"Basically it’s your fry-up PLUS the ingredients of a nutrient-packed green smoothie, all on one plate." Lucy Feagins - The Design Files 2015
"Being green is easy with ALDI'S fresh fruit and veg"
Those words are at the base of this page in the current Aldi catalogue. Now I'm not about to launch into a campaign for everyone to shop at Aldi, but I was rather taken by the very simple layout shown here as a way to make a salad, specifically a breakfast salad. And I was also rather intrigued by the notion of a breakfast salad. Is this the next big thing I wondered. And yet again - I really should somehow get into the Instagram world - because I suspect that's where all these trends - if they are trends that is - begin.
Or is it just that the trend starts somewhere random - on TV, a café or restaurant, with a celebrity chef, in a blog, in a cookbook ... and Instagram spreads it?
Now my husband tells me you can find an answer to everything on the net. Well I am here to tell you, and I've been telling him for a long time, that this is just not true. I tried to find the origins of the breakfast salad, and I have to say I have no answer.
I think the earliest reference I saw to such a thing was 2013 and this dish from Emily Vikre of Food 52, but I have also seen an article in the Louisville Courier dated 2021 which says:
"Let 2021 be the year we make the breakfast salad the main attraction of our morning meal."
Another article seemed to think it dated to around 2015 - which sort of rings true with respect to the articles that I did find about it. Anyway it's not a really new thing in spite of what that Louisville article says. The Ancient Greeks were eating them way, way back.
And yet here is Aldi promoting it as if it's the latest thing - even giving you a 'starter' recipe - Mixed berry and halloumi breakfast salad.
Although Bill Granger made the Australian breakfast, and particularly smashed avocado toast, hotcakes and scrambled eggs a thing, most of what I did find on the topic came from America, although one of the articles did indeed imply that it was the Australians in America who were responsible for the trend.
""New Yorkers have taken to the modern breakfasts served at the city’s rapidly multiplying Australian cafes. This cooking style features bright mashups of foods that are healthy, natural and luxurious all at once, and that even the most hardened bacon-egg-and-cheese lover may not be able to resist." Julia Moskin - New York Times
Granger himself, in his latest book Australian Food, which includes a section on breakfast, does not have a single salad in that section. Nevertheless The Telegraph in the UK did have an article on him and breakfast salads, but I could not read it as I am not a subscriber. The photos below come from that article, and I have added the Summer chopped salad which is from delicious. - and his latest book - but is not a breakfast salad per se. I must say it looks light enough for me to be tempted though. As I said I am not big into breakfast and that looks light enough.
As you can see they are very pretty but the Summer chopped salad at least is pretty complicated to make. And I think a breakfast salad has to be simple. Very simple. Just an assembly job really because who has the time, or energy to cook in the morning? Or wash up. Breakfast is what is supposed to give you energy, not take energy away from you as you make it.
And this is the whole thing about breakfast salads, they are an ideal, quick and easy way to pack a whole range of desired nutrients into you that will set you up for the day:
"breakfast salads can play a role in disease prevention, aid weight loss and maintenance, improve skin health and fight inflammation. And because they’re naturally high in water and fiber they may even improve digestion." Harvest and Nourish
I also read that they enhance mood, so what's not to love? Well all that munching for one thing, as far as I'm concerned.
So let's go back to the Aldi list to see what to expect in a breakfast salad.
Protein - Aldi suggests eggs, tofu or bacon but they have left out cheese, meat and fish which are other valid options. Well they were trying to keep it simple I suppose. Eggs, I have to say, were the favourite here, and also I suppose the easiest - after cheese and tofu that is - there is no effort involved in boiling or poaching an egg - although admittedly poaching requires a bit of skill. Even frying or scrambling doesn't take a lot of effort either. There were many writers who seemed to think that the egg was absolutely essential.
"if a salad makes a good vehicle for an egg at lunch, then a salad could also be my breakfast. Just switch the wine for a cup of coffee! Not only this, but salad as a good egg vehicle holds true for other types of lettuce, not just frisee" Emily Vikre - Food 52
"An egg: This is arguably the most important component of the breakfast salad. You can fry it, poach it, scramble it, or hard-boil it the night before, but it must make its way onto the plate (or into the bowl, depending on your preferred salad-eating receptacle). Though all eggs are valid, I like one with a runny yolk, as it mixes into the dressing in a most pleasing way." Lifehacker
As to bacon - you can even cook that in a microwave. The essential thing here is to minimise the washing up. Who wants to start the day with washing up? One writer who was also a fan of breakfast salads on the basis that they were a wonderful way of using up leftovers, also recommended leftover scraps of cooked meat - chicken, ham, leftover omelette, sliced up, even leftover pizza sliced.
Nigella's contribution to the breakfast salad thing, shown here, is a combination of those two things mostly - Egg and bacon salad - sticking with the British breakfast tradition. Jamie though, perhaps surprisingly, doesn't do breakfast salad, at least not as far as I can see.
Fruits - limitless options here - fresh, leftover cooked, frozen?, even tinned, pickled or otherwise preserved I guess. Dried fruit too. Aldi didn't mention avocado - or is that a vegetable?
Greens - this is the component that the nutritionists raved about. Second only to the egg in necessity. So good for so many things, and getting them in early in the day is a bonus. Obviously there are a wide range of options here - even finely shredded raw cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc. And let's not forget herbs of all kinds.
Toppings - the crunch that makes it all worthwhile - they suggest seeds, croutons and strangely cheese - which should have been in the protein section surely. What about nuts, and toasted grains? Olives? And yes, alright, perhaps a bit of crumbled feta or grated Parmesan.
And that's where Aldi leaves it but they omitted two other vital components.
Vegetables - again the nutritionists raved about the fact that you were getting vegetables into you early in the day and this needn't just be the obvious tomatoes, cucumber, radish type. What about leftover cooked veggies that you might have lurking in your fridge? Maybe a veggie dip counts, or pickled vegetables as well? After all you're probably not going to roast cauliflower or anything else first thing in the morning are you? Though maybe you could toss a couple of bits of asparagus on a griddle. Mind you that would mean washing up. In the Middle-East of course, they have long been eating vegetables for breakfast. Legumes are sort of a category all of their own aren't they - somewhere between protein and vegetable in this context, but a really good addition.
Dressing - well anything goes here as well of course. The simplest suggestions were a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice but the whole gamut of world dressings is possible.
Where do grains fit in I wonder? For carbohydrates seem to be the one food category missing. Surely quinoa is OK? Indeed quinoa is mentioned in several of the recipes I saw. Are we saying that grains should be left out? Unless they are croutons or toasted crumbs scattered over the top? No toast to be seen though. Not even sourdough or ciabatta. Perhaps this the other main benefit of the breakfast salad - no carbohydrates. Save them for your pasta dinner.
Lifehacker proffers a similar list to Aldi's but with rather more comment.
The word is that in spite of what you might think about either the traditional British fry up , or the American/Australian sweet laden pancakes, waffles, french toast and the like, filling you up more, apparently a breakfast salad will actually make you feel fuller than any of those for longer, and, of course, it is unquestionably much more nutritious.
There are hundreds of recipes out there on the net but it seems to me that it's the method that you need really. It's just a wonderful way to practice improvisation, learn what goes with what and also a wonderful way to have something different for breakfast every day. Because of all the meals that we have, breakfast is the one that most probably is always the same. I know mine is - it just varies between a crumpet a croissant or some toast. The rest - coffee and jam are the same. Breakfast is a routine and perhaps in these desperate lockdown days where every day is even more the same as the one before it - at least in this latest lockdown - it's time to experiment with what's in the fridge first thing in the morning. Start your day creatively and you might continue that way, ending up at night in a satisfied frame of mind.
"Why isn't anyone talking about the chopped, dressed, egg-graced glory that they are?" Leslie Stephens - Food52
Indeed. In spite of the general vibe that breakfast salads were a thing, and in spite of the hundreds of recipes, nobody was actually really talking about them as a thing - why, where from, fun or a bore? ...
Breakfast salad with smoked trout and quinoa - a particularly beautiful looking example from Bon Appétit, and not too much to chew there either.