July 13, 2010

Beyond Loose Leaves

I am an alpha carnivore (it's probable I made this phrase up). There is very little, if anything, that stands between me and my meat. After all... click here. (sorry PETA). But there have been weeks where I lived on veggies and fruit alone, and honestly, I felt pretty good. In light of my currently inconsistent diet, plus with a surge of inspiration provided by a friend's father, I have decided I am going to change some ways, starting with what I decide to eat and when I decide to eat it. (Last night's Johnnie's Pastrami sandwich & chili fries at 10 PM? Maybe not the best life choice I've made.)

With that, I will say this: a delicious salad is a beautiful thing; a subtle and often underrated masterpiece. It's less about where each piece of spinach or lettuce lay or even the contrasting colors of tomato, yellow bell peppers, and chunks of avocado than it is about the party that happens in your mouth after each bite. And rest assured, a good salad is a good party.

Generally, I like to experiment with various salad recipes. Here's some salad tips I've learned along the way:
  • Don't always opt for your standard iceberg lettuce as your base. Add a variety of greens. Interesting flavors to the mix are endive, peppery arugula and baby spinach. Look for interesting textures and colors too! Maybe add some curly red leaf lettuce or red cabbage for extra dimension.
  • Always thoroughly wash your greens! After a good wash, spin it a few times in your salad dryer, or if you don't have one like me, pat it down with a few paper towels to get all the moisture out. A soggy salad is no bueno.
  • There's no "right combo" when it comes to adding veggies or other toppings to your salad. I generally prefer simpler salads that allow a pair of ingredients to shine, but other days, I let all the veggies come out to play. (tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded carrots, avocado!, olives, broccoli, artichoke hearts, peas, corn, garbanzo beans, radishes, celery, red onions, walnuts, sunflower seeds... the list goes on).
  • Salads don't always have to be cold. Grilled or lightly steamed veggies always make excellent salad additions (eggplant, asparagus, green beans, cauliflower, etc.)
  • Fruits do not need to be limited to fruit salads. Citrus-y fruits like tangerine and pineapple slices go well with dark greens like spinach. Mango and papaya are my favorite add-ins. Dried cranberries work well with nuts.
  • Veggies and fruit are great, but the ingredients that really make the salad sing: cheeses (feta, gorgonzola, fresh mozza), kalamata olives, toasted nuts, crumbled bacon bits. Due to their strong distinctive flavor, a small amount is sufficient.
  • Don't overdress your salad. You have just compromised the delicious flavors of your salad by going crazy on arguably, the least important ingredient. To avoid this problem at restaurants, ask for your dressing on the side.
  • Speaking of dressing, a drizzle of light vinaigrette is always my favorite choice because it doesn't overpower the rest of the gang. A simple tossing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar is always a great option (2:1 ratio).
  • Small amounts of fresh herbs bring a whole new flavor dimension to salads and salad dressings. Try basil, chives, tarragon. A few chopped pieces go a long way!
  • Add some meat (grilled chicken) or tofu and turn it into a meal.
  • Just be creative. Salad does not have to be that dish you eat because you "have to" or to justify the rest of your meal. The more fun you have with it, the more you might actually like it. :)

Some local LA places with good salads: Loose Leaf (downtown LA); John's Garden (Malibu); California Chicken Cafe (various locations); Tender Greens (Culver City)

For the next two weeks, I am going pseudo-vegetarian and gluten-free! Join me!

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