Kick the iceberg lettuce and get creative with your salad
Let’s think about the salads you make at home. Iceberg lettuce, some slivers of carrot and perhaps some cherry tomatoes? You can do better.
Green salads, made well, can pack a punch of flavor and nutrition, all with a moderate number of calories. And –– a plus for busy people –– no cooking is involved.
“When putting a salad together, look for a variety of colors. Each has different phytonutrients (for disease prevention),” said Deborah Durham, a registered dietitian at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Ill. “And when you have a colorful dish to eat, it’s appealing to the eye.”
If you’re using lettuce, look beyond the standard iceberg. Here are a few varieties easily found in supermarkets:
-- Arugula has delicately textured leaves with a sharp, peppery bite.
-- Bibb has delicate leaves with a creamy texture.
-- Frisee is coarsely textured with lacy, curly leaves. It’s a mildly flavored green with a slightly bitter bite.
-- Mesclun is a blend of multi-textured greens that range from delicate to crispy. Leaf colors range from pale to dark green and deep red. Mixtures range from sweet to sharply flavored lettuces.
-- Romaine has crisp leaves with a firm texture. It’s a mildly flavored green with a crunchy texture.
Get creative with ingredients
Durham suggests adding dark green vegetables, such as kale or spinach, to a salad. Although lettuce is the main player on salad bars, it’s not required to make a salad.
Consider topping grilled asparagus with hard-cooked eggs, lemon zest, radishes and Parmesan cheese. Or put together a colorful blend of carrots, green beans, snow peas, red potatoes, cauliflower, summer squash and asparagus. Don’t like one of the ingredients? Swap it for something else.
No recipes are necessary. Cut up your favorite raw veggies and toss them into a bowl. For extra nutrition, add nuts, beans, grilled salmon or chicken breast, tuna fish, cheese, fresh herbs, hard-cooked eggs, berries or other fruits.
“Quinoa is an excellent vegetarian option. It’s a good source of protein and dietary fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals,” Durham said.
Drizzle the salad with a dressing of your choice, or skip it altogether. Many people find that a simple vinaigrette complements most salads.
Durham often eliminates the dressing and adds fruit juice, cottage cheese, grapes, avocados, hummus, salsa or yogurt for moisture.
“Puree strawberries with balsamic vinegar. Or squeeze a lemon or orange over the salad. Fruit is naturally sweet so you don’t have to add sugar,” she said.
1 bunch fresh asparagus, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Caesar salad dressing
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup parmesan cheese shavings
8 radishes, cut into matchsticks
Prepare a grill to medium-high heat, or preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill asparagus 2 to 4 minutes, turning spears frequently, until the spears are bright green and lightly charred. If roasting, arrange spears on a sheet pan, place on top rack of oven and roast 4 to 5 minutes (shake pan once or twice during cooking time).
Transfer asparagus to a platter, drizzle with dressing, sprinkle with eggs, lemon zest, cheese and radishes. Makes 4 servings.
Spring Vegetable Salad
1/4 pound baby carrots
1/2 pound fresh green beans, as slender as possible
1/2 pound snow peas
8 to 10 very small red potatoes
1 small head cauliflower
1 or 2 small yellow summer squash
1/ 2 pound asparagus, pencil thin, if possible
2 to 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/ 4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, to taste
4 to 5 tablespoons mayonnaise (optional)
Minced fresh basil, tarragon, marjoram, dill, and/or chives
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Prepare vegetables: Trim both ends of the carrots, green beans, and snow peas. If desired, cut them in half. Or leave them whole. Halve the potatoes, separate the cauliflower into 1-inch pieces, and slice the squash. Snap off and discard the coarse lower ends of the asparagus. Cut off the tips, and slice the middle parts into 1 1/2-inch pieces.
Steam potatoes until just tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. While potatoes are cooking, place garlic and olive oil in a large bowl. When potatoes are done, transfer them – still hot – to the bowlful of garlic and oil.
Steam carrots, cauliflower and green beans together until just tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Refresh under cold water, drain well and transfer to the bowl.
Steam together asparagus, snow peas and squash until just al dente. (This will take less than 5 minutes.) Add to the rest of the vegetables, and mix gently.
Add remaining ingredients, except for the lemon juice, and stir again. Cover tightly and chill until very cold.
Stir in the lemon juice within about 15 minutes of serving time.
Note: The salad can be assembled a day in advance. Just hold off on adding the lemon juice until shortly before serving. (If the vegetables sit too long in an acidic substance, their colors will fade.) Makes 5 to 6 servings.
-- Adapted from "Still Life with Menu Cookbook" by Mollie Katzen
¾ cup olive oil, or oil of your preference
¼ cup white wine vinegar
Kosher salt and ground white pepper (or freshly ground black pepper), to taste
Place all the ingredients in a blender and mix for about 10 seconds or until fully combined. Let stand for 30 minutes to let the flavors meld. Give the dressing a good whisk immediately before serving. Makes 1 cup.
Kathryn Rem can be reached at email@example.com.