Tofu Cranberry Protein Bowl
I love a quick, easy salad to enjoy for lunch during a busy work day but salad can get really boring after a while and many people associate it as a summer-time food. I hear people say “I’ll just have a salad” like it’s something lesser than. This diet-associated food doesn’t have to have a bad reputation! Some of my favorite salads are those loaded up with so many yummy toppings: tofu, sliced almonds, dried fruit, chickpeas, and so many more. Doctor up your salad with toppings you love, plenty of healthy fat and lots of protein for a filling meal that will get you through the work day without any afternoon slumps. Today, I’m sharing my Tofu Cranberry Protein Bowl, which is a perfect recipe to switch up your salad game. Not only is it super easy to toss together (you can definitely meal prep this for the whole week and add the dressing right before you enjoy it!) but it is super delicious and filling. Plus, it is packed with some amazing plant-based protein sources which provide energy and help keep you full for the rest of your day.
Tofu tends to scare people away because they aren’t really sure what it exactly is. Tofu is simply condensed soy milk pressed into a block shape. It is a great source of plant-based protein and many vitamins and minerals, such as manganese, calcium, selenium, phosphorus, copper, and many others. Tofu is also nutrient dense and is very low in calories. It is a great substitute for traditional animal proteins and can be used in exactly the same way in the kitchen for your food preparation.
Tofu, since it is made from soybeans, contains beneficial plant compounds called isoflavones. These isoflavones function as phytoestrogens, meaning that they attach to and activate estrogen receptors in your body. However, these isoflavones provide numerous other health benefits and do NOT act like human estrogen. They have been seen to reduce heart disease risk by reducing blood vessel inflammation and improving elasticity. Additionally, these isoflavones have been seen to help reduce the risk of certain cancers and risk of diabetes, while improving bone health, brain function, and skin elasticity. Antioxidant isoflavones found in tofu are so beneficial and a great addition to your diet!
Switching up your salad
Salads have a reputation for being bland and a light meal alternative. However, they can be so much more than that! I love experimenting with adding fun, unique toppings to my salads. Some of my favorite, go-to toppings are those that will provide a variety of flavors, textures, and nutrients. Without toppings, salads would just be the lettuce base, and while lettuce is good for you, it contains mostly water. Adding toppings provides depth and more nutrients to the salad. Lately, I have been adding some hard-boiled eggs for protein and healthy fat, some fresh berries, walnuts or almonds for some additional healthy fat and a nice crunch, legumes for some insoluble fiber and complex carbohydrates, and a plethora of veggies like cucumbers, carrots, radishes, and many more.
Salad toppings can range from the usual vegetables and dried fruit to quinoa, fresh herbs, pomegranate seeds, and many others. For this Tofu Cranberry Protein Bowl, I channeled the fall season and topped my salad with dried cranberries, almond slices, and chickpeas. You can personalize your salad however you want and there are never any limits to what can be a salad topping! If you are looking for some more salad inspiration, check out my Superfood Salad, Celeriac and Apple Salad, and Quinoa Salad with Cherries and Spinach.
Making the Tofu Cranberry Protein Bowl
For this protein bowl, I blended heartier greens like kale with softer greens like spinach in this salad for depth of texture. Kale tends to be a little bitter by itself so I like to mix it with another leafy green. Plus, using a mixture of greens helps to provide a variety of nutrients to the salad. Also, I sometimes toss in some fresh herbs to the greens mixture to add a bit more flavor. Feel free to use whatever greens you prefer.
This Tofu Cranberry Protein Bowl was inspired by autumn flavors, so topping with cranberries and almonds was a must. Dried cranberries provide such a nice, rich flavor to the salad along with a hint of sweetness. Almonds are not only a great source of health fat but they also provide this salad with a nice crunch and texture. I also added some chickpeas to the salad to provide some insoluble fiber and complex carbohydrates. Adding chickpeas helps increase the satiety level of this salad, making you feel fuller longer after enjoying this salad.
I also topped this salad with some tofu. Tofu is great because it can be cooked in so many different ways! Tofu plain has little natural flavor which means it can pair with any marinate or cooking method you desire. I prefer just a simple baked tofu for this recipe but feel free to spice it up by marinating the tofu any way you like!
For this salad, I chose to make a very simple and light lemon dressing. The base for the dressing is olive oil, which adds healthy, monounsaturated fat to keep you satiated for hours. I then added in some lemon juice and lemon zest. Adding a touch of lemon zest provides this dressing with a fresh, pure lemon flavor. I then added in a bit of dijon mustard to thicken the dressing and intensify the flavor of the dressing. To finish, I tossed in some salt, black pepper, and sugar or agave nectar. The sugar or agave nectar, whichever you prefer, is super important to this dressing because it balances out the acidity that the lemon juice provides.
What do you love to top your salads with? Let me know in the comments below!
- 1 cup chopped curly kale
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup chickpeas
- 3/4 cup tofu cubes
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon agave nectar or maple syrup
- Combine all salad ingredients (greens through tofu) in a bowl or bag and shake or toss to combine.
Make the Dressing
- In a small bowl, blend dressing ingredients together then coat salad with as much dressing as you like. Any remainder can be used for future salads.
Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO
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