Salad Days Are Here Again…
Salad Days Are Here Again…
I’ve had a great time these last few months. I mean, I really love the Holidays. So many of my favorite foods – in such quantities – with ample time to take it all in. And January, well, it’s heavy football season. The scrumptious snacks and easy access finger foods abound. I must admit, though, that I’ve put on a few pounds since November. I always do. So while most are making diet resolutions on New Year’s Day, I wait until the Big Game Day is over. Then I take stock of the situation. What can I do to eat more balanced meals? I’m not a “diet” kind of guy; however, I do try to offset weekend splurges with some modicum of weekday sanity. That’s when I turn to salads.
The salad is a wonderful thing. It offers lots of roughage and nutrition, can be very filling yet lighter in calories, and often serves as an extremely versatile kind of entrée. Yes, the basic lettuce, tomato and some sort of dressing can get old fast. But who needs to stop there? Like so many an adaptable dish, the salad can be built upon in numberless ways to become a fully satisfying meal. That makes it multitalented in my book.
When contemplating a salad entrée, I like to begin with a variety of greens. I’m not much of an Iceberg fan, so I usually end up with some combination of crisp Romaine hearts, tender Butter lettuce, fanciful Mesclun and a touch of Arugula for a spicy note. To that I’m wont to include some fresh veggies. Carrots, celery, tomatoes, radishes, white mushrooms, olives and red onions are almost always present. Lots of fresh basil and Italian flat leaf parsley as well. When vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and the like are in my recipe, I blanch them first. That’s just my taste. I’m not big on crudités as a rule.
The most obvious way to enhance a wholesome salad meal is to adorn it with low fat protein. Grilled chicken breast, lean beef and salmon or tuna…all notable, healthful additions. Of course, we’re grilling here, so besides a flavorful marinade, there’s not much fat going on. Beans are also a nice means of adding good for you protein to salads. So are low fat cheeses. I particularly like a sharp feta or mellow mozzarella. I stay away from the yellow-orange cheeses. They sort of melt in the dressings. Not for me!
As for dressings, you’re only limited to your imagination. Balsamic vinaigrettes always work. I use plenty of fresh basil here. Sometimes I opt for a simple whisking of lemon and oil, perhaps with a touch of oregano. Oh, of course I adore the creamy varieties. But we’re taking a lighter approach now. If your heart is set on a creamy dressing, look for recipes that use lower fat ingredients, such as low fat buttermilk or sour cream, as well as a light mayo. If you opt for jarred, check the ingredients. Low fat dressings usually contain more sugar. That defeats the purpose.
When putting my salad together, I sometimes prefer the proteins to be warm, right off the grill. This is especially so when I’m doing an Asian beef salad. The greens become slightly wilted, but in a good way. Something about it that turns by my taste buds on. Warm dressings achieve the same effect. Try it sometime.
I should note here that not all my salad favorites contain lettuce greens. I’m nuts for bean salads. As an Italian, I also grew up with tomato salad as a staple. Mom took garden ripe tomatoes, sliced them and some fresh red onion, added fresh basil and tossed with extra virgin olive oil. That was it. But believe me, nothing beat it.
I’m not suggesting a salad for every meal, of course. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. I’m talking balance. A delectable salad entrée at least two nights a week, along with thoughtful intake of calories the rest of the week, can help take the edge off your appetite for heavier foods. And it won’t hurt a bit, I promise.
Salad Days: It’s All in the Dressing
The variety of ingredients for a fresh mixed salad is endless. Just select your favorite greens, peppers, toasted nuts, mushrooms, chickpeas, olives, shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano, seasonal ingredients like blood oranges and tomatoes. Oh, and don’t forget some homemade toasted croutons. As I said, you can go on and on. That said, let’s focus on what will make or break your salad–the dressing.
Offering as much variety as the salad itself is a velvety vinaigrette dressing that you make yourself.
Basic Vinaigrette Dressing (for 6 to 7 cups of salad)
1 clove garlic
1 medium shallot
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of a good wine vinegar*
2 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons peanut oil**
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Finely mince garlic and place in a bowl. Chop shallot into a small dice and add. Stir in mustard and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the two oils until a creamy emulsion is attained. Whisk in salt and pepper to taste.
* My favorite is Badia a Coltibuono, a light and piquant Italian red wine vinegar; Champagne vinegar also works well. Fresh lemon juice in place of the vinegar provides a fresh tart flavor. You might find balsamic vinegar a tad overpowering for this dressing.
**Peanut oil or canola oil mellows the rich olive oil and allows the other flavors to come through.
The dressing can be enlivened with herbs to suite your taste, fresh or dried. Remember 1 teaspoon of a dried herb equals 1 tablespoon of the fresh. Tarragon, with its faint licorice flavor, is one of my favorites. You might consider basil, oregano, savory, chervil, marjoram or a combination.
Be careful not to overdress your salad. The dressing should just lightly coat the ingredients. Toss just before serving.
Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe Provided by Phyllis
Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika
Food Stylist Brian
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