Thursday, May 6, 2010

Beyond Lettuce

As the weather turns warmer, steaming hot foods become less appealing. Salads are always one of my favorite meals, and during the summer they are my number one pick for what to eat. The thing is, salad doesn't have to just be about lettuce and cold veggies. Salad can be anything you want and when you need a super fast and healthy meal, salad can be your best friend.
Generally I do start with lettuce, but not always. I like to keep a spring mesclun mix on hand, or a head of romaine or red or green leaf lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is something I stay away from. It has virtually no nutritional value, and if you are trying to pack in the nutrients, stick to the other lettuces. Generally the darker the lettuce, the better it is for you. Spinach of course is great on its own or in a blend of other lettuces.

Leftovers are a salad's best friend. In the salad above, I started with lettuce and added some leftover carrot salad, grilled zucchini, roasted potatoes, and some broccoli salad. All of these were leftover from previous meals. I love cooked veggies in a salad, cold or warm. Another favorite addition is beans. Any kind, garbanzo, black, pinto, white, etc. Canned beans are a wonderful thing to keep on hand because they are so versatile and nutritious. If you have some leftover cooked grains like rice or spelt or buckwheat, throw some of that in too. Lentils are great in salads.

If you have all veggies and beans and grains in a salad, you don't even really need to add additional protein, but I really enjoy fish in a salad. Canned tuna or salmon, smoked salmon, anchovies or sardines, all make great salad ingredients. But if you just have some leftover grilled trout or halibut or poached or roasted whatever, go ahead and throw that in the mix. Leftover chicken or beef is also great. Nuts are another source of protein and good fat, so another good option. Cheese is another protein you could add, and of course any kind you want to use is great.

If I have some fresh herbs on hand I generally throw in a handful. I love parsley in a salad, but any herb works. Another favorite of mine are sprouts. I love sprouts on a sandwich, and they are great in a salad too. Sprouts are super nutritious for you, and fun and easy to grow yourself. One word of caution, they are not generally recommended for elderly or pregnant people because they could possibly contain bacteria on them that these groups are more susceptible to. I feel like if you make sure your sprouts are fresh then you are probably ok, and I have been eating them during my pregnancy and am doing fine. But of course you should decide for yourself.

I have to admit I am a sucker for salad dressing. I have slowly gotten over my addiction to store bought dressings (at one point my husband counted at least 12 in our fridge, like I said, I do eat a lot of salad). There are some really great dressings in the store, so many different flavors and there are quite a few natural brands that don't contain a lot of junk or chemicals in them. Basically follow my rules for buying processed foods and I think you can find a good brand of dressing.

Salad dressing is of course super easy to make yourself. Combining an oil with an acid (vinegar or citrus juice) and adding a few seasonings, whisk together and you are good to go. I like using olive oil and lemon juice, salt, pepper and a seasoning blend from my favorite spice shop. Mrs. Dash is another seasoning you could add. Using a little mustard in the dressing is also yummy. Play around and see what you like. One hint is to start making your dressing in the bowl, then add your other ingredients and then toss it all together.

Have fun and think beyond the lettuce. A couple super yummy recipes to try:

Corn and Tomato Salad
great as a side dish on its own or add to another salad

Sweet corn kernels (canned, frozen and thawed, or fresh)
Your favorite tomatoes cut into wedges if it's larger or halves for cherry types
Whisk together about 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, a couple tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp vinegar (white or red wine or balsamic) add salt and pepper to taste, then toss in the corn and tomatoes.

Cucumber Avocado Dressing
makes 2 cups

2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 cucumber
1 avocado
1 cup baby spinach
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
2 spring onions or green onions
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
pepper and salt to taste
Puree all ingredients with 3/4 cup water until smooth. Yum!

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