Spring for salads, but make healthy choices of ingredients

The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)April 2, 2014 

Whether you want to enjoy a salad at your favorite restaurant, breeze through a salad bar for a quick and nutritious lunch, or stock your fridge and pantry so you can make a bountiful salad at home, one thing is for sure: Now is the time to do it.

While much of the U.S. is at least a few weeks away from harvesting local lettuce, our appetites -- oh, really, our very souls -- are ready to put the long cold winter behind us and put the stock pot in a dark closet.

"It's nice to eat seasonally," said Amy Schiller, healthy eating specialist at Whole Foods in Memphis, Tenn.

"And eating seasonally is really part of eating on a budget," she said.

Cookbook author Jennifer Chandler published "Simply Salads" in 2007, inspired by bags of pre-cleaned salad greens in the grocery store. It was the first in her "Simply" series, which also includes "Simply Suppers" and "Simply Grilling." "The Southern Pantry Cookbook" will be released in September. In her salad book, she advised her readers that a home washing was unnecessary, and she stands by that today.

"I think that the technology over the years has only gotten better," she said.

And here's a tip from her: "I advise people to buy in the clamshell instead of a bag because the salad lasts longer, if only because it's handled less."

Whichever you prefer, Chandler says you should store the greens in whatever you buy them in.

"Both the clamshell and the bag are specially designed," she said. "They're breathable, so keep the salad in the packaging, and it will last longer."

Beware hidden calories

While salads can make a protein-packed meal for the omnivorous among us, the calories in a restaurant salad or one prepared at a salad bar can be astounding. Keep these tips in mind:

Start your salad with a generous serving of healthy greens. While kale, a superfood, is available on the Whole Foods salad bar, you won't find it everywhere. Generally, the darker the leaf, the healthier it is -- so pick dark green spinach over pale iceberg, or at least mix in a bit.

Load up on all the fresh vegetables you want, such as tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, peppers, broccoli, cucumber and so on.

Nuts and seeds are healthy, but they're high in calories, so use sparingly.

Diced meats such as ham or turkey have less fat than cheese, so keep that in mind. According to myfitnesspal.com, a 1-ounce serving of Virginia ham contains 30 calories, 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fat. The same amount of cheddar cheese weighs in with 114 calories, 9 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein.

Stay away from mayonnaise-laden sides such as pasta, chicken or tuna salad, and use care even when adding on a scoop of hummus or olive salad; a small amount is fine, but they can be high in fat.

It's the salad dressing that will kill you. Two tablespoons of Thousand Island has 120 to 130 calories, almost all fat. The little plastic cups on salad bars are usually 2 ounces, which is 4 tablespoons.

Fight the fat by making your own salad and dressing at home. With the variety of greens available, there's no reason not to.

Chinese Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing

For the Peanut Dressing:

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh peeled ginger

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

1/2 cup canola oil

Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

1/2 cup Peanut Dressing

1/2 cup fresh snow peas

1 bag (5 ounces) Spring Mix salad blend

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

2 carrots, peeled and shredded on the large holes of a traditional grater

1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts

2 limes, quartered, for garnish

1. For the Peanut Dressing: In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, peanut butter, ginger, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, canola oil, and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. For the salad: Bring salted water to a boil in a medium pot. Add snow peas and cook until vibrant green and crisp tender, 1 to 1- 1/2 minutes. Drain the peas and immerse in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Drain again and place in a large salad bowl.

3. Add the salad blend, chicken, carrots, scallions, cilantro, and peanuts and toss. Add the dressing to taste and gently toss to coat. Garnish with lime wedges. Serve immediately. Note: To save time, pick up a roasted rotisserie chicken at your local grocery for this recipe.

Serves 4.

-- "Simply Salads," Jennifer Chandler

Wild Arugula, Summer Squash and Asparagus with a Fried Egg and Hot Pickled Peppers

16 asparagus spears

1 medium summer squash

7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

-- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, gently smashed and peeled

4 large eggs

1/2 pound baby or wild arugula

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped hot pickled peppers, plus more to taste

1.Trim asparagus and cut in half crosswise, then either halve or quarter the spears lengthwise, depending on thickness. Cut squash in half lengthwise, then cut in 1/8-inch diagonal slices.

2. In large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat; add asparagus and season with generous pinch of salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender -- about 8 minutes. Transfer to large plate.

3. Add squash to skillet and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes or until tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to plate with asparagus.

4. Add 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil and garlic to the skillet. Heat over low heat, stirring and tilting the pan to keep garlic submerged (do not brown the garlic) until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard garlic.

5. Crack the eggs in the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand while you prepare salad.

6. In a large bowl, combine arugula, remaining 3 tablespoons oil, vinegar, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a generous amount of pepper. Toss to combine; adjust seasoning if necessary.

7. Divide arugula, asparagus and squash among 4 plates. Top each with 1 egg, then sprinkle hot peppers over the top.

Serves 4.

-- "Salads: Beyond the Bowl," Mindy Fox

Jelly Jar Salad Dressing

1 almost empty jar of jelly (about 2 tablespoons)

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the vinegar in the almost empty jelly jar and shake well. Add the olive oil, garlic, and mustard and shake again until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Notes: Some favorite jellies to use are raspberry, cherry, and strawberry. I like it with apricot too. You can even try it with spicier jellies like ginger or hot pepper for vinaigrette with a kick. Salad dressings can be made up to two days in advance. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If the oil has congealed or the dressing separated, let the mixture come to room temperature and shake well before serving.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

-- "The Southern Pantry Cookbook," Jennifer Chandler (release date September 2014)

Low-fat Creamy Dressing Base

1 cup nonfat buttermilk

1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt OR low-fat cottage cheese OR a mix of the two

1 tablespoon mayonnaise, optional (see below for additions)

1. Mix the ingredients in a blender until smooth (this is essential if using cottage cheese). The mayonnaise provides flavor, but the dressing is fine without it. When blended, stir in add-ins:

2. You can use a package of dressing mix from the grocery, if desired, or use these add-ins:

Make blue cheese dressing by adding1/4- 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese, 1 small clove garlic and salt and pepper to taste.

For Creamy Caesar, add 3 anchovy fillets, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoons Dijon mustard, juice of 1 lemon and salt and pepper.

For Green Goddess, add 3 anchovy fillets, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and chives and 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon with salt and pepper and juice of 1 lemon.

Makes 2 cups.

-- Jennifer Biggs

Basic Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the vinegar in a small bowl and whisk together. Slowly add the oil in a stream, whisking to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: This is the basic formula for all vinaigrettes: 1 parts vinegar to 2 parts oil. If you prefer a tartier vinaigrette, alter the ratio to equal parts vinegar to oil. Substitute your favorite vinegar or oil as desired.

Makes 1/2 cup.

-- "Simply Salads," Jennifer Chandler

Balsamic Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the vinegar and mustard in a small bowl and whisk together. Slowly add the oil in a stream, whisking to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: This recipe is the basis of all mustard vinaigrettes. If you prefer a smoother texture, use traditional Dijon mustard in place of the whole-grain variety.

Makes 1/2 cup.

-- "Simply Salads," Jennifer Chandler

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