Sensational Salads #3

Sensational Salads

A traditional basic salad basically consists of three main parts:

  1. Greens
  2. Veggies/Add-Ons
  3. Dressing

I’ve already alluded to some of this in my first post of this series, but wanted to revisit some aspects of it in more detail.

I believe that people get super bored with salad when they stick to the same old, same old. I love my dad, but if and when he makes a salad, it is the exact same salad I had regularly as a kid.

Iceberg lettuce + carrot + celery + cucumber + green onion + bottled dressing = BORING!!

I don’t love this salad. I tolerate it. In order to truly embrace and love salad, you really have to step out of your box and try different combinations.

  1. Greens ~ as previously mentioned in post one….MIX. IT. UP. I always keep Romain on hand. I use it solo, but also mix it with a variety of other greens. I love the “live” lettuce, spring mix, baby spinach and arugula blend, red lettuce, kale, and anything else that is leafy! Be adventurous. Varying your base of greens adds interests because of the various depths of green as well as colour with the hints of red. It also brings a variety of flavour and texture. I find that I will often couple a sturdier leaf with those that seem to wilt easily (like those from my garden).
  2. Vegetables ~ I mentioned how using different cutting techniques can help make your salad more visually appealing, but I felt that I had to bring up two other important things to consider when adding vegetables to your salad. Perhaps this is just personal preference, but I like to think of my vegetables more like a condiment/topping rather than a main ingredient. So for me, I’m thinking more like a dash, a hint, a sprinkling, a scattering, etc. When my husband makes a salad, it is always very vegetable heavy. By that I mean lots and lots of vegetables with greens added in. I very much appreciate his help in the kitchen, but I will usually offer to make the salad simply because my preference is for the vegetables to accent the greens. I find that a vegetable heavy salad often seems bland, especially when the vegetables are chopped. I find that each hunk of vegetable holds its own unique flavour ~ think chopped celery. A piece of chopped celery in a salad often tastes like….wait for it…wait for it….chopped celery! I just find that the flavours don’t unite and blend together to create an experience. I know this may sound crazy to others, but I really believe that the amount you add and the way in which it is cut makes a big difference. I challenge you to try it. For me, I use my salad additions sparingly. The greens are the body and main part of my salad and the veggies are added to offer interest, texture, colour and a hint of additional flavour. The way some vegetables are cut is not as important as others, but I really believe that very thinly slicing, spiralling and ribboning can tame the taste of some that can be over powering. The next time you prepare a salad, try it. Use less vegetables than you might typically use. Think of them more as a garnish. In addition, go out of your way to make very thin slices. Think of what you might normally dice/chop and ask yourself if there is a different way to cut it. I believe you too will see and taste a difference.
  3. A great dressing! I don’t need to go into much detail here, but I will challenge you to find homemade replacement recipes for the bottles you typically buy. There are so many additives in those store bought varieties and I promise a great homemade dressing recipe will knock your salad out of the park every time! I will be posting many great recipes throughout this series, but I know there will be some you don’t like. In fact, my personal umber #1 favourite dressing of all time (which I have yet to post so stay tuned), is not liked by the rest of my family😢 I always have a batch of this on hand because it is my absolute favourite, but when I use this dressing, my family will always opt for another. You may need to try several before you find your personal “go to’s”.
Just a quick example of how you might move away from dicing and chopping. It might be hard to tell in the photo, but the sliced examples are super thin and delicate. These ribbons aren’t as thin as when I use my Starfrit to cut them, but this version is simple to do with a basic vegetable peeler…try using less pressure to get a thinner ribbon.

I would love for you to step up to some of my challenges and let me know how it goes!

Sensational Salads #2: Big Italian Salad

Big Italian Salad

I found this recipe on Once Upon a Chef several years ago and my note in the corner of the printed recipe says “Awesome!”….so need I say more. This Big Italian Salad is a great summer salad, especially if you have your own garden for fresh herbs and tomatoes! I requested this salad as part of my birthday dinner this year, so this picture is actually of the salad my husband made for me! He was having trouble ribbon cutting the carrots, but it still tasted great!

Big Italian Salad

By Jennifer Segal

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (or a few leaves, if you grow it)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons honey

Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 large head romaine lettuce (or 3 hearts), washed, dried and cut into large, bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup seeded and chopped hothouse cucumbers
  • 1 carrots, peeled into ribbons*
  • Handful grape tomatoes, halved
  • Handful pitted olives
  • Feta, crumbled to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a food processor and blitz to blend.**
  2. Place all of the salad ingredients except for the cheese in a large bowl. Right before serving, add about half of the dressing and toss well. Add more dressing little by little as necessary; be sure to dress greens very generously, otherwise salad will be bland. Toss in the cheese, then taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper (or even honey), if necessary.

*When I was growing up, marinated vegetable salad was a popular dish. Carrots hold up well to dressing, so one thing I might suggest is placing your ribbon cut carrots in a small sealable container and then drizzling a very small amount of the dressing over the top. Stir to coat and place them in the fridge. Add the glazed carrots to the salad just before serving. If you cut your carrots first, they could marinate for about 15 minutes or so while you finishing prepping your salad/meal.

**I have found that this dressing tastes even better the next day, so I recommend making it either the day before or at least a few hours before serving. It tastes great the day of, but I can honestly say the left-over dressing tastes even better! I wouldn’t make it more than a day in advance, but I have found the intensity of the flavours is magnified over time. The original recipe doesn’t suggest making it ahead, so if you are flying by the seat of your pants…just make and serve!

Mystery Box Riddle #98

Mystery Box Riddle #97

Sensational Salads #1

Copy Cat Olive Garden Salad

I’ve wanted to do a series of posts on salads for several months now. I’m not a picky eater and there are many foods I love, but I have to honestly say salad is one of my favourites. I used to say I enjoyed salad, as long as someone else made it. I always felt that by the time I chopped all the veggies and got it ready, it was some how disappointing. However, over the last few years, I have made a few discoveries which are primarily based on my own personal preferences. I can honestly say that salad is not only one of my very favourite foods, but would rank pretty high for my whole family. My 16 year old son will often request salad when asked what he wants for dinner. Here are a few tips to help you jump on the salad band wagon.

How To Really Get Hooked on Salad:

Starfrit Spiralizer
  • Find a variety of salads that you love! DO NOT stick to the same old salad every time! We probably have at least 3 completely different salads each week.
  • Make salad your main course and use meat as a salad topping. Although we are not vegetarian, I can say that we have definitely moved away from red meat. We still enjoy a steak, pork tenderloin and ground beef for burgers and spaghetti sauce, but it is much more limited than it used to be. We will often have meat as a salad compliment and chicken and fish are much more present in our regular diet than they were in the past.
  • Be creative and try a variety of add-ons. For me salad is mostly about a great dressing. Once I find a dressing I like, I will often play with the other elements and change it up. Lately, one of my favourite salad additions is chopped brussel sprouts!
  • Be creative in your presentation….I will often spiral, shred or ribbon cut my vegetables to add interest. A salad that looks amazing often tastes great too!
  • Think colour! I often see a salad as art…I always try to add a splash of colour!
  • Use a variety of greens to create different textures, flavours and colours in your finished salad.
  • Cheese please! Although we don’t always add cheese to our salads (especially when we are being mindful of calories), it is a great way to add flavour. Some of our favourites include feta, Swiss, manchego, aged cheddar and Parmigiano Reggiano!
  • Double the recipe! We definitely have a few staples when it comes to salad dressing. I find that making a double batch will often last a week or more in the fridge.
  • Be mindful! Although a salad is often packed with veggies, don’t fall into the same trap that I did several years ago. I would eat a delicious homemade salad for lunch at work every day. I always felt like I ate well and a list of the foods I was eating would have most people agreeing. However, despite what I felt were healthy choices, I noticed that I was starting to put on weight. Be mindful of what you are adding to your salad if weight/calories are a concern. Nuts and seeds are a great source for nutrients and healthy fats, but they are also extremely high in calories. After months of eating my “amazingly healthy salad”, I did a calorie count and discovered that my lunch salad was often exceeding 700 calories! Although they were seemingly healthy calories packed with nutrients, a calorie is a calorie and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why I seemed to be gaining weight. I still eat nuts and seeds, but I am just more aware of what I’m adding to my salads and the overall caloric impact.

Sensational Salad Add-Ons for a Typical Lettuce Salad:

The fruits, vegetables, meat and other ingredients I add to a salad are often determined by the type of salad I’m making and whether the dressing is sweet or not. I will follow a salad recipe pretty close the first time, mostly to see if the dressing is a hit or not. After that, I will often use the dressing, but adapt the salad ingredients based on what flavours I think will meld nicely with it and what I have on hand. Below are some of our favourite salad fixings that go beyond the basic carrots, celery, cucumber and tomatoes.

  • beets (I often spiral cut them with this inexpensive Starfrit machine I have)
  • mushrooms (I like to slice mine paper thin)
  • avocado
  • brussel sprouts (chopped)
  • kale
  • peppers (red, green and/or yellow)
  • radicchio
  • chopped artichoke (canned)
  • red cabbage (and/or regular cabbage)
  • granny smith apples
  • pear
  • peaches
  • mango
  • strawberries
  • fresh homemade salsa (fruit based is especially good and often means you can eliminate the dressing altogether)
  • Nuts (pistachio, pecan, walnuts, peanuts, slivered almonds, pine nuts, etc. – I usually opt for raw nuts, but also love candied nuts with some salads)
  • Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, etc.)
  • Cheese, freshly grated
  • Meat (pork tenderloin, steak, taco meat, salmon, chicken breast/rotisserie chicken)

When I first started making more gourmet style salads, I really just sought out a few dressings that I loved that became my “go to’s” for a basic salad. I have actually posted this recipe a few times already, but it is definitely one I use regularly.

Lime Vinaigrette

Lime Agave Vinaigrette – courtesy of Lyn Genet-Recitas (The Plan). I love this dressing because it is simple to make and the lime flavour gives it a very fresh taste. I will often add green apple or pear to this salad just because it goes so nicely with the lime flavour. (If you don’t have Agave, use honey or one of my favourites…maple syrup.)

Stay tuned as I will be posting several new salad and dressing recipes over the summer, but until now, here are some links to previous posts that highlighted some of our family’s favourite salad recipes.

Mystery Box Riddle #96

Mystery Box Riddle #95

Mystery Box Riddle #94

Mystery Box Riddle #93

Mystery Box Riddle #92