Everyone knows we should eat salad. It’s the perfect vehicle for getting loads of healthy produce into our bodies. Salad can translate to fewer calories and saturated fat, plus more fiber, vitamins and minerals.
The down side is when it becomes too ordinary and everyday, a boring flavor-void, pushed aside or picked at, rather than enjoyed. We know we should eat it, but how about tomorrow? Perking up a worn-out salad routine calls for creativity—a fresh approach with fresh ingredients. Here are a few tips to change it up.
Mix the dressing: It’s done in a flash, and the taste will astound you. Plus there’s less salt and sugar, and no preservatives. Break out the highest quality oils and vinegars. This is the time to use the extra virgin stuff. Add a touch of something special: fresh tomato, citrus or berry juice, truffle oil, homemade pesto, smashed avocado, tahini, ginger, buttermilk, or herbs and spices. Experiment. It’s low-risk, so go “off-road”. Taste your handiwork. If you’re not happy, experiment more.
Dress in the bowl: This simple act coats each bite with dressing—just the right amount. Don’t over do it. If diners want to select their dressings, serve portions in separate bowls, so each can “toss” their own. A glop on the top just doesn’t taste the same.
Add nuts, fruit and cheese: Enjoy this classic trio throughout the year. Spring strawberries shine on a bed of spinach or arugula with crumbled feta and toasted walnuts. As summer fruit arrives on the scene, the variations are endless—nectarines, plums, melon, and berries galore. In winter, citrus, pomegranate seeds and crisp persimmon delight. Add pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, local walnuts, almonds and pistachios for crunch. Toast nuts and seeds on the stove to heighten flavors. Cheeses offer creamy or sharp counterpoints—fresh mozzarella or aged Parmesan, cheddar, creamy goat and feta. We live near dairy country, so check out the local product.
Lose the lettuce: Who says it’s required? Pick another element to showcase—perhaps beets, broccoli or fennel. Shred carrots and toss with arugula, cilantro, spring onions and olives. Mix up a crunchy slaw with cauliflower, radish and carrots.
Appreciate the leaves: There’s more out there than lettuce. Sturdy kale and cabbage lend texture and crunch. Arugula adds peppery kick; dandelion, a satisfying edge; spinach is delicate and earthy. Mysterious escarole, endive, watercress and radicchio are off the normal American radar, and laden with possibility. Mix mild and bold, delicate and substantial, for balance. And don’t forget a handful of chopped herbs for a pop of unexpected flavor.
Make it a meal: If you eat meat, add roast chicken, crisp bacon or grilled fish. Fold ingredients into a bowl of cooked grains like farro, rice, or barley for chewy texture and nutty flavor. Pasta may be old-hat, but how about a new shape or size? Check out Israeli couscous, orzo or ravioli. Canned beans are easy additions—just rinse and drain. Or sprinkle some cooked lentils into the mix. For a classic one-plate meal, top a dressed green salad with a fried egg.
Sandwich it: Pile a favorite salad on crusty artisan bread. Tuck into a thin Middle-eastern lavash, warm tortilla or Indian naan.
Deconstruct it: Turn an entrée into a hearty salad. Nestle a burger in a bed of greens instead of the usual bun. Toss leftover roast chicken and potatoes with romaine, and creamy buttermilk herb dressing. Instead of tacos in a shell, crumble the shell on top of the fixings and a load of crunchy greens.
Turn up the heat: Grill halved romaine hearts and top with buttermilk herb dressing. Roasted root vegetables are especially nice with assertive greens like escarole or arugula. In the summer, grill peach halves and toss with arugula or spinach, fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette.
Look beyond croutons: Tear toasted pita into the bowl—a classic with fresh mint in Middle-Eastern fattoush. Toss Italian Panzanella with bread cubes and seasonal vegetables—in summer the cubes soak in juicy tomato, in winter, orange segments work magic.
Chop it: Cut ingredients into small dice and pile side by side on the serving plate. You’ll experience a whole new textural dimension just by changing ingredient size and shape. Drizzle with dressing.
Recipes for the Week:
Cauliflower, Radish and Carrot Slaw: raw vegetables offer healthy crunch in this fresh and easy salad. Toss in a handful of chopped dandelion leaves for extra nutrition. No one will know, unless you choose to tell them. I’ve fooled my family—try it on yours.
Check out this creamy, herb-laced dressing—a fresh and simple alternative to bottled ranch: Buttermilk Herb Dressing
Strawberry, Feta and Arugula Salad (pictured above)
This simple salad is elegant and unusual but quick to prepare. Serve it at a party. Your guests will be wowed. Substitute spinach for the lettuce if you prefer. In summer months try adding other seasonal fruit such as blackberries, raspberries or nectarines. Sometimes I substitute toasted pumpkin seeds or candied walnuts found at TJ’s for a different crunch.
1/4 cup olive oil
1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
Pinch each of dry dill, oregano and thyme
1/4 cup walnuts or pecan pieces
1 small head of lettuce (or half large head), thoroughly rinsed and dried
1 half bunch arugula, rinsed and dried
1 thinly sliced spring onion or small shallot
2 cups fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and halved
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1.Place olive oil, vinegar, salt, honey, herbs and several turns of freshly ground pepper, in a clean, empty jelly jar. Shake vigorously to mix.
2.Place nuts into a dry, shallow pan over medium heat. Toast until brown in spots, shaking the pan frequently while nuts are toasting, to prevent burning. Watch carefully as nuts scorch easily. Cool.
3.Tear lettuce and arugula into bite size pieces and place into a large salad bowl. Add onion or shallot. Toss with enough dressing to lightly coat (you may not need all the dressing).
4.Add strawberries, nuts and feta cheese on top.