Beans are usually high in iron, too. Some darker-coloured beans, like black beans, are high in anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients - so it's not just veggies that contain free radical fighters.

Chickpeas are always a popular option, but lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans and lima beans are all good options as well. If you or your guests are new to eating beans, start off with a small amount, since beans are quite starchy and can make us toot (for tips on how to make beans more digestible, check out this post).

3. Nuts and Seeds

The Complete FBC Guide to Nuts and Seeds | Food Bloggers of Canada

Nuts and seeds make a great addition to salads (if you're not allergic, that is). Feeling fancy? Try making seasoned or candied nuts for an extra dose of goodness.

Any type of nut or seed will do - walnuts and almonds offer healthy fats and a payload of minerals, while seeds tend to be less expensive, so you can be more liberal with your sprinkling.

4. Tofu, Tempeh, or Animal Protein

If your guests are vegetarian or vegan, try using tofu or tempeh (tempeh is made from fermented soybeans) in your salads. Tofu and tempeh soak up flavour easily, so you can marinade them with your favourite sauce, and then bake or stir-fry them. If you're feeling lazy, there are also store-bought flavoured options (hint: smoked tofu is pretty darn awesome).

For non-vegetarian diners, baked salmon or chicken are classic salad toppers, too.

5. Roasted Vegetables

Roasted Veggie Miso Rice Bowl | Food Bloggers of Canada

Who says salads need to include raw vegetables? A simple caprese salad is all well and good in July, but when it's wintertime, cooked vegetables are your salad's best friends.

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Roasted squash, yams, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, turnips, carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, cauliflower, caramelized onions, take your pick - all of these make great salad accoutrements. You can keep it simple and roast your veggies with olive oil and sea salt, or add in additional spices for extra flavour.

One To Try: Roasted Veggie and Miso Rice Bowl

6. Wilted or Massaged Greens

If you're using warm items like roasted vegetables, tofu or grains, try tossing in handfuls of greens and let them wilt slightly. I'm not the biggest fan of raw greens - I find them challenging to digest - so taking a bit of the raw edge off is helpful for me. For hearty greens like kale, chard or collards, you can get an arm workout by massaging them with lemon juice and sea salt until they diminish in volume.

7. A Substantial Salad Dressing

I love a vinaigrette as much as the next gal, but a thick, creamy salad dressing or sauce can take your salad to the next level. Nut and seed butters like tahini, almond butter and peanut butter offer substance and flavour, as do dips or sauces like hummus, babaganoush, guacamole or salsa. You can also blend cooked vegetables into your dressings (for an example, check out my best dang sauce ever).

A hefty salad that includes roasted veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, or grains is one that'll make me do a happy dance.  If you're looking for more great, hearty and satisfying salad ideas, check out the recent FBC Member Salad roundups here and here - 30 great recipes in all.

But now I have an existential question for you: is a salad without lettuce and raw veg still a salad? Discuss.

Roasted Squash and Lentil Salad
This hearty salad can be served warm, room temperature, or cold.
Recipe type: Salad
Serves: 6
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, and diced into 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 1 cup French green lentils
  • ⅓ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus extra for roasting the vegetables
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ¼ tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Place your butternut squash and cauliflower in a large roasting tray (or spread them onto two baking sheets). Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil.
  3. Roast the vegetables for 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they can be easily pierced with a fork.
  4. While the veggies are roasting, cook your lentils and prepare your dressing. In a small pot, bring the lentils and two cups of water to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain off any excess liquid if necessary.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk the tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, smoked paprika, and salt.
  6. When the veggies are done roasting, place them in a large bowl, then stir in the lentils and dressing. Toss well.
  7. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

More Reading:

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This site is also an affiliate for the Academy of Culinary Nutrition.

Sondi Bruner is a holistic nutritionist, freelance writer, food blogger and author of  Simple Superfood Smoothies, The Anti-Inflammatory Diet in 21The Candida Free Cookbook and Action Plan, co-author of The Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Action Plans. She educates people who follow allergen-friendly diets about how to eat simply, deliciously and safely, allowing them to rediscover the pleasure of food. She is also the head program coach for the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. When she’s wearing her writer’s hat, she works with natural health brands to create content that will help their customers live fulfilling, healthful lives. Find out more at www.sondibruner.com.

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7 Allergen-Friendly Ways To Bulk Up A Salad


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