May 1, 2007 ~ Celebrating Spring with Taste
The same undeniable urge strikes me about this time every year. I want a salad. Not just any salad, but a big, juicy, rich, colorful, exquisite salad with diverse vegetables and tasty toppings.
The sad browned and wilted vegetables of the winter have disappeared, and suddenly everything in the produce aisle is vibrant and firm and moist again. I stand there in front of the carrots and broccoli and yellow peppers and asparagus and artichokes and spinach and rainbow chard and green beans and tomatoes and Brussels sprouts and beets and say to Morgan, "I want all of it." And he laughs, but I'm dead serious. All of it. Now. Don't make me lick it so they'll make us buy it.
And so, this week, I have been making salads. Big, juicy, rich, colorful, exquisite salads with diverse vegetables and tasty toppings.
I used to think that salads are kind of gross. Most of the salads that I'd had were two-day-old cafeteria-style salads. You know the type, nothing but browning iceberg lettuce, some dried out grated cheese from a bag, slices of ham or turkey, hard-boiled eggs whose yokes had gone green, and some generic ranch dressing squirted from a gallon jug.
I have come a long, long way since iceberg lettuce, thank heavens.
Melissa's Guide to An Incredible Salad
1. A good leafy base. The darker the color and the fresher the better. Iceburg has very little nutritional value or flavor, but many other sorts of lettuce are packed with vitamins and minerals and many subtly different tastes. My salad today had a mix of baby romaine. I also love baby spinach or a mesclun mix. Morgan enjoys adding a few leaves with more flavor, like arugula (bitter) or baby mustard greens (spicy). I prefer to add some herbs if we have them, like basil leaves, cilantro, or Italian parsley.
2. Chopped fresh vegetables. Today's salad had carrots, red and yellow bell peppers, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and some hot-pepper stuffed olives on the side. I also love avocado, black or Kalamata olives, pickled beets, peas, or cucumbers. Morgan loves raw onions on his salad. Broccoli is good, and even better if lightly steamed or blanched. If I'm feeling really fancy, grilled asparagus, garlic, or portabella mushroom strips are a delicious addition.
3. Don't be scared to add fruit. My salad today had raisins, but there are many more possibilities. I prefer dried or fresh cherries, tangerines, apples sliced thin, or oranges. Blueberries, or strawberries are good if you can get them. I wish I could have fresh raspberries with a raspberry vinaigrette on my salad every day!
4. Add a little protein. Roasted walnuts are incredible on a salad. Chopped almonds or sunflower seeds work very well. I love to combine grains and beans or nuts to make a complete protein. Corn is a great addition, or corn chips broken up will add a salty crunch. Brown rice, quinoa, or couscous can be an interesting addition. I love garbanzos or black beans. If you like soy, grilled tempey or a grilled fake chicken patty can be perfect. And of course various types of cheese can work very well if you eat dairy.
5. Pick a complementary dressing, but go easy on it or you'll drown the flavor of all the vegetables. Today, I chose Seeds of Change Sweet Basil Vinaigrette. The light sweet taste of that dressing went perfectly with the peppers, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and raisins, bringing out all of their flavors. Another frequent favorite is Annie's Naturals Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette. And, of course, I'll often just sprinkle straight olive oil and balsamic vinegar on my salad and call it a dressing.
6. Boost the nutrition even more. I also add to my salad a little flax seed oil for amino acids and nutritional yeast for my B vitamins.
What better way to celebrate spring than crisp yellow peppers, sweet carrots, and juicy tomatoes, all in one dish?
spring salad (with Beltane flowers)