Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Your Guide to Spectacular Salads

Greens with summer tomatoes, cucumbers, hummus, and tuna

I'm back after a bit of a holiday break. And, no surprise, in need of a break from sweets and over-snacking. Christmas was filled with truly good food: lots of veggies, grass fed beef, whole grains. But it was also filled with a lot of extras, such as snacks here and there, coffee and croissant out with my mum and aunt, Christmas cookies...everywhere. My favorites are the tea time tassies ("triple T's" as my brother calls them) with a cream cheese crust and a nut filling. Oh, but we were talking about salad, weren't we?

Yes, salad. It's so good. Switch your mind away from sweet for a bit and think about crunchy vegetables, savory vinaigrettes, protein-filled toppings, and dried fruit. And some nice bread on the side.

How to build a spectacular salad:

- Choose greens that you like. Branch out and try new greens. Think beyond romaine and iceberg, and try arugula, radicchio, kale, butter lettuce, spinach and swiss chard. My favorite flavor of greens is arugula. Kale gives really nice crunch and bulk, and benefits from sitting in a dressing for at least 30 minutes. Romaine and iceberg lettuce are usually cheaper, so you can use them as a base and mix them with pricier greens.

Herb vinaigrette

- Make your vinaigrette. In my opinion, making your own salad dressing is easy and tastes better than bottled. You also control what goes into it. Instead of a low quality oil in a bottled dressing, you can use all extra virgin olive oil. The basics are a 1:3 ratio of vinegar (balsamic, red wine, apple cider, or white wine vinegar are great options) to oil (I always use extra virgin olive oil). Add some salt and pepper, and there you go. Extras include minced garlic or shallot, herbs, and dijon mustard. I put everything in small jar, screw a lid on top, and shake it to emulsify it. Here's a great beginner vinaigrette.

Spring greens with veggies, walnuts, cranberries

- Add extra veggies. I have had delicious side salads that are just greens and dressing. But if you want a salad to be a main course, you will want to bulk it up a bit. Crunchy cucumbers, bell peppers, shaved carrots, and cooked (but not overcooked) sweet potato or squash are some of my favorites.

Arugula with butternut squash, feta, pumpkin seeds, and a fried egg

- Here is where it gets interesting. Protein and fat in a salad are essential for making it taste amazing and filling you up. I like any sort of cheese (sharp cheddar, goat cheese, feta, and Parmesan are my favorites). Nuts and seeds make it special. Hummus would work well too. A fried or poached egg makes things amazing, especially when the golden yolk flows like lava onto your salad. You can do things like beef or chicken, but I don't usually. If I'm going to take my salad away from vegetarian, I prefer to add tuna or salmon cakes, or even smoked salmon.

- Dried and fresh fruit add a nice sweetness and contrasting texture. Dried cherries, dried cranberries, and currants are good options, and even dried apricots have shown up in my salads. Crisp fresh fruit such as apples, especially when in season, are excellent.

So build your salad, and think outside of the side (sad) salad box. Here's to a delicious new year!

Arugula with white wine vinaigrette and salmon cakes

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