Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Leafy Greens

Summer is the perfect time for salads. When the temperatures go up, it's natural for us to  crave cooling foods and not to want to turn on the oven. Most people think of salads as an appetizer course, but salads make great meals. They are versatile – they can be vegetarian or topped with eggs, seafood or meat. They can be raw, or contain cooked items, either warm or chilled. They can be finished with all manner of dressings: mayo-based, vinaigrettes, or even tofu based. The combination of greens used can determine the taste profile of a salad. There are so many types of lettuce available to us now. Some spicy, some bitter, other mild and sweet.

When I was growing up, I can only recall there being iceberg lettuce. Not much variety. Today we have mesclun greens, baby greens, Romaine, Boston/Bibb, arugula, maché, radicchio, frisée, Belgian endive, watercress, red leaf, green leaf, escarole and mizuna, just to name a few!  I like mixing lettuces, especially when it comes to some of the more bitter greens.
I eat a salad nearly every day. I love how I can get 3-4 cups worth of vegetables a day just by eating one. They are great at lunch because they don't cause that late-afternoon nap I want to take if I end up eating something more filling.

Salads are easy to prepare but do take the time to wash each leaf under cold running water. Place in a salad spinner and spin till dry. If your greens are wet from their rinse, the dressing won’t adhere to the leaves. Even pre-packaged greens, claiming to have been triple-washed, recommend that we rinse them again before consuming.

Place washed greens on a chilled salad plate to keep them fresh and crisp.
Dress your salad right before serving.

For best presentation and nutrition, mix different lettuces together and add vegetables of all different colors. 

Red: tomatoes, raw red bell peppers, roasted red bell peppers
Yellow: yellow bell peppers (raw or roasted), yellow squash
Orange: orange bell peppers (raw or roasted), carrots (shopped or grated)
Green: cooked asparagus or green beans, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, herbs
Purple: red cabbage
Misc: mushrooms, cauliflower

Naturally, you can make an all-vegetable salad and leave it at that. But to take a salad from ordinary to extraordinary, and make a meal of it, consider adding some of these:

Fat! Yes, fat. It will make the salad that much more satiating (meaning, it will satisfy). Healthy fat, in the form of avocado, California or Kalamata olives, walnuts, almonds or other nuts, sunflower seeds and pepitas (pumpkin seeds), makes for a delicious salad.

Protein. Crumbled bacon, grated, crumbled, or diced cheese, hard-boiled eggs, cubed tofu, seafood like tuna, salmon or crab meat, cooked chicken or turkey, leftover steak.
But the ultimate determining factor in how good your salad will be is the dressing. I’ve said it before: store-bought salad dressings are junk. It’s not hard to make your own. Once you’ve got the basics down to making a vinaigrette, you can experiment and come up with a slightly different dressing every time, so you’ll never get bored.

Try using flavored balsamic vinegars like fig and orange, or my latest fave: cherry balsamic. Use apple cider vinegar or an herb vinegar.  For an alternative to vinegar use citrus juice: lemon, orange, grapefruit, or tangerine.

Use different oils: walnut, avocado or coconut. It doesn’t always have to be olive oil. And it certainly shouldn’t be a cheap supermarket industrially-processed oil.

Add herbs and spices: parsley, tarragon, cilantro, garlic, sliced red onion, green onion, or chives.

Don’t think of salad as boring. It is anything but.

This is one of my favorite salads. It’s so simple, it seems ridiculous to even list it as a recipe, but here it is. The second one is my favorite Spinach Salad.

Maché Salad

1 bag maché greens from Trader Joe’s
2-3 avocadoes, sliced or cut into cubes
Juice from 1-2 lemons
A high-quality extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
Salt & pepper

Rinse and spin greens dry. Place in a large salad bowl. Add the juice of 1-2 lemons, then drizzle about 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil on it (add more or less, depending on preference). Add seasoning to taste, then toss. Plate onto 3-4 salad plates. Add sliced avocado on top, then serve immediately.

Optional: top each salad with a medium-boiled egg (not soft-boiled, not hard-boiled. Yolk should still be a little runny).

Christina’s favorite Spinach Salad

Spinach greens
Sweet and spicy pecans *
Crumbled cheese: either goat cheese, bleu cheese or gorgonzola
Sliced mushrooms
Sliced hard-boiled egg
Crispy bacon crumbles
Thinly sliced red onion
Poppyseed dressing (make your own)

*Toast pecans in one layer on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes (don’t let them burn or even brown). Definitely remove from the oven when you can smell them. Place them in a bowl. Melt some butter and pour over. Toss to coat nuts. Sprinkle on a tsp. or so of evaporated cane sugar, and a little bit of cayenne pepper and toss again. Allow to cool completely. Taste. Add more sugar or cayenne to taste. Try not to devour them all before dinner!

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