Hot days perfect time to build a better salad

Published 8:58 am Wednesday, July 29, 2020


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It’s the last Wednesday in July, and another hot summer day. Add in another chance of rain, maybe even a thunderstorm.  Normal for this time of year.

The garden is still producing, though slightly less.  And I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve not been to the farmer’s market in Jackson, nor in Lexington, this season.  Blaming that on the virus going round and the heat. And it’s the heat that makes me want a salad for supper, requiring little to no cooking.  Luckily DW is for it, too.

Since we shouldn’t be eating at buffets these days, we can and should make salads at home where we can load them up. DW and I like to have a baked (microwaved actually) potato or sweet potato on the side, if not a fresh ear of corn, also microwaved.

There’s no excuse for not getting your veggies in and we need them now more than ever.  Veggies will enhance your immune system, providing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber and even water.  Salad is good.

Start with Step 1 to build your base. Choose one or more of these leafy green vegetables: arugula (a rather nutty flavored herb), bibb lettuce, escarole, leafy green lettuce (the darker… the richer in nutrients), kale (young and tender), iceberg lettuce (but not totally), Napa cabbage, red leaf lettuce, romaine and/or spinach.

If you can find them now, young tender mustard or turnip greens are great in salads, too.  Wash greens first in cold running water, then drain.  This is why I love a salad spinner. Salad dressings don’t stick to wet greens very well.

Step 2.  Add more veggies (more is a good thing). Boost texture, color, flavor and nutrients without too many extra calories with these which you can toss, chop, dice, shred or slice: broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, whole kernel corn, water chestnuts, beets, cucumber, red cabbage, yellow or zucchini squash, colorful bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, snow peas, bok choy, celery, onion and tomatoes.

Fruits, too.  I keep Craisins (dried cranberries) to toss in ours for the extra sweetness. Try chopped apple or pear, with the peeling on; dried cherries pack a really concentrated sweet punch; raisins add chewiness with extra iron and fiber; and Mandarin oranges, fresh berries chunks of watermelon or cantaloupe, and grapes make for mighty refreshing combinations.

Step 3 moves a salad to a higher level.  Adding a protein turns a salad from a side to the main course.  Consider: adding browned and drained ground beef (ground round is lower in fat) makes you think about a nice taco salad doesn’t it!  Include a boiled egg for everybody to boost the protein and iron content.  A deli roasted chicken adds lots of flavor plus the protein.  Or you can add cooked turkey, ham, salmon and shrimp.

For meatless protein toss in black beans, chickpeas, kidney or Navy beans, Edamame and Tofu or nuts and seeds.  Something for everybody.

Step 4, now to dress it up. Here’s the catch, creamy salad dressings are usually fairly high in calories from fat and can undo all the good you’ve done building a healthy salad. So, use as small an amount as you can, or opt for your dressing on the side.

For lower fat dressings, use those that are oil and vinegar or yogurt-based instead of mayonnaise based.  Salsa also makes a tasty, but very low-fat salad dressing.  And there are so many wonderful flavor-infused vinegars these days that can work as a calorie and fat-free salad dressing and you only need a splash or two.  Use snipped or chopped fresh herbs and cracked pepper can to add more flavor and you won’t even miss the fat.

Extras.  For more flavor, but also more calories, these choices can finish off a very delicious salad, just use sparingly (a tablespoon or less): almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or walnuts.

And a sprinkle of cheese: blue, cheddar, feta, mozzarella, parmesan, or goat cheese provide a wide range of flavors just add with a light hand.  And for the finale a very small amount of avocado, bacon bits, croutons, olives or tortilla strips or baked pita chips.

One good calorie-saving rule to follow is to choose between crackers or croutons, just not both.

Now eat slowly.  Chew each delicious, power-packed bite carefully and thoughtfully to get the most out of your well-constructed salad.  Stay cool friends!

Recipe of the Week

Smart Salads

Which will you try first?

Romaine, grape tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, avocado and shrimp.

Mixed leafy greens, chicken strips, melon, walnuts, and feta cheese

Spinach, red onion, mandarin oranges or strawberries or Craisins, sliced almonds, and parmesan.

Shredded Napa cabbage, water chestnuts, carrots, cashews and wheat berries.

Iceberg and leafy lettuce, chopped tomatoes, onion, sliced jalapeño, cheddar cheese, cooked and crumbled ground beef, black beans, baked tortilla strips, topped with fat-free sour cream and salsa.