This is the time to start embracing salads once again. We know you can do it.

There’s something uniquely annoying about the fact that “the most wonderful time of the year” (in itself debatable) is followed by the most annoying time of the year. In addition to the early arrival of tax documents, January tends to piss me off because of the disproportionate emphasis society and the media places on healthful eating and exercise. It's 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 31st? YOLO. Eat a cheese log and drink a magnum. But 31 minutes later and your ass better be on a treadmill. The psychic whiplash from this shift is painful, indeed.

If you, like most Americans, plan to embrace eating more healthfully after the holidays (whatever that means ... fewer cheese logs?), doing so is significantly less painful and even—dare I say—sort of fun at Salata. When the chain of fast-casual restaurants launched several locations in Houston, I wasn’t exactly first in line to roll out the red carpet. Salads are one of the very few dishes I can make on my own, thank you very much, and if/when I choose to eat roots, shoots, and leaves, I will assemble them at home.

My recent inaugural lunch at Salata has challenged this mindset. Maybe it was the blindingly colorful buffet of 20 vegetable options comprising the standard (cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms) to the more esoteric (bean sprouts, banana peppers, snow peas). Maybe it was a surprisingly diverse array of proteins: pesto-marinated white chicken, baked salmon, falafel, pit-smoked turkey, plus many others. Maybe it was the selection of what I like to call “crispies” (those superficial endnotes that provide little nutritional value to your salad but a whole lotta satisfying salt and crunch), which included sesame sticks, chopped bacon, and pita strips. Maybe—no, definitely—it was the potential to create some crazy combinations that would attend to my particular meat and botanical cravings of the day without having to buy large portions of every ingredient and then subsequently stressing about using the leftovers. Radishes, edamame, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, blue cheese, and pumpkin seeds atop a bed of kale and quinoa in honey mustard dressing? Don’t mind if I do!

While economy and efficiency dictate that most of the time I will construct my salads from supermarket supplies, Salata will be my special spot for those early salad days of 2019 when I’m feeling hopeful about positive change.

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