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Salad bar hacks: Finding deliciousness when the dining hall dips

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My neighbor gazed deep into my soul, waiting for me to make my decision. My frantic eyes flicked back and forth between choices of soggy meatloaf or overcooked chicken. Nervousness bubbled to the surface, and I chose wrong.

Does this sound familiar? As the quarter becomes ever less bearable, so does the appeal of the dining hall. But venturing into the dining hall doesn’t have to be a bad experience. I’ve got you. The power is now in your hands to make every meal delicious with this one simple trick.

In the dining hall, the one thing you can count on every time is the consistency of the salad bar. Okay, I know what you’re thinking, but the salad bars don’t just mean sustenance on greens alone. Think about the poke possibilities. Granted, there’s no fresh ahi tuna or coconut jasmine rice. But stick with me here. We’ve got the basics, and you’ve got the opportunity to let your little chef out and get creative with the definition of poke.

So grab yourself a bowl, roll up your sleeves and get started. Firstly, you have to choose a base that you can build on. Possibilities here include rice, noodles or thick, leafy greens. Building on the base, select your protein. Normally, poke includes fresh raw fish, but here’s where we can get creative. The limits of the dining hall mean sadly no ahi tuna, but we don’t need it. This opens up a world of protein substitutes; think about tofu, cooked fish, chicken or anything that will balance out the other flavors.

To bring it all together, add a sauce; explore the salad dressing aisle or simply add a dash of soy sauce over your dish. After we’ve created the main body of the dish, it’s time to get crazy with toppings. Imagine the endless combinations of avocado, edamame, nuts, dried fruit, jalapenos, onions, mushrooms, cucumber and the infinite flavor profiles that these add-ons can create. Select anything that you think will work; don’t be confined by my list. Get resourceful.

There you have it. A surely delicious meal, but only if you have the gumption to give it a chance. Perhaps, the first time you try it the combination doesn’t quite sing. But try again and open yourself up to the realm of fantastical combinations that work beautifully together to deliver taste after taste. College is a whirlwind, and inside the storm is the perfect environment to explore a world of perspectives: academically, personally and dietarily. So roll up your sleeves and embrace the possibilities. Perhaps the next time you’re in line, your neighbor will gaze lovingly at your bowl instead of impatiently waiting for you to choose the least unappealing option.

Contact Emily Broadhurst at ebroad23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.