After eating my way through a couple diets in my late teens and early 20s, I now have one mantra for feeding myself—lead with vegetables. I’ve heard this advice a thousand ways over the past 10 years. From Michael Pollan who said, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” And from Bringing Up Bébé, where a French mother recounts putting vegetables on the dinner table first to feed the grumbling children begging to eat. (Maybe she didn’t say grumbling. Maybe only mine grumbles?) Let them fill up on that, she said, before setting down the next course, which has led me to believe that a 2-course meal does not need to be fancy. For us, that looks like a salad before pasta or pizza. For me, that looks like a salad before dinner, at lunchtime. And a salad at lunch only really happens if I prep in advance. So I’ve added this Make Ahead Thai Mango Salad to the menu.
This post is part of the month-long (life-long) Clean-er series, where I’m talking about making better choices. Not the best. Just better. I don’t know a lot, but I know this. Prepped food makes for fast food. So prepare what you can in advance, especially vegetables. I try to be in the business of setting myself up to succeed. Success at lunchtime tastes a whole lot like this Make Ahead Thai Mango Salad.
Salad Prep Tips
Let’s break this Thai Mango Salad down to doable (and delicious). First things first, size matters. In design, we call this scale. You use it to draw attention towards or away from something. In the case of kale, breaking these large, fibrous leaves into smaller shreds makes them so much more palatable. I noticed this on a salad I ordered out recently, where they finely diced the red pepper. It was crunchy and consistent, not overwhelming and disruptive. Imagine the difference if those diced peppers were cut into hunky strips. Size changes the flavor. So, in the case of this salad, go small. Chiffonade your kale in the same way you cut your basil. When you’re down to the last 2-inches of the stemmy end, rip off the leaves, discard the stem, and chiffonade those as well. If you’re into the rooty end, well then, discard this advice. You’re the one holding the knife now.
We’re going to do the same fine slicing to the cabbage as well. With a sharp knife, you can shave the cabbage. Or you can use my favorite tool for quickly manipulating vegetables into different sizes, the OXO Grate and Slice. I’ve been waxing on about this gadget for the last couple years. The orientation of this grater is far more user-friendly than the traditional upright grater, in my experience.
To quickly shave the cabbage, use the mandoline insert. To julienne the carrots, use the julienne insert. The problem with vegetables is that they take time to prepare, which isn’t actually a problem but rather an adjustment of expectations. So, if you want to add more vegetables to your life, add some prep time too. And if you’re really serious, invest in good tools, like a sharp chef’s knife or a mandoline or a Grate and Slice, to make this task more efficient.
Now, once all the vegetables and the stir-together sauce have been prepped, you have lunch for the week. Store the contents in a closed container, placing the wet ingredients in first, like the mangos, then stack the remaining vegetables. Leave the herbs and kale at the top, the ingredients you want to keep dry to extend their life as long as possible. You can also make individual, to-go salads for each day of the week (see image above).
How to Recompose This Thai Mango Salad
Let’s not stop at this salad. One of my favorite things to do is to recompose the flavor profile and components of one meal into 5 other meals. I’m not sure if this makes me lazy or efficient. You can read more about this idea here. To do so, turn this salad into a wrap with the addition of a tortilla. Or, turn it into a rice or cauliflower bowl. Serve it over buckwheat noodles. Can you taco this? Definitely. Note: you may need to adjust the kale ratio a bit, reducing the amount. Also considering briefly sautéing the salad mix when making a warm dish. Adjust the amount of sauce as needed. Noodles absorb sauce faster than kale. For added protein, add pulled rotisserie chicken or roasted chickpeas to the mix.
In short, you’ve got this. We’ve got this. Here’s to the idea of clean-er. To adding a couple more vegetables into the day. And a square of salted dark chocolate. And sparkling water. And, and, and. Someone cut me off. Here’s to you.
A sweet and spicy, crunchy and crispy vegetable-loaded make ahead Thai Mango Salad with a simple peanut sauce for the lunch week.
Peanut Sauce (yields 1/2 cup)
1/4 c. (4 tbsp.) creamy natural Peanut Butter 2 tbsp. rice vinegar 1 tbsp. soy sauce 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice 2 tsp. (or a 2/3 tbsp.) maple syrup 1 clove garlic, minced
1 bundle (about 1/2 lb.) dinosaur kale (also known as Lacinato kale) 1 c. shaved red cabbage 1 c. julienned carrots 3/4 c. diced mango 3/4 c. shelled edamame 1/4 c. roughly chopped fresh mint and cilantro, lightly packed 1 green onion, sliced 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced 1/2 c. chopped peanuts
To make the peanut sauce, whisk together all the sauce ingredients until smooth. Thin with water if desired.
To make the salad, prep all the ingredients. This can be done in advance. Be sure to wash and completely dry the kale if prepping in advance. Chiffonade the kale, or thinly slice, as if you were preparing basil. Breaking it down into smaller sizes makes it more palatable, easier to eat, and allows for more even coating of the dressing.
If serving immediately, add all the salad contents to a large bowl and dress liberally, to your liking, stirring to coat.
If making ahead, store salad contents in a large airtight container or individual containers. Note: Store the wetter ingredients, like the mango, carrots, and edamame at the bottom to keep excess moisture away from the dry ingredients, like the kale, herbs, and green onions. Water will cause these more fragile ingredients to deteriorate faster throughout the week. We want to keep them nice and crisp until later in the work week. Add nuts to folded parchment or lay a piece of parchment on top of the container to keep those guys nice and crunchy for tomorrows lunch. Place the dressing in a separate container.