Batter Licker

March 1, 2011

pea shoots, daikon radish and grated sweet potato salad with spicy sesame peanut dressing

On a recent trip to the farmers market, I picked up some pea shoots. I wasn’t really sure what I would end up doing with them, nor did it really matter at the time. It was all part of the fun of picking up as-yet-unexplored-by-me produce, and it’s what I look forward to every Saturday morning when I allow myself this $5 or less, single-item indulgence that often widens my culinary repertoire. And this particular Saturday, I was delighted to find a new bunch of greens to play with.

Although I’m generally not a fan of de-podded peas, I love snap peas in salads and stir fries. After tasting the pea shoots, I found their slightly crunchy texture and mildly sweet flavor more reminiscent of snap peas (thank goodness!). Having also picked up a daikon radish (regular radishes will also do) because the pea shoots cost only half of my $5 limit on indulgent farmers market purchases, I added that crunchy, slightly spicy root to the mix, and soon decided to use these veggies in their freshest, most flavorful form: raw.

Having embarked on this salad adventure, I wanted to add something healthy but with a little more heft, so I grated some raw sweet potato. That may sound weird if you haven’t tried raw sweet potato before, but trust me and the variety of raw root vegetable salads and slaws out there. As someone with major texture issues, I promise this one isn’t weird. But if you truly aren’t ready for that, try carrots instead to preserve the same beautiful orange color and a similarly sweet flavor.

I also added some cucumber and chopped cilantro – and while I find that cucumber contributes a lightness that’s wonderful in most salads and I think you can never go wrong with a small addition of fresh herbs, they are aren’t essential to this pea shoot and root vegetable-centric salad if you don’t have them on hand. (more…)

January 23, 2011

mixed greens, chopped peanuts, farro and fruit salad with spicy banana-cilantro dressing

This salad has it all: protein and healthy fats from peanuts, fiber and protein from farro, various other nutrients from fresh mixed greens and fresh or dried fruit, and a whole lot of flavor from these healthy ingredients and the spicy-sweet dressing. And yes, I did put farro, the mother of all whole grains with a nuttier flavor and chewier texture than rice, in a salad.

I’ve praised the merits of farro before in a risotto-style dish, but this time around, you can blame my trip to Italy three years ago, where we stopped at a locals-only cafe that had an entire menu dedicated to salads that contained a large scoop of rice. While rice isn’t exactly what carb-avoiding salad-eaters are going for, it did add a great, chewy texture and some heartiness to salads that might otherwise leave you yearning for a carbalicious snack just a couple hours later. As a whole grain full of protein and fiber, farro achieves a longer-term fullness and isn’t exactly the same type of refined, carbohydrate-heavy grain as the white rice we’re now told to avoid.

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I love the contrasting textures in this salad – soft crunch from the greens, a hard crunch from the peanuts, chewiness from the farro, and (if you take my tip to not use dried sour cherries, which weren’t tangy enough to stand up to the spicy sweetness of the dressing, and to use tangerines, tangelos, or even grapefruit instead) the juicy explosion from fresh citrus.

The flavors were all incorporated to accommodate the banana, jalapeno, and cilantro flavors from the dressing. Peanuts pair exceedingly well with bananas, but also with the Thai-inspired cilantro, jalapeno, and ginger flavors. Nutty farro provides some savory, subdued relief from the sweetness of the banana and the spiciness of the jalapeno, and incorporating some purple lettuces provides a great bitter contrast to the banana’s sweetness. If you use a tangy, fresh citrus fruit, it will cut the creamy sweetness of the banana nicely. (more…)

jalapeno-spiced banana-cilantro dressing

When I informed friends about my plan to exclude meat products from my weekday meals this month, I wasn’t surprised to get a lot of sarcastic “good luck with that” responses. What I didn’t tell them, and what you may have noticed from the “water saute” method I used in my vegan chard and potato soup, is that I’m also reducing my use of olive oil. I can only imagine their already-rolling eyes might have rolled right out of their heads if I had disclosed that. In fact, I think I can hear some of your eyes rolling around on the floor right now.


But I realized that, after years of being encouraged to use this “healthy oil,” I have become over-reliant on it. Whether making a vinaigrette for a “light” lunch salad, tossing kale leaves or chickpeas in it before baking them into crispy snacks, sauteing vegetables in it for a healthy side dish or a soup or stew base, or using it as an anti-stick agent when cooking fish and meat, I had forgotten that olive oil is still an oil, and a 120-calorie tablespoon here and there and seemingly everywhere really adds up.

In trying to reduce my olive oil intake, as well as sugar, I’ve realized that blending fruits into a salad dressing adds the “fruity” element typically added by olive oil without the calories and fat. Bananas are particularly great because they make the dressing sweet and creamy at the same time. But a pure banana dressing would be a bit too sweet, so I added jalapenos, ginger, cilantro, and lemon juice to cut the sweetness with a spicy kick, fresh herbal flavor, and acidity.

The resulting dressing is packed with flavor and nutrients, and tastes creamily sweet with a delightful zing from the jalapenos and the ginger. And you can use as much as you want on your salad because, guess what?? No oil! With this healthy combination, you can drink the entire 2/3 cup of dressing for a mere 130 calories. (more…)

December 28, 2010

creamy honey-garlic-dijon vinaigrette with chopped romaine

To turn my ultimate shrimp cocktail from an appetizer into a dinner entree, I whipped up this simple salad. By jazzing up a fresh vinaigrette with some Greek yogurt, I turned it into a creamy yet light and tangy salad dressing that tastes refreshing and pairs well with most seafood. Topped it with some grated Parmesan for a little salty texture, and this salad is good to go.

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December 16, 2010

pomegranate, persimmon, pear and goat cheese salad with orange-thyme vinaigrette

On those beautifully sunny winter days when it’s almost temperate outside, I long for the colorful, juicy produce of summer. In those moments, I often forget about the vibrant fruit available to spruce up winter salads, and I suspect others are guilty of making this same mistake.

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Tart pomegranate seeds and sweet pears bring some crunch to this salad, while the pulpy sweetness of persimmons is balanced by peppery arugula the creamy saltiness of goat cheese. Tossed with a sweet, slightly tangy and herby Orange-Thyme Vinaigrette, this salad showcases the best flavors and colors that winter has to offer and gives summer salads a run for their money.

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