Thai-inspired Tofu Spinach Salad Bowl
by Ginnie Lin
We here at Your Health Forum are big fans of salad. This recipe was born out of a craving for a Thai stir fry but not having the time to make it! The result was a balanced and filling bowl with nutritious spinach as a base and then topped with creamy avocado, warm tofu, and a delicious peanut dressing.
The base of the bowl, which would typically be white rice, was substituted with spinach. After a quick rinse and a chop, it’s ready! Besides its convenience (you can find it at any grocery store), spinach is a leafy green full of antioxidants, fiber, and iron! Unlike some other salad greens, spinach (and its close cousins: arugula, kale, broccoli, bok choy, and mustard greens) are more nutrient-dense. Their dark green color is actually indicative of the vitamins and minerals it contains.
Spinach and similar greens can serve as an easy base for various bowls, depending on your mood. For example, they can take on a completely different flavor when combined with blue cheese and fruit, along with a balsamic based vinaigrette.
Now, for the “toppings,” – these are added to the spinach base and provide flavor and texture.
As we were going for a Thai-inspired flavor profile, the bowl’s main protein component was firm tofu! Tofu, made from soybeans, is full of plant-based protein. It contains all the necessary amino acids for your body (important for vegetarians and vegans) in a nutrient-dense package!
By itself, it’s quite bland and cold – but when warmed up in the microwave and dressed with the spicy peanut sauce, it becomes tasty and delicious. It’s also quick and easy to prepare – take the raw tofu and rinse it. After, take a knife and cut it into half-inch cubes. Though you can enjoy it cold, I like it warmed up in the microwave for 30 seconds.
You can also experiment with different tofu textures. Though this dish requires firm tofu to hold its shape, tofu also comes in silken and soft varieties.
Another “topping” to the bowl, half an avocado, contributes texture. Avocados are a great way to add a creamy texture and help “hold” the bowl together. They accomplish this because they’re full of healthy, mono-saturated fats similar to those in olive oil. They also contain tons of fiber, potassium, and necessary vitamins. Cut them into small half-inch cubes, similar to the tofu, and add to the bowl.
Finally, the creamy Thai peanut dressing brings it all together. This dressing is incredibly versatile – it’s not only a great addition to a variety of salads but makes a delicious dipping sauce for fresh vegetables and grilled meats as well. The combination of sweet, nutty, and slightly acidic flavors perks up any bland dish. This specific recipe uses less sugar and sodium by substituting chili sauce for chili powder and added refined sugar for honey and rice vinegar.
To make the salad dressing:
Mix a heaping spoonful of peanut butter (creamy or crunchy both work) with a teaspoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of rice vinegar, and a drizzle of honey. Add in chili powder to your preference (can also omit). Stir well and adjust as needed. If it’s too thick, add some warm water to thin it out. This recipe can be adjusted for the size of your salad bowl.
I also added a few cherry tomatoes on hand for color, but it’s optional. There you have it, an easy lunch or light dinner with minimal cooking!
Note about bowls – you’ll see that we stressed to make sure to choose healthy components of protein, fiber, and fats in this recipe. Although we chose tofu, spinach, and avocado for this recipe (respectively), it is easy to substitute and switch out what you have on hand. Beans, like lentils or even canned black beans, could easily be put into a more southwest style bowl and adds healthy carbs to the mix.
If you’re not a vegetarian, you could use grilled chicken or canned tuna to be the main protein in your bowl. And whatever flavor you’re craving, you can also adjust your dressing or sauce to compliment it. I’ve used Greek yogurt mixed with cilantro for southwest flavored bowls and Indian-inspired bowls, as well as a balsamic vinaigrette for more Italian inspired bowls. The possibilities to experiment with are endless!