April 12, 2010

April 12 THE MONDAY MENU: Rethinking the salad

About a month ago in my post for Tarragon Chicken Salad I lamented over the United State's number one food for dieters, the salad. I know eating salads can be good for you, but personally I take very little pleasure in having a relationship with three or four different types of lettuce.

However, when my doctor tells me that if I do not lose weight I will most likely have a heart attack before I am fifty (nine years away), lettuce suddenly sounds good.

But not all salads are created equal. If you are like me, good food needs to have that "wow factor". Flavors need to pop and dance upon the taste buds. And in my opinion, salads should be no different. Most people who eat salad are aware of the high fat content in many salad dressings, and the need to steer clear of them. When the dressing is set aside, though, what's left is little more than glorified rabbit food.

So, how do you make salad dance on the taste buds without all that fattening goodness? The answer is simple; forget what you know about traditional ways to make salad and treat your taste buds to a buffet of flavors

1. Add fruit.

Mandarin oranges, kiwi, raisins, grapes, and apples compliment many vegetables and pair nicely with several proteins such as chicken, shrimp, or ham commonly used in salads. Stay away from fruits with high acid content like pineapple, and avoid fruits that are sour such as grapefruit.

2. Spice up your salad.

When used in moderation, fresh herbs such basil, oregano, parsley, mint and even dill, will add a completely new dimension to your salad experience. These herbs can can be incorporated into a light vinaigrette consisting 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar, 4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. 1/2 teaspoon of dried mustard, crushed red pepper, black peppercorns, or fresh garlic can also be using to create a flavor that will leave your taste buds smiling.

3. Deluxe your salad

My favorite way to eat salad is with meat - preferably grilled. However, if the meat is cooked properly and tastes good, I can forgo the smoked flavor that I like so much (see my recipe for roast beef). Chicken is perhaps that easiest protein to pair with salad as it easily accepts both the sweet flavors of fruit, and the savory flavors of the herbs ands spices.

When I grill chicken for salads I like to use 2 pounds of boneless skinless breast meat soaked for 24 hours in a basic marinade:

1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic
1 cup water
1/4 cup Bourbon Whiskey.
3 cups ice

Combine all of these ingredients, except ice, and cook over medium heat until salt and brown sugar are dissolved. Cool the marinade by adding three cups ice. Once marinade is cool, add the chicken and refrigerate.

Grill the chicken over low heat. Breast meat takes approximately 25-30 minutes to cook, while thigh meat can take up to 45 minutes. After the meat is cooked, let is rest for seven minutes before dicing it into bite-sized pieces to be placed on the salad.

4. Go a little crazy.

Last week I made a Mexican chicken salad for my family. Unlike times in the past when I made this dish, I decided this time to do something a bit different. Using a tablespoon of vegetable oil I caramelized a handful of sweet onions with a medium sized diced jalapeno and added it to my grilled chicken. The chicken and onions, along with a handful of corn chips served as the base for my salad, which consisted of 2 cups lettuce, 1/2 cup diced heirloom tomatoes, red onion, pepper jack cheese, 2 tablespoons reduced fat sour cream, and fresh homemade salsa (1 cup diced tomato, 2 teaspoons red onion, 2 teaspoons diced Serrano peppers, 1/4 teaspoon salt, juice from 1/2 lime).

My salad however did not have to come with a Mexican flare. I could have easily paired the caramelized onions with roast beef and a touch of horseradish, and then topped it with lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, cucumbers, Ect. Just as easily, I could have also paired my chicken with mandarin oranges and a raspberry vinaigrette. The number of combinations are limited only by one's imagination.

The whole point is that salads need to be healthy, but at the same time should not be boring.They should, in my newly reformed opinion, be allowed to dance on the same stage as rib eye steak, barbecue spareribs, and loaded baked potatoes.

Conversation starter: One of the buzz words in today's political arena is the word "change". When a religion changes, it is said to be reformed. What "change" or "reform" in the past 100 years has had the greatest impact on your world?

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