Thursday, January 28, 2016

Let's Talk Salads!

Winter has truly arrived and along with it comes a craving for all things warm.  Our supper each night usually consists of something that comes right out of the oven hot and ready to warm us as we sit down at the dining room table.  Winter dishes - roasts, stews, roasted veggies - are one of my favorite things about this season.   Recently Justus asked me to start preparing him a salad to take to work each day for lunch though, and as I've assembled the salads each night, I've made more of a conscious effort to eat a salad for lunch the next day myself.  I've actually made this citrus salad two days in a row... it's just so, so good and the fresh produce tastes so refreshing.  I think it just makes me enjoy those hearty winter dishes even more in the evening.  

Salads are actually one of my favorite things to eat, but I think variety is the key.  If you eat the exact same salad ingredients every day, it doesn't take long for it to get old.  Speaking for myself here, a salad that consists of a huge bowl of lettuce with a sprinkling of shredded carrots and two cherry tomatoes on top just doesn't cut it for me.  

Here are some things that help me when putting together a salad:

  • Theme!  Before I start cutting up veggies, I think about what flavor I ultimately want the salad to have.  Feeling like something sweet?  How about a base of spinach with some fruit and nuts?   Feeling in a Southwestern mood?  Then I'm leaning more towards a base of romaine lettuce with tomatoes, corn, avocado, cilantro.  Think of different ingredients that can work together to add more flavor.  This also might depend on the main dish I'm making, if this is a side salad. 
  •  Use what you have!  Do you have any leftover chicken from the night before?  What about cooked veggies, say some roasted butternut squash (here's a delicious salad recipe that you could use butternut squash in, by the way). What about that avocado half that will go bad if it's not eaten?  A lot of times I'll build my salad around something that needs to be eaten, again making sure that the different ingredients will complement each other. 
  • Toppings!  I stock up on toppings when I go to the grocery store.  Nuts (like almonds, pecans and walnuts), seeds (sesame, poppy, sunflower, chia, hemp), cheeses (feta and blue cheese crumbles are a big hit with my husband), dried sweet fruit (raisins, cranberries), tortilla chips, you get the idea.  I think these can be the key to a salad... they add so much texture and flavor and leave you feeling satisfied.  
  • Variety!  I usually buy at least two varieties of greens, and mix it up the next time.  Our favorite salad greens are romaine (green and red), butter lettuce, spinach, and a spring mix.  I buy an assortment of veggies and fruits, a lot of time depending on what is in season.  (Tip to the mommies out there!  If your little ones have a hard time eating salad every meal/day because of the lettuce, chop up extra veggies for them and make a "salad" without the lettuce!  Today for lunch my girls had a mixture of chopped cucumber and bell peppers with a side of orange slices along with their main dish.)
  • Salad dressing!  I rarely ever buy salad dressings, simply because I'm very picky about ingredients.  I actually bought one last week for my husband for the first time in ages... he requested something very spicy!  (Speaking of, I found a delicious chipotle vinaigrette at Whole Foods.) On the rare occasion we have ranch dressing (usually when we have guests), I make it from scratch using this recipe. Anyway, I typically just make a vinaigrette and I have a formula I use that is so simple!  No matter how you change it up, it's delicious, easy, and healthy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             This will make about 3/4 cup of dressing, so you can either store the leftover for later, or make half the recipe.  Thoroughly mix together 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup of either vinegar or a citrus juice, 2 tsp dijon mustard, 2 tsp maple syrup (honey would also work well), and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  I always keep balsamic, apple cider, red wine and white wine vinegar in the pantry along with a few others.  There are so many delicious options!  Lemon, lime or orange juice are also delicious in place of the vinegar.  On occasion I'll omit the maple syrup if I don't want the vinaigrette to have any sweetness.  
Lastly, here is the salad recipe pictured above.  It's delicious and I hope you enjoy it.

Citrus Salad

Baby spinach
Romaine lettuce 
Oranges (I used Cara Cara)
Feta Cheese
Poppy Seeds
Vinaigrette (see above under salad dressing; I used 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup orange juice, 2 tsp dijon mustard, 2 tsp maple syrup, sea salt, and ground pepper)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place pecans on a baking sheet and toast for about 5-8 minutes.  Chop spinach, romaine, and celery and place in a bowl.  Peel orange(s), slice and place on lettuce.  Sprinkle toasted  pecans, raisins, and feta cheese over salad.  Add some poppy seeds to your vinaigrette and pour over entire salad. 

Have you made any delicious salads recently?  Please share - I'm always looking for something new!  ;-)

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