HOW TO MAKE YOUR EVERY DAY SALAD TASTE GOOD
With spring on its way, I’m getting super impatient waiting for the fresh greens and veggies that are about to explode at the farmers' markets. For me, and I feel like a lot of others, when the weather gets warmer I start to crave lighter, healthier foods. The thought of a winter pot roast just isn’t doing it for me anymore. But, truthfully, I'm not the biggest salad person! I have, however, mastered how to dress up a salad (in a healthy way) to make it more appealing to a big eater like me, combining flavors and textures to make it crave-worthy. Thought I would share a few of these tips with you guys!
THE BEST MIX-INS
You've got the greens - now what? I think the perfect salad has a great raw base but works in one or two cooked elements. Roasted beets and salad always seem to go hand in hand with me; a mixture of golden and red roasted with shallot, garlic, olive oil, fresh thyme and marjoram are the best. If you aren't a beet fan, roasted sweet potatoes, squash, fennel, cherry tomatoes or asparagus are delicious. A simple blanching of veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, etc…) is easy too - bring water to a boil, salt heavily, add veggies for a minute or two max depending on how large the cuts are and then shock the drained veggies in ice water. You just want to get rid of that raw bite and keep the vibrant colors. I love to keep blanched veggies in the fridge to throw into salads or even a fried rice....ok, back to salads! :)
HERB IT UP
Fresh herbs are aromatic, healthy and go a long way in adding flavor with just a light chop and toss in (cilantro, parley, basil, dill, mint!) There's this one stall at my local market that has amazing micro greens and mustard greens. I love the spicy bite I get when I have a mixture of mustards greens with my regular green mix….such a great surprise. Mint and cilantro are my favorite combo though - they just add such brightness and cut some of the bitterness of other greens.
MAKE A KILLER DRESSING
The dressing makes all the difference. I always have olive oil, sherry vinegar, dijon mustard and lemons on hand. A super simple vinaigrette and always a hit!
We don't always think of oils as important, but it can completely change the flavor of a dressing. Lately, I've been using grapeseed oil for a more milder flavor than EVOO; for me, I find extra virgin gets bitter so easily. Other great oils are avocado oil (it has a faint aniseed flavor to it), hazelnut oil, walnut, macadamia and, of course, sesame oil. Infused oils also add great flavor - think rosemary, garlic, and, of course, truffle.
Once you have the base of your vinaigrette figured out you can then add other ingredients to create a creamy dressing without the cream. Mustard is an incredible emulsifier, the ingredient that makes a dressing thick, but there are so many other things you can add to do that. My current fave is tossing some roasted shallots and garlic in the blender with dijon, sherry vinegar and grapeseed oil - so tangy and delicious. Other great ingredients for a creamy dressing without the cream are tahini, miso, yogurt, avocado, and almond butter (or any nut butter, really). Also, jam or jelly makes a great emulsifier, so if you like a touch of sweetness, try a tablespoon or two of currant or berry preserves.
ADD SOMETHING PICKLED
Pickled chilies are a staple in my fridge. I pretty much put them on everything I eat, so why not salad? A little sour and a little heat….sooo good! Olives are a no brainer - nice plump, juicy kalamata or green, stuffed with blue cheese. Capers are a nice little pop of salty goodness which, by the way, are made even more delicious if you deep fry them! You can also do a quick pickle of other veggies like radishes, red onion and daikon for a nice crunchy texture, or, if you are a bit experimental, of dried fruit. Pickled raisins, sultanas or even cherries add a great sweet-sour bite.
Love the crunchy topping of croutons but don’t want to eat the bread!? There are lots of crunchy alternatives. Of course, nuts are always a great option, but my latest experiment was with red quinoa. I simply soaked as usual for 10-15 minutes and baked it in the oven until crispy! You can also do it on the stove top. Buckwheat is another great grain to toast up - some grocers even sell it toasted. Sev is also a great crunchy alternative. It is an Indian snack made out of seasoned chick pea flour paste and deep fried. They come in various sizes, but are very thin…thinner than the crunchy chow mien noodles you usually see on “Asian” salads.
TOP IT OFF WITH A SPICE BLEND
I often see people add salt and pepper to their salads before eating, so why not make a spice blend to give it more depth of flavor. Egyptian Dukkah is always a great go-to. Za'atar (usually a combination of sumac, sesame seeds and thyme) adds a sort of tangy and nutty flavor to any dish. Advieh is a Persian spice mix usually containing dried rose petals, cardamon, cinnamon and cumin, so warming and aromatic. You can find these spice blends at the store if you aren’t the spice blending type of person. I also stock up on Japanese rice seasoning blends (furikake) for a quick shake of flavor on my salad. They usually have bonito flakes, dried seaweed and sesame seeds in them adding a little saltiness to your salad.