Handing over your entire paycheck to Sweetgreen again? Save money and eat well with my Fancy Meal Prep Salad Technique™.
One of the grievances I hear most from home cooks is, “The salads I make at home are never as good as the ones I get at [insert salad chain here: Sweetgreen, Chop’t, etc.].” In response to which I think, duh. All these places do is make salad, so of course they’ve got it down to a science. Now, I love Sweetgreen as much as the next girl, but I don’t love spending $15 on a bowl of greens that I’ll scarf down mindlessly in front of my laptop anyway.
What makes their salads so good, though, is the multitude of textures and flavors. Usually, they’ve got crunchy, chewy, and creamy elements, as well as a balance of savory, sweet, salty, and acidic tastes, and a contrast of hot and cold temperatures. Together, all these things make salads (and all meals, really) taste satisfying and complete.
The good news is that we can borrow a page from the book of Sweetgreen/Chop’t and infuse this philosophy into our salads at home. Allow me to introduce you to my Fancy Meal Prep Salad Technique™. I designed this recipe with a meal prepper’s mindset, with all its elements being cookable in advance, so you can have homemade fancy salads ready to go for the week.
What’s In This “Meal Prep Salad”
This vegan salad features spicy broccoli, smoky tempeh “bacon”, sweet-and-sour quick-pickled onions, crunchy spiced pumpkin seeds, and creamy tahini dressing – with fresh greens, of course. These elements may sound fancy, but the prep will take you just about an hour. The broccoli, “bacon”, and dressing will keep in the fridge for about 4 days. The onions will keep for several weeks, and the pumpkin seeds can live in the pantry for several weeks, too.
The point of this technique is to incorporate a variety of flavors and textures into your lunch salad. The formula is: fresh greens, a cooked vegetable, a plant based protein (tofu, tempeh, beans, or chickpeas), something crunchy (in this case seeds, or something like croutons), and a fun homemade sauce.
How to Make This Salad
The tempeh “bacon”: Start by slicing a block of tempeh into thin strips and marinating them in a mix of soy sauce, maple syrup, oil, and smoked paprika for about 30 minutes. Then bake them until golden brown. This vegetarian bacon is packed with protein and makes the salad hearty and filling.
The quick-pickled onions: While the bacon is happening, combine seasoned rice vinegar with water, and add sliced red onions. Let the mixture stand for at least 30 minutes before eating. If not eating right away, place in an airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to several weeks. Besides this recipe, these onions add brightness, acidity, and crunch to salads, sandwiches, grain bowls, avocado toast, etc.
The broccoli: Roughly chop it into small-ish bits; peel the broccoli stalk by running your knife around the skin, then chop it up, too (yes, it’s edible!). Put all the broc in a large pan with a splash of water. Cover tightly with a lid and steam for a few minutes until it turns bright green. (Be careful not to overcook this – nobody likes mushy broccoli.) Then uncover, add oil, raise the heat, and cook until the broc starts to brown. Lastly, season with fresh garlic and chili flakes.
The spiced seeds (optional): I adore these seeds and always keep some in my pantry for sprinkling on toasts, soups, grain bowls, etc. Start by toasting the pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet for a few minutes until they puff up. Then turn the heat off, add olive oil, smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and toss to coat. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container. (If you’re short on time, just top your meal prep salad with plain toasted pumpkin seeds.)
The tahini dressing: Lastly, make the sauce by whisking together tahini, water, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. (You can also take this to the next level with my cilantro-lime tahini dressing!) And if you’re not a fan of tahini, try this sesame-ginger dressing or sun-dried tomato vinaigrette instead.
Assembling The Salad
To assemble, top a bowl of greens (like romaine or arugula) with each of the elements and drizzle everything with the sauce. If possible, warm up the broccoli and tempeh before adding to the salad. If packing this to go, keep the salad and dressing separate until ready to eat. (I love these little sauce containers for dressings on-the-go.)
More meal prep recipe ideas…
- Meal Prep Farro Bowls with Garlicky Beans
- Soba Noodle Bowl with Tofu, Cucumbers and Peanuts
- Curried Chickpea Salad
- Roasted Eggplant Sandwich with Romesco Sauce
Spent your entire paycheck on fancy salads again? Save money and eat well with this meal prep salad technique.
For the Tempeh Bacon
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- 2 tablespoons oil (like avocado, organic canola, or olive)
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- One 8-ounce package of tempeh, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
For the Quick-Pickled Onions
- 1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar *(see note below)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 medium red onion, cut into thin half-moons
For the Broccoli
- 1 head of broccoli, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Pinch of fine sea salt and black pepper
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
For the Spiced Pumpkin Seeds *(optional, see note below)
- 1/2 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas)
- 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- Pinch of fine sea salt and black pepper
For the Tahini Dressing
- 1/3 cup well-stirred tahini
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
- 1 garlic clove, crushed or finely minced
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Plus, fresh greens like arugula or romaine
- Start the tempeh bacon: In a shallow dish, whisk together 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika. Add the tempeh slices and gently toss to coat. Let stand for at least 30 minutes, tossing again after 15 minutes to ensure it’s marinating evenly.
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Meanwhile, start the onions: In a bowl/jar, combine 1/2 cup rice vinegar with 1/4 cup water. Add the onions, adding more water if needed to fully submerge them. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. (Store with the picking liquid in an airtight container in the fridge for up to several weeks).
- Back to the bacon: Arrange the tempeh strips in a single layer on the baking sheet (discard marinade). Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. (Cool completely before storing; keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.)
- Meanwhile, make the broccoli: Place the broccoli in a large skillet with a splash of water (about 3 tablespoons) and set over medium heat. Cover tightly with a lid and cook just until the broccoli is bright green, about 3 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until all the water has evaporated. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook until the broccoli is starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes, and pinches of salt and pepper. Stir to combine and cook for 30 seconds more. (Cool completely before storing; keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.)
- Next, the seeds: Place 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat. Toast, tossing frequently to keep the seeds from burning, until they’re lightly browned and a little puffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the heat off, add 1/2 teaspoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon each smoked paprika and garlic powder, and pinches of salt and pepper. Toss to coat. (Cool completely before transferring to an airtight container; keep in the pantry for up to several weeks.)
- Lastly, make the dressing: In a medium bowl, combine 1/3 cup tahini, 1/3 cup water, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 crushed garlic clove, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk until smooth and pourable (at first it may seem lumpy, but keep whisking and it’ll come together); add more water if needed. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed. (Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days).
- Seasoned rice vinegar contains sugar and salt, so it’s the perfect pickling liquid. If you don’t have any, substitute with apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar, and stir about 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons sugar or maple syrup into the brine to make up the difference.
- If you’re short on time, just top your salad with plain toasted pumpkin seeds.
- Serving Size: 1/6 of the recipe
- Calories: 410
Keywords: meal prep, salad, lunch, broccoli, tempeh