Tuesday, March 22, 2011

in-between salad

In-betweeny salad
When the weather is nice, I run after work most days.  Last week the weather was consistently in the high 50s to mid 60s, so I set out on a longer run from my office down to the Lincoln Memorial and back.  It's about a six mile stretch that crosses Capitol Hill, passing the Supreme Court on my left and the dome of the Capitol on my right, and then traverses the length of the National Mall.  When I'm fully hydrated, the temperature is right, the route is clear of confused tourists, and my allergies aren't yet in full swing, it's delightful.   That was how it was last week.  Three days of mid-length, mind-clearing, refreshing runs.  But yesterday afternoon, I set off to do the same thing, and it was terrible.

Why?  Because sometime between Thursday and yesterday, we have switched seasons.  I set out yesterday afternoon and was delighted to see the cherry blossoms on the Hill in full bloom.  Then I sneezed.  My nose, and more specifically, my congested nasal passageway, was not so happy to see the pink flowers.  Then I got down to the Mall, streaked with school groups and foreign tourists.  (Why do they always ask me to take their picture as I'm running toward them?  Do I look that nice?) Dodging the throngs of people felt like I was poor Frogger trying to cross the road without getting hit by a car.  Yep, it was clear - sometime between last week and yesterday, Spring has SPRUNG in the District.

So how appropriate it is that I made a delicious "in-between" salad last week.  I never posted it because I had enough recipes to cover the blog for the week, and also, it really gets my goat when bloggers post salad and sandwich "recipes."  I mean, come on.  Do you really think that you're the first one to come up with that salad combination?  Or the first person to realize how "lovely" carmelized onions and mushrooms are on a grilled cheese?  That's why I've been blogging for almost two weeks and I've yet to post a salad.

But, a lot of you have told me that you lack creativity in the kitchen; not so, you just haven't found it yet!   I'm willing to talk about salads for a bit, and how to make a daily staple turn into a dish that's different each time.  This salad was born completely out of desperation.  I basically just took everything I had, roasted it, and threw it on top of a bed of spinach leaves.  I roasted the last of my winter squashes in the pantry (an acorn squash, to be precise) with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a hint of maple syrup (from my friend the Canuck.)  I also threw in some wintry brussels sprouts along with 'em.  At the grocery store, I had picked up an artichoke, some plum tomatoes, and skinny asparagus.  I roasted those as well, topped with some feta, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and voil√†!  A delicious betweeny salad. 
Some of you have said that you don't like salads, or you would never choose to eat them.  I think that is because too many people think of salads as synonymous with house salads.  You know the deal - cucumber, tomato, and croutons all atop a bed of romaine.  Boring!  Salads, by their very nature, are flexible.  Don't get stuck in the same old salad rut all the time - that gets tiresome and you will become uninterested!  Be creative with your salads!  Unsure where to start?  Here are some tips for making a delicious salad time after time.

1.  Mix up your base - I love spinach as my base but also like mixed greens or arugula from time to time.  Romaine is fine, though it isn't a nutritional superstar like the other two.  Remember that the deeper and darker the leaf, the more nutrients the green contains.  (That means that there is absolutely no nutritional value in iceberg.)
2.  It doesn't have to be raw - A lot of people don't care for crudite, but have no fear!  Roasted vegetable salads are great.  Just remember that if you're roasting vegetables in olive oil, you should go easy on the dressing.  You don't want your salad base to be bogged down in oil.
3.  It doesn't have to be all veggie - Pears, apples, berries, grapes, oranges, and grapefruits are all delicious options for a slightly sweet salad.  Think of a classic Waldorf with grapes, red onion, avocado & grapefruit, or roasted beets with feta & orange.
4.  Eat with the seasons - For fall and winter, go with broccoli and cauliflower, acorn squash, brussels sprouts, and big bad Mr. Butternut.  Choose juicy heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini in the summer.  Spring is the time for asparagus, artichokes, and vidalia onions.  When you eat with the seasons, your food will have so much more flavor (and it will be cheaper, too!) 
5.  Texturize like you'd accessorize - Crunchy items like celery, cucumbers, bell peppers, walnuts, almonds, or apples provide a stark contrast to soft or creamy salad toppings like chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, avocado, or roasted mushrooms and squashes.  Opposites attract!      
6.  Go with the flow - change up your dressing!  A little bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil is my favorite, but I also love a good cilantro-lime dressing or a honey-dijon vinaigrette.  I barely ever buy pre-made dressings anymore, but I do have a few brands that I love: Annie's Naturals (I am obsessed with her Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette), Brianna's (very good Blush wine Vinaigrette and a delicious Ginger Mandarin dressing), and Virginia Brand Vidalia Onion dressing (Dad's favorite!  You can get it at Costco).
7. Walk the balance beam - This is probably the most important tip.  Don't think of salad as diet food, think of it as a delicious way to get nutrients.  Sure, if you're looking to add volume to a meal, keep it small, simple, and don't go overboard.  However, if you're eating a salad as your main course, you will want to get a good mix of healthy fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates, just like any other meal.  You can get healthy fats and proteins from nuts, beans, and cheeses.  I am partial to feta cheese or goat cheese on salads. Vegetables are a natural source of complex carbohydrates; you could also toss some grains on your salad like couscous, orzo, or quinoa (okay, I know I said quinoa isn't a grain, but it kinda is...)

Follow those tips and you're sure to get a great salad 90 percent of the time.  (The other 10 percent of the time I end up with a "kitchen sink" salad, in which there's a couple of ingredients that just don't belong). I eat some sort of "salad", whether it's a side salad or entree-sized, almost every day, even when I wasn't a sometimes-vegetarian.   Salads are a great way to boost your vegetable intake and add volume to your meals without a lot of unwanted fat and calories.  I've noticed that getting in a salad a day gives me more energy, clearer skin, and even makes my hair shinier!  And you know what, it never gets boring!

What do y'all like on your salads?  Roasted veggies or raw?  Sweet or savory?  Let me know in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. that looks delicious!!! especially considering i know like brussel sprouts, beets, cucumbers, squash, zucchini!!! my taste buds have really matured in my 20's... still not ready for tomatoes, and that cabbage looks a little questionable.