"The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings. Let food be your medicine."
- Hippocrates

February 4, 2010

Salad - it's what's for dinner!

Yeah, yeah...I know what you're thinking, "Really, Leigh - salad??...Yawn!" But wait! Salad can be tasty, filling, and exciting with the right components!

I'll start with a confession...up until not long ago, I NEVER ate salad - unless of course, it was a creamy and fatty Cesar! I would pretty much turn my nose up to anything that had the semblance of a green salad. I did try though...I'd go through spurts where I'd buy all the fixings - lettuce, salad dressing, tomatoes, cucumber, etc. - then just let it all die a slow and slimy death in my fridge. Sad, I know.

This all changed when I discovered that a salad doesn't have to be just chopped lettuce and veggies topped with a never-quite-perfect store bought dressing. I thank my mother-in-law for this enlightenment!! There is a whole world of salads out there that include different greens, veggies, fruit, nuts, grains and home-made dressings! Once you find your perfect components, you'll never let your greens wilt alone in the fridge again! And you'll be healthier for it!

For a salad to be a complete and filling meal it should have a few things: greens, veggies/fruit, protein, carbohydrates and fat. Below I've included some of my favorites, but really, the possibilities are endless.

Organic baby greens (they are organic and prewashed so you just dump a few handfuls into a bowl - so easy!)
Other lettuce (Boston, Romaine, etc.) remember that plain old Iceberg lettuce is pretty much devoid of nutrition
Other greens (spinach, kale, cabbage, arugula)

Sweet peppers (any color)
Tomatoes (halved cherry tomatoes are particularly suited for salads)
Red onion, thinly sliced (an absolute must for my salads)
Green onion
Carrots, grated
Beets, grated
Radishes, thinly sliced

Any berry
Avocado, sliced (another must!)

Any bean/legume (I love black beans or chickpeas) - just open the can and drain!
Nuts (pecan, slivered almonds, cashews, etc.)
Seeds (sunflower or pumpkin are good)

Any cooked grain (barley, buckwheat, bulgar, corn)
Toasted pita (just brush on olive oil, toast at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes)
Whole grain bread croutons

Fat (aka dressing)
The best dressings are home-made and they typically include the following:
Vinegar or lemon juice
Salt and Pepper
Optional: Herbs, spices, garlic, other flavorings, mustard (mustard actually helps hold it together so it doesn't separate as easily.)

The ratio of oil to vinegar should be about 3 to 1. Shake it all together in a jar or whisk in a bowl. Super easy!! Below I've also included two of my favorite go-to dressings. These can be made and kept in the fridge for up to a week or so.

Both recipes adapted from Eat, Drink and be Vegan by Dreena Burton

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
3-4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small clove garlic, minced

Cumin-Cinnamon Vinaigrette
(This one is great for Mexican or Caribbean dishes like Burritos, Mexican Lasagna, or Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
3-4 tbsp agave or maple syrup
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 pinch allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 - 1/3 cup olive oil

Health Benefits: Eat your greens!!

Pound for pound, leafy greens are just about the healthiest food on the planet! They are low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in folic acid, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, iron and calcium, as well as containing a host of phytochemicals, such as lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. The benefits of regularly including greens in your diet include cancer-prevention, lower risk of diabetes and heart disease, prevention of cataract and age-related macular degeneration, and improved immune function. Wow..Now that's a sales pitch!

Now go forth and enjoy mother nature's medicine!