A refreshing change to salad

By Marcia Kyle | Jun 29, 2009

What do iceberg lettuce and a tomato wedge topped with bottled dressing have in common with spinach, romaine, strawberries and balsamic vinegar? Not much, you say, other than they are both salads. Your taste buds never had it so good now that a salad can and should be more than a side dish.

Sweet meets sour is the best way to describe my first featured recipe from the American Institute for Cancer Research (aicr.org), which takes the strawberry out of the patch and gives it center stage with romaine lettuce and spinach.

The stronger flavors of romaine and spinach can handle the richness of balsamic vinegar, which has been aged in an oaken keg. Balsamic vinegar has been enjoyed in the United States for only the last two decades while the Italians have been enjoying it for centuries. More than 900 years ago, vintners in the Modena, Italy, region made balsamic vinegar to be taken as a tonic. A true balsamic vinegar is labeled aceto balsamico tradizionale, processed and aged according to traditional methods in Modena. Less expensive balsamic vinegars are available for the home cook.

Luckily, a little goes a long way, so the higher price is offset by the smaller amount needed in most recipes. I made this recipe for a barbecue and it was gone before the traditional coleslaw and potato salads. Strawberries offer a sweet surprise as well as a great source of vitamin C. And spinach and romaine contain a powerful antioxidant called lutein renowned for eye health.

Spinach, Romaine and Strawberries with Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 head romaine lettuce
6 ounces fresh spinach
2 cups fresh strawberries
4 T fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1.Separate romaine leaves and wash thoroughly. Spin or pat dry on paper towels. Wash and dry spinach leaves unless package indicates they have already been cleaned. Wrap greens in damp towels, cover loosely in plastic and refrigerate until serving time.
2.Just before serving, wash and hull strawberries and cut into quarters. Tear romaine and spinach leaves into small-to-medium pieces. Combine greens and berries in salad or arrange on six individual plates. Sprinkle parsley on top.
3. Pour vinegar and oil into small container with tight-fitting lid. Cover and shake until dressing is well mixed. Pour over salad. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Nutritional information:
Makes six servings, each containing 70 calories and 5 grams of fat.

Don't let the short season to purchase locally grown asparagus keep you from trying the second recipe from AICR. Besides being low in calories and sodium, and having no fat or cholesterol, it is a good source of folic acid, potassium, fiber and rutin. Centuries ago, asparagus was used as a medicine similar to today's diuretics. Unfortunately for those prone to gout, a disease condition exacerbated by the high levels of purine, asparagus intake needs to be limited. For the rest of us, enjoy the tenderness of asparagus shoot along with white beans, orange bell peppers and red onions for a complete meal when served with a hearty whole grain bread.

White Bean Salad with Asparagus

5 stalks green asparagus, tough ends removed
1 can (15 ounces) white beans, rinsed and drained
1 orange bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 t Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup leafy salad greens, loosely packed

Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces. In vegetable steamer set into large saucepan, lightly steam for two to three minutes. Set aside to cool. In large bowl, combine white beans, orange pepper and red onion. Gently toss in asparagus. In separate bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Gently toss dressing into salad. Adjust seasonings to taste. Line salad bowl with leafy greens. Top greens with white bean salad.

Nutritional information:
Makes five servings. Per serving: 134 calories, 6 g total fat (less than 1 g saturated fat), 16 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 5 g dietary fiber, 156 mg sodium.

The final recipe I chose to highlight includes one of my favorite cheeses -- feta. Feta, traditionally made from sheep's or goat's milk, is often made commercially with pasteurized cow's milk. To be a true feta, goat's milk must make up a minimum of 30 percent of the total mixture. Feta is salted and cured for several months. Feta is so rich in flavor that I find much less is needed in recipes, so the overall sodium and fat content per serving is much lower than salads that are smothered in bottled salad dressings. If oranges aren't in season, you can substitute canned mandarin oranges.

Fruit and Cheese Salad

Dressing (using a blender or food processor recommended):
1/2 T raspberry flavored vinegar
1/4 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 t mild-flavored honey
1/2 t dried mint leaves

6 cups torn, mixed salad greens
1 cup watercress, stems trimmed and chopped
1/2 cup red onion, very thinly sliced
1 fresh peeled, chopped orange or 1 can (11 ounces) mandarin orange sections, drained
2 ounces crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese

To make dressing, blend vinegar, broth, oil, honey and mint at low speed until combined. Transfer to jar with tight lid; refrigerate until needed (up to three days). For salad, in large bowl, toss mixed greens, watercress, onion and orange. Shake vinaigrette until thoroughly re-blended, drizzle over salad and toss lightly. Sprinkle crumbled feta over top and serve.

Nutritional information:
Makes seven servings. Per serving: 82 calories, 5 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat), 8 g. carbohydrates, 3 g. protein, 2 g. dietary fiber, 143 mg. sodium.

The recipes from AICR are a great way to get you thinking about the unlimited options for a new refreshing look at the "salad." The ingredients you choose are only limited by your imagination. Enjoy!
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