Sunday, May 29, 2011

Building The Perfect Salad

Ah, salad. There are some of you who love a good salad while the mere mention of a plate full of the colorful stuff strikes fear into the heart of veggies haters! What is the perfect salad? The one you'll actually eat.

You should be eating a good 6 - 8 cups of veggies a day. Raw is best because then you get the full nutrient value. Salads are a great start to a healthy meal. A small side salad not only helps give you the vitamins and minerals you need but it can also help to control your appetite for the meal following it.

I've chosen to use Bed, Bath & Beyond links for certain products as most people have access to this chain store and you can use those 20% off coupons! At the very least, you can see what I'm talking about and then find them locally.

The best greens are the ones you like and will actually eat so determining that will help you look forward to a great salad. Dark greens are best nutritionally but if you only like iceberg then eat that! Give other greens a try tho. I love romaine, spinach, spring greens and butter/bibb lettuce best but when it comes to my ginger dressing, only iceberg will do. There are different greens for different needs and tastes. Experiment. You can also buy mixed bags of greens but it's much less expensive to buy the various kinds and make your own blend.

One thing I recommend buying and using is a lettuce knife. It's made of a plastic material. A regular knife that is metal will cause your greens to brown so don't use a regular knife if you're pre-cutting greens for later use. They are inexpensive and they are also great to use on brownies or sticky bar type cookies.

I also recommend getting a salad spinner. Moisture is what ruins greens.. so wash them, spin them dry and store them properly! Then you just have to remember to eat them!

The heart and soul of a great salad are the veggies!  Again, toss in what you like. Shredded carrots, chunked up cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, chopped green onion, diced celery, broccoli and cauliflower, red pepper slices, zucchini ribbons, peas, corn, the choices are practically endless!  Go for a rainbow of colors and choose based on texture and crunch!

A little prep work in this area will make your life much easier. I always buy my salad goodies and spend a half hour chopping stuff up and placing it back in my fridge. This way you have a sort of salad bar available whenever you want a salad. It's much easier and quicker to grab the pre-chopped stuff and toss a salad together! One thing I've found is that using my food processor to thinly slice or grate veggies makes for a fun salad!
Bonus - those prepared veggies can be used in your brown rice stir fries too!

Some people like fruit in their salads. (I'm not one of them. I prefer my fruit on the side) but some faves are chopped apple, mandarin oranges, grapes, apples and thin sliced strawberries. Whatever gets you eating the greens is alright by me!

Beans & Natural Good Fats
All salads should have beans! It's a great source of protein. My favorites for salads are garbanzo (chickpeas) or black beans but you can use any bean you enjoy. I also recommend adding in some good fat sources like avocado or olives. Some people also enjoy sprinkling ground flax seed onto their salad. Tempeh bacon, cooked crisp and added to a salad is the best damn thing ever. Trust me on this!

Nuts & Seeds
Sunflower seeds, walnuts, sesame seeds and sliced almonds are all terrific texture builders for salads. They also give you some protein and natural oils that your body needs and will love.

I'm a huge crouton fan. I make my own. Croutons give a salad a fabulous crunch and texture and I really miss them if I don't have them. Processed and packaged croutons from the store are loaded with HFCS,weird preservatives, chemicals and strange ingredients. They also taste like bark. Making your own is so easy that you really don't even need a recipe. You can use any kind of bread. I've even used sandwich bread. I prefer whole wheat, sourdough or french bread. I will also take stale (not moldy) or leftover bread, cube it and freeze it. Then I have bread ready to make croutons whenever I want and I'm not wasting bread.

My 'recipe':

Just cube up whatever loaf of bread you choose, put it in a big bowl and set aside. Then, in another bowl mix up about 1/2 cup olive oil and you can also toss in a tbsp of melted vegan 'butter' if you want a buttery taste but the olive oil is great on it's own. Then, just add in whatever flavors you like. I like to use 'Spike', garlic powder and a few mixed herbs. Blend that together and pour it over the bread pieces and toss to coat. Spread on a cookie sheet with sides and bake at 350 degrees until toasted. Stir them every 5 or 10 minutes to keep them from burning. Once cool, store them in a ziplock baggie with as much air removed as possible.

Edited to add: Here is a recent post with an actual recipe.... click here

Other Crunchies

Crushed tortilla chips, broken up pita chips, and crispy Asian noodles are all great in salads. just watch the ingredient listing and don't buy crappy kinds full of weird stuff. You can find healthy versions.

A perfectly healthy salad can turn horribly wrong if you top it with the wrong dressing! Did you know that some dressings have upwards of 100 to 200 calories in a 2 tbsp serving? Do you really only use 2 tbsp? Probably not. First off, learn to measure your dressing. Put it in a small side cup and then dip your fork in it and then spear the salad. You can also take the pre-portioned amount and toss your salad with the dressing to get it evenly distributed. Don't let your healthy salad turn into a Big Mac by going crazy with the dressing.

Also, don't overdue the dressing. Dressing is meant to enhance the flavor of the veggies, not drown them.  Vegetables taste so good on their own that you want their individual flavors to shine thru... you want them all at the party so don't overwhelm them with a heavy dressing placement.

The body prefers that you have a little fat when you eat veggies so if you are using a dressing without oil, make sure you toss in avocado and nuts to keep your body happy!

Homemade is best... not only in taste but in nutrition. The ingredient listing on a bottle of processed dressing is scary and disgusting (and all the sugar!) so if you absolutely refuse to make your own, at least splurge on the dressings you'll find in the health aisle or check out the refrigerated ones at the supermarket. Always opt for all-natural.

I like to use a Magic Bullet type blender to make most dressings. There are a few brands on the market and they can be used for many things so they are a nice tool to have. These type of mini blenders can emulsify oiled dressings to make them creamy. You can try using a blender but they are usually too big to get the job done properly.

Here are a few of my fave dressings:

Vegan Caesar Dressing

¼ cup sliced raw almonds
1 to 2 cloves chopped garlic
½  cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used bottled)
2 teaspoons capers
½  cup vegan (egg-free) mayonnaise (I like Vegenaise)
½ tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place almonds, garlic and olive oil in a blender and pulverize until mostly smooth. Add lemon juice, capers, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and puree until smooth. If a thinner dressing is desired, add more lemon juice, water or olive oil.

Julie’s Balsamic Dressing
(from Skinny Bitch Everyday Cookbook)

½ c olive oil
¼ c balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic (minced)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp agave nectar
1 tsp strawberry jam (I’ve also used raspberry)

1 tsp salt (plus more to taste if needed)
¼ tsp pepper (plus more to taste if needed)
1 tsp herbes de provence
¼ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp ground mustard
¼ tsp ginger
¼ tsp dried sage
¼ tsp ground nutmeg

I blend it all in my Bullet blender and then I add in some water. It's rather thick once it's blended so thin it with water until it's the consistency you prefer. It will emulsify and change to a lighter color. The recipe says to whisk together tho so you can decide how you'd prefer it. I also sometimes add more jam and agave depending on how I am feeling. If you want it sweeter, add in more to taste.

Also.. since I make this so often… I will measure out multiple servings of the herbs and baggie it so all I have to do is add an herb pack to the wet ingredients… takes less time.

Engine 2 Basics Dressing (no oil)

I know this sounds really weird but once I tried this, I started craving it. I love this dressing and it has no oil!

2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp tamari (soy sauce)
1 tbps mustard (I like dijon)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1 orange, lime or lemon (abt 3 tbsp)
1 tbsp agave nectar, honey or maple syrup (I leave out)
1 tsp of vegetarian Worcestershire sauce (look for one without anchovy)
1 tbsp wheat germ (I used flax seed instead)
Water to desired consistency

Mix all together. I prefer to emulsify it in the Magic Bullet.

Benihana Ginger Dressing - serve this on iceberg with a slice of tomato! it's just like you get at the Japanese places! Serve with your brown rice & veggie stir fry! 

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