Winter is finally over, phew. What I hate the most about winter is the dismal assortment of veggies available at the supermarket – limp, colourless, small and hard fruits and veggies that have been shipped from who knows where. But now that summer is here, we can begin to benefit from the gorgeous and bountiful local farms which can provide us with a wide range of fresh, firm, perfectly ripe vegetables.
Salads are one of those things it is particularly hard to eat in the winter. Limp, white iceberg lettuce is the last thing on the planet that would appetize me on a cold January day. So now that summer is here, we need to re-vamp our menu and recipes to make use of all the gorgeous produce. Salads don’t have to be the same old lettuce, tomato and peppers either. There are soooo many possibilities for dressing them up!
First, get an assortment of greens. Grocery stores usually have a mixture called ‘spring greens’ which has a variety of types of leafy greens and dark red items. But you don’t have to stop there. Pick up a bag of arugula next time you’re out – it has a nice nutty flavour, and comes in smaller leaves. Baby spinach is a great staple – and so high in calcium and folic acid. Red cabbage can make a great base for a coleslaw-type salad – and is high in cancer fighting nutrients. Once you’ve got your base green, toss in some extras to add colour and flavour – such as red, wavy radicchio leaves, stiff and curly kale, or tender beet tops. Having a variety of greens will ensure you get a healthy variety of nutrients, not just a daily dose of all the same ones.
Next, add a few portions of whatever vegetable happens to be in high season. Small, tender zucchinis are great, or long lush cucumbers, cut into small cubes or thin slices. I love cherry tomatoes to dress up my salads, but wedges or slices work well too. Fresh peas explode in sweet taste in your mouth. Add carrot, but try grating it for a change in texture. Green and red peppers, of course are a staple, and also try orange and yellow ones to mix it up. The same can be said of tomatoes – those heritage varieties offer a chance to try a slightly new taste and alter the colour scheme of your food. Green onion is a must, but you can interchange that with chives, and don’t forget a few leaves of chopped fresh basil and parsley – either Italian or curly! A great game to play with your kids is to go to the grocery store and pick out a strange new vegetable that you’ve never had before, or haven’t had in a long time, bring it home, and figure out how to cook with it. When was the last time you introduced your kitchen to an eggplant?
My favourite step is the bells and whistles. Most of us are used to salads that stop with the vegetables, but that need not be. My favourite ingredient for salad is nuts and berries. My staple is a small handful of sunflower seeds and roughly the same amount of dried cranberries. You will have to do your own research on the health benefits of those two, but I will tell you that you can’t afford to leave them out! Many other nuts can be used – pine nuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds, almost anything you like the taste of. As for berries, once you’ve tried a spinach salad with fresh sliced strawberries, you will never be the same. Blueberries work too, or mandarin orange slices. You can of course, add bacon bits, but why use those artificial tidbits when you could use chunks of cooked chicken or salmon? Cheese is another option for a bit of protein; my roommate makes the best spinach salad with pear slices, pecans and chunks of blue cheese, in a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Sounds bizarre, but what a taste sensation! Brie works well too, or just chunks of white old cheddar – avoid the died orange kind if you can. A handful of Alfalfa sprouts piled on top can just make the whole thing. If you invest in a sprouter, you can sprout anything from broccoli seeds to mung beans, for a whole host of new flavours. Incidentally, a sprouter is a great thing to have in the winter, so that you can make your own fresh veggies to combat the stale grocery store fare.
Lastly, of course, the dressing. If you buy from the store, choose something light, as there is no need to pack on the calories just in a dressing. But there are plenty of dressings you can make yourself. Of course the old standby, olive oil and balsamic vinegar – but you can add to that pretty much any flavour agent you want. a bit of basil and oregano, crushed garlic, honey, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, or mix in a bit of jam or jelly. You can make your own raspberry vinaigrette just by taking that basic recipe and adding in raspberry jelly! Get creative.
This should be enough fodder to keep you salads interesting all summer long – you need not eat the same salad twice!