Now it’s time for salads.
Don’t groan. Salads are great, even if you aren’t working on a weight-loss resolution. They’re good for you, they’re delicious, and they can contain almost any combination of ingredients in creative ways.
Start with a base of lettuce, usually. It can be peppery (think arugula, radicchio or watercress); it can be buttery (think Boston lettuce); it can even be almost sweet (think baby greens).
Add whatever vegetables you like, from artichoke hearts to raw zucchini. Tomatoes and a mild form of onion are always welcome, too. You can boost both the taste and the tactile appeal with a bit of crunch – croutons, perhaps, or toasted nuts or seeds. Everyone loves crispy noodles in their salads, and few things are more addictive than those delicious sesame sticks.
Add hard-boiled eggs, if you like, and cheese will make it even better. The only problem is deciding which kind to use.
And all of that comes before you even settle on a dressing.
With so many options available, there are literally millions of ways to make a salad. That said, the salads I made for this story must be prepared exactly as they are printed in the recipes.
Just kidding. Feel free to make them any way you like. Still, they are all remarkably good as is.
The first one is called “the best lentil salad, ever,” and ordinarily I am wary of superlatives. An awful lot of people throughout history have made an awful lot of lentil salads, and to describe this one as the very best seems close-minded and perhaps premature.
On the other hand, I’ve had it. It just may be the best lentil salad, ever.
It isn’t the lentils that make it so great; they merely form the base for what is to come. An assortment of Indian spices (cumin, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, cayenne, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon) are added to a decidedly non-Indian vinaigrette made from apple cider vinegar, strong mustard and maple syrup.
Additional sweetness comes from dried currants, with capers and red onion providing a briny bite. I added goat cheese, arugula and walnuts to mine; you might want to add fresh herbs, sprouts or other ingredients to yours.
Put it all together and you have what may be the best lentil salad, ever.
A more traditional salad, and much brighter and sprightlier in taste, is a mixed green salad with oranges, dried cranberries and pecans.
The oranges provide a nice citrus taste, but they do more than that. You also use orange juice to rehydrate the dried cranberries.
The rest is a straightforward salad, with mixed baby greens, a simple vinaigrette and toasted pecans. but it is the combination of the orange segments and the toasted pecans that make this salad sing.
An orange, in both its zest and juice forms, was also an ingredient in my next salad. But it is the main ingredient that really makes this one stand out.
Kohlrabi is a root vegetable that tastes like a milder version of broccoli mixed with a bit of apple (though with none of its sweetness) and a hint of mustard. It can be cooked, but to be honest, I have only had it raw, in salads.
Kohlrabi salad with cilantro and lime begins with the kohlrabi root (the leaves are also edible) cut into matchstick shapes and mixed with cilantro, scallion and jalapeño. It is then tossed with a sweet-and-sour vinaigrette made with olive oil, orange juice, lime juice, honey and vinegar.
The result is surprisingly refreshing, especially because the jalapeño I used had no heat to it whatsoever. None. A little kick would have been welcome, but I am not absolutely convinced it would have made it any better.
And finally I made a salad that would be a hit at home or at any potluck: couscous salad with chickpeas.
Couscous was somewhat popular maybe a decade ago, but it has fallen out of favor. It’s time to bring it right back into favor where it belongs. Though people look at it and immediately think it is quinoa or bulgur, it is actually pasta. Little tiny bits of pasta, just right for soaking up all the flavors around them.
The flavors, in this case, come from a garlicky vinaigrette, plus mint, cinnamon, green onions and smoked paprika. Chickpeas provide an umami taste, and this earthiness is countered by the sweet acid of a tomato and salty, creamy feta cheese.
It’s a great salad. It may even be the best couscous salad, ever.
Nah. But it’s so good you’ll want to add it to your repertoire.
The best lentil salad, ever
Serves 6 to 8
Note: Du Puy lentils, also called Le Puy, are a firm, small lentil from France. I used crimson lentils, which are also small but do not quite taste the same. Adapted from MyNewRoots.org
1 pound (2 1/4 cups) De Puy lentils (see note)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon strong mustard
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 medium red onion, diced small
1 cup dried currants or raisins
1/3 cup capers
Optional: arugula, walnuts, goat cheese, fresh herbs (such as parsley, cilantro or basil), sprouts, crunchy seasonal vegetables
Rinse lentils well. Place in a pot and cover with 3 to 4 inches of water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Check lentils for doneness after 15 minutes, although they will probably take 20 minutes. They should be al dente – fully cooked but still firm. Do not overcook.
While the lentils are simmering, whisk together the oil, vinegar, syrup, mustard, salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, cayenne, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, or place all these ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously to combine.
When the lentils are cooked, remove from heat, drain and place under cold running water to stop the cooking. Once cooled slightly but still warm, place them in a large serving bowl and toss with the dressing. Add onion, currants and capers. Add optional items and serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days and add optional items just before serving.
Per serving (based on 8): 348 calories; 11 g fat (2 g sat.); no cholesterol; 15 g protein; 53 g carbohydrate; 15 g sugar; 7 g fiber; 776 mg sodium; 44 mg calcium.
Couscous salad with chickpeas
Recipe by Cooking Light.
1 cup uncooked whole-wheat couscous
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
Pinch of granulated sugar
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 large ripe tomato, chopped, or a handful of cherry tomatoes
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Place couscous, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in boiling water, cover, and let stand 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Combine oil, lemon juice, garlic and sugar. Add this mixture to the couscous along with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, mint, green onions, paprika, chickpeas and tomatoes. Sprinkle with cheese.
Per serving: 469 calories; 19 g fat (5 g sat.; 15 mg cholesterol; 18 g protein; 63 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 12 g fiber; 818 mg sodium; 154 mg calcium.
Kohlrabi salad with cilantro and lime
Yield: 6 servings
Recipe by FeastingatHome.com
3 bulbs kohlrabi, each about 4 inches
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/2 jalapeño, minced, optional
Zest from 1 orange
Zest from 1 lime
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from 1 orange
Juice from 1 lime
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Trim and peel kohlrabi. Cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks or julienne in food processor.
Place in a large bowl with cilantro, scallions, jalapeño, orange zest and lime zest.
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, orange juice, lime juice, honey, salt and vinegar. Toss with salad. Refrigerate until serving. Can be made 1 day ahead.
Per serving: 147 calories; 9 g fat (1 g sat.); no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 17 g carbohydrate; 15 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 256 mg sodium; 31 mg calcium.
Mixed green salad with oranges, dried cranberries and pecans
Recipe by Bon Appetit.
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons orange juice, divided
6 tablespoons dried cranberries
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
6 cups mixed baby greens
3 oranges, peel and white pith removed, segmented
3/4 cup pecans, toasted
Bring 1 cup orange juice to simmer in heavy, small saucepan. Remove from heat. Mix in dried cranberries. Let stand until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain well; discard soaking juice.
Whisk oil, vinegar, orange peel and remaining 3 tablespoons orange juice in small bowl to blend. Mix in cranberries. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving).
Place greens in large bowl. Toss with 2/3 of dressing. Divide greens among 6 plates. Add orange segments to bowl; toss with remaining dressing. Top salads with orange segments and pecans.
Per serving: 308 calories; 18 grams fat (2 g sat.); no cholesterol; 5 g protein; 34 g carbohydrate; 23 g sugar; 6 g fiber; 30 mg sodium; 206 mg calcium.