Life gets busy. But it’s exactly those times when we need to watch our eating habits more carefully. I think a gorgeous salad brings a lot of life to any table with an array of colors and textures. A well-constructed salad can breathe new life into your daily diet and also be the life of any party. When we’re on the run, we want something easy without too much prep time or forethought. I have two secret weapons for such times.
(1) Beautifully flavored vinegars… For quick weekday sides. No need for oil since the flavors are so complex and rich. They can be poured into a miniature spray bottle and tucked in a purse, backpack or glove box for eating out since they need no refrigeration and have a lengthy shelf-life.
(2) Layered salads served as a main dish or to take to a party… They have a variety of flavors going on and are hearty enough that they will not leave you hungry at the next pot-luck or church social.
Simple Workday Salads…
When I think about vinegars, I am transported to Mecca Coffee Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This foodie and kitchen gadget haven is a lovely multi-sensory experience! My dear friend, Kayla DeMoss, clued me in to this beautiful shop through a generous present of several of these highest quality vinegars. Later, with one of my daughters, I went to purchase replacements for the gifted ones we used up and had the delight of sampling several more! We literally drank mini-shots and relished all the sweet and savory options! Finally, with some degree of restraint, we narrowed the choices down to six.
To my delight, subsequent to this experience I found that one of my favorite local shops, Distinctive Decor, carries a line of exquisite vinegars also! We enjoy these regularly on our various salads…
Taking another tip from Kayla, a creative and fun mother of five young ones, I let my little and big children choose which they want on their greens. She keeps all of her glorious array of about 30 bottles on a buffet beside the dining table! We currently have on our kitchen counter: Strawberry Balsamic, Peach White Balsamic, Black Mission Fig Balsamic, Sicilian Lemon White Balsamic, Blueberry Balsamic and Dark Chocolate Balsamic. (That last one is also fabulous on fresh strawberries for dessert!)
Some of my favorite combinations are the simplest:
Try Spinach, Plums, Mint, Sicilian Lemon White Vinegar, Sea Salt and Pepper. Or how about Mache, Blueberries, Toasted Pecans, and Black Mission Fig Balsamic? We also like Romaine, Honeycrisp Apple, Carrot, Toasted Walnuts, Peach White Balsamic or Blueberry Balsamic.
Layered Dinner Salad Short-List…
Moroccan Orange Salad Serves 6
This delectable addition to our repertoire is an adaptation from one of my favorite cookbooks, Pure Vegan, by Joseph Shuldiner. This book is NOT E-Safe or Engine2-Safe. I make very few adjustments to bring these luscious recipes into compliance.
1/3 cup Pomegranate Molasses
1/3 cup Agave Syrup
1/3 cup Cointreau
12 Oranges, peeled, sliced or chopped
12 Dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 pomegranate, seeded
1/3 cup Shelled Pistachios (We like the salty ones!)
3 tablespoons Fresh Mint
Mix the first three ingredients. It will be much more than you need for one salad.
Prepare the oranges and layer on a platter with greens in the center. Sprinkle the dates, pomegranate seeds, mint and nuts over the top of everything. Drizzle dressing in a thin stream over all.
You can also mix all the ingredients together without the greens for a refreshing fruit salad. I do not mix in the nuts, but toss them over the top where they will not get soggy.
Alternately, you can again, forego the greens, delay the pistachios and pour dressing over all the other ingredients… Use instead of syrup for pancakes or waffles. Sprinkle the nuts on top of this one too.
Mexican Beans and Rice Over Greens Serves 8
This is another jewel from Kayla DeMoss and is a welcomed dish in the bi-weekly rotation… And, my kids are always excited to see this one coming off the stove!
We like black beans best when they have been soaked overnight to their full plumpness, simmered for a few hours in vegetable broth, then get an addition at the last minute of two “secret ingredients”. (Hint: One is French, the other Eastern Indian/Middle Eastern).
But sometimes I don’t have my act together and instead use an organic, canned black bean. Nevertheless, this quick weekday standard doesn’t get cheated, but instead gets fullness of flavor since we do utilize our last two little magic tricks!
1-16oz bag of dry black beans, soaked overnight and cooked according to package directions in vegetable broth or water,
or 2-28oz cans organic black beans
1 cup Lillet Blanc
1/2 cup cilantro chutney (recipe below)
3 cups brown rice, dry, cooked according to package directions in vegetable broth or water
4 sweet red peppers, chopped
1-12 oz bag of frozen organic sweet corn
1 head red or green leaf lettuce
4 ripe mangos, peeled and sliced (Or fresh pineapple during the off-season)
4 ripe avocados, peeled and sliced
12 oz grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1 jar fire roasted salsa, for topping.
12-18 Corn Tortillas (oil-free) warmed or toasted
While the beans and rice are cooking, place the chopped peppers and sweet corn on opposite ends of a parchment-lined jelly roll pan and roast under the broiler (500 degrees) for 5-8 minutes or until vegetables are fragrant with slightly charred edges. Prepare the lettuce, mango, avocado and tomato. We set each out in a small serving bowl and let everyone build their salad the way they see fit. Make the chutney:
Cilantro Jalapeno Chutney
Yield 1 cup
1/2 cup cilantro
1 jalapeno pepper
1 tablespoon honey
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Place all ingredients in the blender, pulse until you get a thick sauce consistency and allow to marinade until the beans are finished. You will have 1/2 cup left to freeze and use next time you cook this dish!
When the beans are cooked and have very little water remaining, stir in the Lillet Blanc and the cilantro chutney. Heat gently to warm through. Simmer for a few minutes to let the flavors meld. Layer the ingredients on individual plates (or soup bowls) and serve the warm tortillas on the side.
Note: This is a wonderful dish to introduce people to the non-fat, vegan lifestyle. It is hearty, comforting and filling. Plus, if you are feeding people who feel they have to eat meat, you can prepare grilled meat to serve alongside.