One of my favorite things about spring is the return of Salad Season!
During the summer, I pretty much live on salad. It's good for breakfast, it's good for lunch, it's good for dinner, and it's good for just a random snack. If you grow your own salad greens and veggies, it's even better, but you don't have to. Just make sure you're going to a farmers' market or a good produce stand for the good stuff; plastic-wrapped iceberg lettuce really has no place on anyone's table.
Salads don't have to include lettuce at all, of course. It's great if they do, but you can be creative. In the summer, I make salads out of nothing but tomatoes piled high, sometimes sprinkled with crumbled cheese, and of course tossed with dressing. Tonight I'm making a sunchoke salad (think potato salad with more flavor), and last summer I made a fabulous salad out of grilled vegetables (which included eggplant, potatoes, onions, and turnips, if I remember right).
The real secrets to a good salad are the dressing - we'll get to that in a minute - and, most importantly, variety. Salads are satisfying when they combine lots of different flavors and textures into one huge sensory experience. The one in the picture, which was our lunch the other day, was made of a mix of young spring greens topped with sliced artichoke hearts, diced avocado, carrot shreds, raw kohlrabi, leftover BBQ chicken, and sunflower seeds. Think about all the nutrition in such a meal! So many vitamins, good fats, proteins, and everything else the body needs. It kept us full for hours, much longer than you'd think "just a salad" would.
But now for the dressing, which is crucial. Most of the time when you go to a restaurant, they'll serve you a perfectly healthy salad and then drown it in a dressing which is actually worse for you than anything else you could order. For example, here's how a salad at Wendy's weighs in:
1/2 Pound Double Cheeseburger - 750 calories, 42 g fat, 1520 mg sodium
Chicken BLT Salad - 790 calories, 53 grams fat, 1670 mg sodium
That's right, almost all the day's fat intake and most of your calories (and way more sodium than you need) in a damn SALAD! Some of that is in the processed chicken they use, but almost all of it is in the dressing, and bottled dressing from the grocery store is not much better. So make your own. (It's a lot cheaper that way too!)
Salad dressing, contrary to popular opinion, is super-easy to make yourself. All you need to remember is two parts oil to one part acid (which can be vinegar or acidic fruit juice). Play with different oils and different vinegars, and add whatever spices you like (paprika and cumin are delicious with balsamic and olive oil, for example). Here's my most common, foolproof standby dressing - it goes really well on just about everything, from green salad in the spring to tomato salad in the summer to hot potato salad in the fall and winter.
10-SECOND LEMON-DIJON VINAIGRETTE
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 Tbsp lemon juice (see note!)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Few drops of hot sauce, optional
Note: If you made the Preserved Meyer Lemons I posted about two weeks ago, use the juice from that and don't add any more salt to the dressing. You can even chop up one of the lemon wedges very fine and stir that in for extra zing!
Add all the ingredients together right there in the measuring cup and whisk them together with a fork for ten seconds. Pour into a pretty little serving container if you want, and serve. If you're keeping this on hand to use a little at a time, just store it in a jar and shake it up before using, or give it another whisk with the fork.