From Our Kitchen: A Simple Salad

IMG_0059We eat a fresh, tossed salad almost every night as part of our dinner. While in Italy, we stopped using bottled salad dressings and embraced dressing a salad the typical Italian way: plenty of olive oil, a tiny bit of vinegar—and this makes all the difference—enough salt to  make it taste good.

When I cook with minimally processed foods, I don’t feel bad about adding salt to my real foods. Chances are I’m not adding nearly the sodium that is in the processed foods of a typical American diet. Further, with regard to blood pressure, decreasing dietary salt doesn’t help everyone control their blood pressure.1 There appears to be more to it, and some recent research has linked sugar and insulin resistance (a metabolic problem in which carbohydrate isn’t used properly by the body) to blood pressure.2,3 In most cases, if we are cutting back on processed foods and sugar, somewhat liberalizing the use of the salt shaker to make real food taste good is not likely to have a negative effect on blood pressure and may actually improve it, especially with weight loss.

My Dressing “Recipe” (for a family-size salad):

  • About 3 splashes (about 2 to 3 tablespoons) of olive oil (Of course I’m partial to oil from Italy, which is more difficult to find than you’d think due to blending; when I run out of my stash, I’ll buy it from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 capful (about 1 teaspoon) of apple cider vinegar
  • About 6 to 8 turns of the sea salt shaker
  • About 3 to 4 turns of the black pepper shaker

Other Salad Tips:

  • We just started to receive local, fresh, home-delivered salad greens from theneighborhoodharvest.com. We get a mesclun mix and two other rotating types of salad greens, along with a tray of rotating micro greens (not sprouts, but not full grown plants either). They are grown in a greenhouse hydroponically and are pesticide-free and ready for use, so I just grab it by the handful and it’s so convenient. Use any greens you like. Switch it up for variety. I used to think the kids wouldn’t eat fancy greens, but they do and they love getting the different greens from the cooler on our porch each week and helping me prepare the salad each night.
  • I always add grape or cherry tomatoes, and cucumber slices. Sometimes, we get fancy and add other vegetables: radishes, mushrooms, chopped bell peppers, carrot shavings, etc.
  • I usually add cheese, most often an ounce of feta cheese, but every now and then I switch it up and use blue cheese or parmesan (the good stuff from Italy, of course.)
  • I always add a handful of freshly-toasted pecan or walnut pieces. Surprisingly, since my kids weren’t big nut fans, they now whine if I don’t remember to add the nuts. It really adds some crunch and flavor to the salad. Try toasting unsalted sunflower seeds if you can’t have the nuts.
  • Not too often, but sometimes I will add blood orange segments, strawberries, or dried cranberries for a change. Maybe once a month, I will add about a teaspoon of honey; acacia from–you guessed it, Italy–is my favorite. The kids love the sweetness, but it’s a treat.
  • If I have salad for lunch, I will often add either leftover roasted chicken or tuna packed in olive oil (then I omit adding oil) to my salad. (Italian tuna changed me forever; I love the Rio Mare brand. But Trader Joe’s has a decent oil-packed tuna.)
  • I don’t think it will change the nutrition per se, but there’s something about mixing it all together in a large bowl (my special olive wood bowl, in this case) too, that adds to the enjoyment of our salads. The dressing is distributed evenly, the colors are so vibrant and sparkling in the olive oil, it’s so simple and satisfying that I made it myself. It might just be me, but it honestly makes me happy just looking at it. And then again when I eat it. But I don’t think you have to have lived in Italy to enjoy this salad as much as I do. Get out a nice bowl and try it this week…and let me know what you think! Can you live without bottled salad dressing? Why or why not?