At the supermarket produce aisle, I befriended a shopper choosing assorted leafy greens and venting about how she must pay the piper for an indulgent holiday food orgy. She grumbled about the light, airiness of salads, and how “rabbit food” was hardly a satisfying meal. Looking outside the bowl, you can easily find an exciting bounty of roots, fruits, seeds, grains, gourds, greens, succulent seafood and other lean proteins to beef up an otherwise anemic salad, giving it a nutritional and gratifying oomph. Here’s how:
• Head over Heels: Kick unambitious Iceberg to the curb and swap out for dynamic, brain-boosting leafy greens with sassy flavors and interesting textures like peppery arugula, pungent radicchio with a vibrant magenta hue, pleasantly bitter, lacy-leafed Frisée, sweet and nutty Mâche, delicate butter lettuce, or bold and mighty kale — whether Dino, Lacinato or Curly varieties with stiff leaves and a tangy bite. For extra crunch and heft, shred some Savoy, bok choy, red cabbage or Brussels sprouts into the mix.
• Rootin’-Tootin’: Toss in a heap of roasted and caramelized roots or winter squashes like parsnips, rutabagas, Okinawan purple sweet potatoes, butternut squash or raw shredded ones like ruby beets, rainbow carrots and fennel bulbs for a splash of color, texture and load of powerful antioxidants — especially beta-carotene and anthocyanins to detox, protect, repair and rejuvenate cells.
• Wild about Mushrooms: Grilled, marinated mushrooms (including buttery Portobellos, earthy Criminis, piney Shiitakes, chewy, dense Trumpets, woodsy Porcinis, smoky Oysters or fruity-flavored Enokis) add substance to a salad, along with “immuno-modulating” powers to dial up a weak immune system or whittle down an over active one. They’re also packed with potassium to maintain fluid balance and healthy heart rhythm, stress-busting Vitamins Bs, anti-cancer Ds, along with Cs, another companion immune-booster.
• Chew on That: Crispy turkey bacon (or lean grilled breast of chicken or turkey, shaved lamb roast, wild-caught shrimp, salmon fillets, deep-sea scallops, Dungeness crab or anchovies) convert a lightweight salad into a satisfying meal.
• Heavy Date: For a sweet, moist chew and load of filling fiber, add a handful of whole or chopped dates, whether soft, amber-skinned Deglet Noors, creamy, mouth-watering honey dates, meaty Medjools, or small round Barhis with a smoky candy essence.
• Stalk-in-Trade: Grilled, steamed, roasted, bacon-wrapped or raw asparagus spears add an elegant touch to assorted salads. This delicacy, best known for its emerald green hue, also comes in shades of purple and white, the latter version grown beneath mounds of sandy soil to stave off photosynthesis and the formation of the plant’s green-pigmented chlorophyll. While purple and pink plants are naturally occurring Italian varieties with a zippy flavor, for milder, less grassy spears choose the albino variety.
• Nest Egg: For an extra dose of vital nutrients, along with interesting texture, add nature’s near perfect package — eggs. The whites provide a rich protein store, while the yolks have a natural supply of Vitamin D and calcium for bone health, a mother lode of choline to dial up memory and focus, Bs for nerve function, antioxidant Es, along with anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids (Omega-3s and 6s) to ratchet up immune responses, and in fact — help break down cholesterol. So get cracking with hard-boiled, scrambled, poached or frittata cubes to amp up salads of all manners.
• Use Your Bean: Hearty, satisfying beans and legumes — from lentils, limas, chickpeas, cannellinis and kidneys to edamames, black beans, peas and pintos — add a nutrient-dense, plant-based protein and fuel for sustained energy.
• In a Nutshell: Give your salad a good jaw workout with a heap of brain-boosting nuts and seeds. Black walnuts, Marcona almonds, Italian chestnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, pecans, and creamy cashews, along with pepitas, chias and sesames can be roasted or raw, dressed or naked, candied or smoked to complement salads.
Recipe: Warm Winter Spinach & Butternut Squash Salad
• Ingredients: 1 bunch fresh spinach, torn into bite-size pieces; 1 head radicchio, shredded; 1 butternut squash (2 to 3 cups), cubed; 1-tablespoon each of olive oil and maple syrup; 1/2 cup chopped dates; 1/2 cup candied or raw walnuts or pecans; 4 strips turkey bacon, crispy and drained; 1/2 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
• Method: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Peel squash and cut into cubes. Drizzle with oil, syrup and season with herbs. Roast until tender, about 25 minutes. In a large bowl, add squash and salad ingredients.
• For the dressing: 1/2 cup oil (walnut oil or avocado oil, your choice); 2 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or Meyer lemon juice; 1/2 teaspoon date sugar or brown sugar; 1/2 teaspoon spicy mustard; salt and pepper to taste. In a glass bowl, whisk dressing ingredients. Transfer to saucepan. Heat until warm. Toss with salad. Enjoy immediately.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: email@example.com and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com