Will waved his grandpa’s cane in front of him, as if he were fending off a stampeding herd of dinosaurs. “Fight-O-nutrients!” he roared, charging across the room. “I need some for lunch, please, Vinny?”
I braced for a high five, as Will raced back toward me, his free hand raised, his sword hand busy. “Gotta keep my energy up!”
No problemo,” I said. “It’s summer time and the livin’-healthy thing is easy. Just eat lots of bright veggies and fruits, and phytonutrients are yours for the taking. These are salad days!”
“Salads are boring. And I hate veggies,” moaned Will. “Isn’t there something else?”
“I used to hate salads, too,” I said. “My mom threw iceberg lettuce laced with plastic tomatoes in a bowl with some sour Kraft Italian dressing blobbed on top, and expected me to gobble it up.”
Will grinned, revealing a gaping space where once he had two lovely front teeth. “Yeah, glad you get my side.”
“I’m never going to convince you to love salads, if you’re set on hating them,” I said. “But once I ditched iceberg for other leafy goodness, and got adventurous with what I put on top of it, my salad life got a lot better.”
Will looked dubious.
“Now I eat salads every day. I can’t seem to do without the stuff,” I said. “Let’s get cooking!”
Then I showed Will how to make a different salad every day of the week, starting with, well, what else… vinaigrette.
Vinaigrette 101 – the basics
A classic vinaigrette has twice as much oil as vinegar. And that’s it. Switch it around from time to time by changing the kind of oil and vinegar you use. To reduce calories, use less oil. But I never use more vinegar than oil, because that’s just too sour. The French use three times as much oil as vinegar. If you can afford the calories, I’m OK with that. Some people dress their salads with oil and vinegar poured straight from the bottle.
Oil – Try flavorful, heart-healthy ones like extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil, sesame seed oil, avocado oil or almond oil. Buy them cold-pressed, in smallish quantities in dark bottles. They go rancid fast when exposed to air, light and heat.
Sourness – Apple cider vinegar gets top marks for good health. Balsamic vinegar has a distinct sweetish, rich flavor that boosts any salad. Vinegars infused with herbs add extra flavor. Or try vinegars made from wine. You can even make your own vinegar – try fruit flavors, like strawberry. It’s fun! Vinegars can be full of probiotics that are great for digestion.
For something different, forget the vinegar and use lemon juice. Or, if you really hate a sour taste, try apple juice.
Sweetness – Liven up your vinaigrette with sweetener. But be careful. If you use a lot of sugar, you reduce the benefits from eating salads. When I want a sweet touch, like when I’m adding a lot of fruit to a salad, I’ll use some stevia sugar or maple syrup. But more often than not, I add no sweetener to the dressing and streak the top of my salad with balsamic glaze instead. Glazes contain sugar, so go easy. Sweet and sour, however, make a yummy team.
Spiciness – Salt and pepper are basic. I use sea salt for the healthy minerals it adds. All salts bring sodium, though, which does more harm than good. So most of the time, I leave salt out. Fresh-ground pepper is always a nice touch, though. To keep from getting bored, experiment with these flavorings:
- curry powder
- hot peppers (just a pinch) and paprika (more)
- hot sauces like Worcestershire or Tabasco
- minced garlic or onions
- cocoa powder or a touch of chocolate sauce (which I sometimes use like a glaze for the kids)
Need examples? Here are two nice vinaigrettes.
Sweet and simple vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1/2 cup extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar*
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire
- 1/2 teaspoon minced sweet onion (like Vidalia)
*Kids might not take to the sourness of vinegar… if so, switch apple juice for the apple cider vinegar, and reduce the maple syrup by half. Add vinegar sparingly, until you find a flavor profile your kids like.
Combine everything in a jar with a tight lid. Shake madly until the dressing looks thick and even in color. This is good on a spinach and strawberry salad (recipe next week). Use 1 or 2 tablespoons per serving, depending on the size of your salad.
Juice from a 15-ounce can of sliced beets, strained (3/4 cup)
1/4 cup apple juice or cider
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Put the beet and apple juices in a small pan on medium heat. Bring to a slow boil. Wait until a syrup has formed (10 minutes or so). When the liquid turns dark and the bubbles get large and sticky, it’s done. You’ll end up with about 1/4 cup. Don’t leave the kitchen. It happens quickly!
The red color is wonderful, the taste is sweet (not beety), and the nutrients are awesome :).
Let cool, then add the vinegar, oil and salt (if using). Combine everything in a jar with a tight lid. Shake madly until the dressing looks thick and the color is even. Store in the fridge, but let it warm up before using and shake again.
This vinaigrette is good with blue and goat cheeses, and, of course, beets! Recipes next week.
P.S. Phytonutrients are among the many antioxidants found in colorful plants. They keep us from rusting from the inside out. For more, click antioxidants.
- Building your salad in jars, Lego style – Lego instructions for building perfect salads every time. Plus a recipe for spinach strawberry salad with variations… many variations (with links to lots of great salad ideas).
- The Queen’s Beets: Let them eat cake – Make a moist, delectable chocolate cake using beets and stevia to reduce the fat and sugar in every slice. Learn how Marie Antoinette found happiness.
- Hummus: Pretty in pink – The Cinderella of the hummus crowd, this beet and garbanzo duo knocks your slippers off!
- Beetniks: A winning formula – Beets can give you the edge in your next race. Make beetniks, a wildly popular party food on the prairies. Go Go Go!