Guest Author - Jason Hodge
Baby greens are awesome! They're delicate, yet crisp, refreshing and tasty all at once. But what do you do with them? How do you make them into more than an average salad? One that has the pop and zing of a succulent, satisfying, full course meal. It's easy, fast and fun. Here's how you do it.
You've gotta be willing to think outside of the box!
Don't allow yourself to get caught up in the traditional ways of making salads, they can be so much more. The texture and flavors they have to offer will blow your mind.
When my wife and I first started out on our journey years ago in creating gourmet salads, we were amazed at all of our options. We decided to increase our intake of greens and wanted to make sure that when we got finished eating we didn't feel like there was a hole in our stomachs that still needed filling.
We took our salad fixin's and did creative things with them. Sometimes we would add toasted nuts and seeds to them, sometimes dried berries, raisins and such and/or some seasoned ground tofu or sauteed creminis. Other times we would take our salad and toss it in a warm skillet with some extra virgin olive oil, toasted sesame oil and a quick drizzle of an aged balsamic vinegar reduction. With a nice piece of homemade banana leaf, banana cornbread on the side, we were ready to go.
However you want to go about it make sure you give yourself a lot of variety to work with. You'll never be disappointed, never have to repeat the same salad twice and you'll even forget that you're eating salad if you do it right.
Your salad base
For the convenient way of making your salad start with a good base and build out from there. Go to your store and pick up a large box of baby greens, mixed greens, spring mix or any one of the salad mixes that suite your fancy [or you can purchase three different types of lettuce or other greens and mix those together]. Wash, strain and dry them and add to a large mixing bowl. Reserve for the other ingredients.
Here's where the creativity comes in.
You can add nuts and seeds things like pistachios, almonds, walnuts or pecans for the good fats and proteins. I like to rinse the nuts and seeds before I use them and put a little toasting to them to really bring out the nuttiness and heighten the aroma and complex flavor profile. You don't have to go this way, but you'll love yourself for it if you do.
Dried fruit, raisins, goji berries, prunes, dried cranberries or dried pineapple can be added for the sweet contrasts.
Tofu for a meaty texture that's been seasoned and cooked down like ground meat. Crumble it over the salad, nice and hot if you want to give a quick infusion to your salad greens. It'll do two things for you: 1) cut down on the amount of dressing you'll have to use and 2) give you that savory chew that is both satisfying and soothing to your palate. You'll literally get full and in the right way without that heavy, draggy feel you get after a dense, high-fat, high animal protein meal. Guilt-free pleasure!
Croutons make a wonderful addition to almost any salad. Why not jazz it up by getting croutons in many different flavors & sizes. This way you can pick and choose, mix and match to add great texture, flavor and dimension. You can also make your own and add those to your salads.
Onions are great! They add texture, aroma, flavor and believe it or not a good amount of sweetness. If you want the sweetness, you're going to do a little alchemy. Here's what you do... In a skillet or saute pan add some oil, the onions [chopped, sliced or however you fancy] and a good quality sea salt. Cook them down until they get translucent or see-through. They'll start to slightly brown and give off their beautiful rich sweet aroma. The heat converts the sulfur into sugars. It'll fill your house with the season of hunger.
Etc. Whatever else your heart desires. Like: shredded radishes, jicama, sweet potato, some multi-colored grape tomatoes, olives, peppers, braised fava beans, etc. etc. etc... your sky's the limit!
Here's your recipe:
4 cups washed and dried baby greens
1/2 cup dried goji berries
1 cup seasoned, sauteed, ground tofu
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint
1/2 cup thinly sliced vidalia onions
1/2 cup soy cheese
1 cup grape tomatoes
1 cup of a dressing of your choice
Place all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Toss together. Plate and eat.
I hope this gives you some great ideas on how to create nice hearty salads, some principles around selecting your ingredient options and ways to think outside of the proverbial (salad) box.
As always, it's been my pleasure to share these ideas with. Until next time...