The SpiceSpiceBaby founder sits down with EatingWell to share her favorite seasonal ingredients, tips on amping up your salad’s flavor and more.
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a portrait of Kanchan Koya
Credit: Courtesy of Subject

Kanchan Koya, Ph.D., is the founder of SpiceSpiceBaby, author of The Spice Spice Baby Cookbook and a video producer for Buzzfeed Tasty. Recently, Koya has partnered with Little Leaf Farms and hosted a cooking demonstration where she whipped up two salads: a savory Vegan Cobb Salad and a seasonally sweet Spiced Up Fall Salad.

After attending the cooking demo (and loving the salads and dressings!), we sat down with Koya to talk more about her favorite salad ingredients as well as her philosophy on eating well, and her No. 1 tip for meal-prepping salads and keeping them fresh for as long as possible.

EatingWell: You mentioned in the cooking demo that you promote the idea of trying a new fruit or vegetable each week to expand the palate. What's something you remember trying for the first time that amazed you?

Koya: I would have to say it would be the Jerusalem artichoke, also known as the sunchoke. When I learned about the importance of really diversifying the number of plants in one's diet to nourish the gut microbiome specifically, I also learned about the importance of different kinds of fiber. Sunchokes are rich in prebiotics, a type of fiber that feeds the gut bacteria. I remember looking for them and being quite surprised at what they looked like; they almost looked like knobs of ginger, which was not what I expected. When I sliced them really thin, tossed them with a little avocado oil, salt, turmeric and cayenne pepper and roasted them in the oven, I was amazed at how complex they were. They were sweet and crisp, but they had this earthy quality. That's my most vivid new-vegetable experience.

EatingWell: Do you prefer a more savory salad (like the Vegan Cobb Salad) or a sweeter salad (like the Spiced Up Fall Salad), and what's your favorite thing to put in both?

Koya: It really depends on the season for me. I really try to honor eating seasonally. If it's fall or winter and I'm looking for more comfort, I generally gravitate toward the sweeter flavors. Not so much of a refined-sugar sweet, but naturally sweet ingredients like the butternut squash in the Spiced Up Fall Salad. There's a lot of ancient wisdom, like in Indian traditional medicine, around the importance of balancing each season's qualities with the right fruits and vegetables. So I find eating seasonally soothing and grounding. I love the Vegan Cobb Salad in the summer months or when I'm not feeling a need for grounding, I think it's an all-season salad.

As for what I like to add—always spices. I think spices in salads aren't common; many people don't consider adding them. It's more common to think about using a spice when making a curry, stew or something more involved. I believe salads can be a great canvas to add more antioxidants and reap the health benefits of spices in simple ways, like in a dressing. I like the idea of balance, so if you are really leaning into the sweeter vegetables, it's nice to add a little bit of heat. For a sweet salad, I like to add cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger and a little bit of spice in the dressing, like cayenne pepper, to counteract the sweetness with heat. Cinnamon, for example, helps balance blood sugar. So you can keep those things in mind when you incorporate sweeter vegetables.

a recipe photo of a salad by Kanchan Koya
a recipe photo of a salad by Kanchan Koya
Left: Credit: Courtesy Photo
Right: Credit: Courtesy Photo

EatingWell: What are your favorite seasonal ingredients right now?

Koya: I'm a huge salad fan all seasons, and I'm always stocked up on the Little Leaf Farms salads. I think the [Sweet Baby Butter Leaf] lettuce that just launched  is a beautiful complement to the sweet flavors that I like at this time of year. Some examples would be butternut squash or any of the squashes, like the delicata squash which you can roast with the skin on and season with a little pumpkin pie spice, or the kabocha squashes and sweet potatoes. You really start to see dark leafy greens right now like Swiss chard, kale, which are a really beautiful balance to the sweetness. Incorporating those flavors into salads with lettuce like Little Leaf Farms, which is crunchy year-round and locally grown, is easy. It's also sustainably grown and free of pesticides, which is really important to me. All of those ingredients are in my seasonal fridge.

EatingWell: What's your No. 1 tip for meal-prepping salads and keeping them fresh for as long as possible?

Koya: Making the dressing and keeping it separate from the salad ingredients is definitely the No. 1 tip, because no one wants a soggy salad. You want to dress it and eat it right away; you can  have the creaminess and savoriness of the dressing  and still have a crunchy salad. I would also say to choose your lettuce wisely. While you can revive wilted lettuce, using something like Little Leaf Farms, which you can take straight out of the box, is much easier. You don't have to meal-prep it; it's meal-prepped for you. 

And if you do mix your lettuce with all of your ingredients and you want to keep the whole salad fresh in the fridge, I like to put just a paper towel over my entire salad bowl and sprinkle it with a couple of dashes of water so it's a slightly damp paper towel. This keeps everything fresh and crispy without letting it wilt or get mushy.

EatingWell: What does eating well mean to you?

Koya: Eating well to me means going back to the basics and really eating from as close to the Earth as possible. I think my philosophy would be eating real, whole, unprocessed, plant-rich foods as much as possible. We have a huge body of scientific evidence suggesting that when we eat that way most of the time—we don't have to be perfect or militant about it!—everything improves. Our health markers, energy levels, vitality and prospects for longevity, so who doesn't want that?