The beginning of a new year is a traffic jam of good intentions, isn’t it? We are bumper to bumper gonna lose weight, join the gym, stop procrastinating, find a better job, and call my mother more. And then… traffic thins out. Where do all those Victory-Is-Mine-Volvos and Just-Do-it-Jeeps go?
My guess is we grip that steering wheel just a little too hard. We refuse to consider an alternate route if the road dead-ends. Ungratefully forget to admire the passing landscape, drift off into boredom and burn out the radiator before we hit the state line. We simply set our course and believe that anything less than what we’ve agreed to (It’s interesting that this agreement is solely with ourselves, yet devoid of any opportunity for negotiation.) is FAILURE.
A prime example of a good new year’s intention destined to go wrong is the pledge to clean up our diets—to eat healthier, perhaps less, and lose weight, divert disease or both. It’s all well and good until we sit down to that first plate of steamed kale, wearing only a thin sheath of lemon juice, and a plain brown rice cake for bling. Mmmmm. I can see the car attempting an illegal U-turn, and we haven’t had the first bite.
We are stuck in the “either-or lane.” Either the food tastes great and is not permitted or it’s so healthy it’s inedible. But nothing could be further from the truth—if you have the right recipe, seek out fresh, quality ingredients and know a little about nutrition. And I’ll prove it to you.
Salad. No, turn the car back around, and give me a minute.
Salad is the ultimate good-intention food—it’s easy to prepare, flexible to suit a variety of tastes and whatever’s in your frig, satisfying with fewer calories and can be very, very yummy. So here’s a recipe to get your engine started, my favorite-for-years Lemon Vinaigrette with flax seed and hemp seed oils and my top picks for creating a winning salad combo.
It should be noted that all ingredients in this post are assumed to be organic. When you are really cleaning up your diet, the most important ingredient of all is clean food.
- One heaping teaspoon dry herbs (your choice) or ¼ cup fresh herbs (I really like basil or oregano in this recipe. Using herbs you’ve frozen from the summer works great here.)
- Three or four large, firm cloves garlic (to taste)
- One-half cup fresh lemon juice (from about two large lemons—lemon juice has natural detoxification properties that most experts feel are extremely beneficial.)
- A quarter-cup cold-pressed, organic hemp oil (I have used both Manitoba and Nutiva hemp oil with great success. The color is a rich green, the balance of Omega 6 and 3 is nearly perfect and the taste is mildly nutty. Note that it is not an oil recommended for heat—use it raw only and store in the frig to keep it fresh.)
- A quarter-cup cold-pressed organic flaxseed oil (Nature’s Way and Barleans are good brands, I think. Like hemp oil, flaxseed oil contains a nearly perfect balance of Omega 6 and 3; it is not recommended for heat and is considerably unstable, so keep it refrigerated and use by the expiration date.)
- Dash tamari low-sodium soy sauce (We always use San-J only; it is gluten-free and has a wonderful taste, which matters in this recipe, so no skimping.)
- One quarter-cup cold water (Some people feel that detoxing means distilled, filtered water. You decide based on the water quality in your area. I use my tap water for this.)
- One half teaspoon kelp sprinkles (I buy Coast of Main for all seaweed products. This ingredient will supply iodine, a needed but hard-to-find nutrient, especially if you are vegan.)
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste (Again, taste is important here. I use whole black peppercorns and grind with my mortar and pestle. My local Green Earth Grocery has them in bulk. Bet your local health food store does, too.)
- Wash and dry the herbs (if using fresh) and peel the garlic cloves. Place herbs and garlic cloves in your food processor. Pulse a few times to combine and mince.
- Add the remaining ingredients and blend to a creamy consistency. You want a total emulsion here so that the dressing will not breakdown when stored in the frig. The dressing should look almost creamy.
This dressing will keep in the refrigerator in a covered glass jar about one week. Give it a good shake before each use to bring the ingredients back together.
My Favorite Salad Combos
Winter is not the greatest time of the year for salad, but we not going to let that put the brakes on our good intentions. If you think about salad in terms of categories of food, you can see that the possibilities—almost any time of year—are endless:
Greens are the most important ingredients in a good salad, to my way of thinking. Loaded with folic acid, calcium and a host of good-for-you antioxidants, top-quality, organic greens lay the foundation for a good salad and your clean-eating plan. Avoid iceberg and limit romaine and butter crunch (far fewer nutrients), but pile on any of the following: kale, chard, cabbage, arugula, radicchio, endive, mustard greens, collard greens, turnip leaves, beet greens, parsley—incredibly cleansing–spinach and leaf lettuce. For those sturdier greens, give them a good chop, and you’ll enjoy them more. Chewing on a big leaf of kale is really no fun.
In-season vegetables and fruits
For fall and winter, you may find (though maybe not locally) turnips and beets, red onions (a wonderful addition for fighting colds and other maladies) mushrooms, carrots, apples, oranges, grapefruits, pears, avocados (excellent for cardiovascular health and loaded with vitamin E), broccoli and cauliflower (kings of the crucifers). Well the list goes on, depending on the time of year and what is available in your neck of the woods, but you get the idea.
For vegans protein can mean soy, legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. The best grain is really not a grain at all—it’s Quinoa—a superfood grass that the Aztecs worshipped. Get religion.
For meat-eaters like my husband, it’s humanely raised, organic lean beef, chicken, bison, or lamb.
For people sort of in the middle, like me, the choices include the vegan options above, plus poached wild salmon, baked wild cod and hard-boiled organic eggs from free-range chickens.
Note that how you prepare meat and fish does matter when you are really going for detox. There is a lot of negative information (and substantial proof) against grilling—especially charring–your food and high-fat frying it (regardless of the oil you use) on the stovetop. Poaching salmon is far easier than you would believe, and it tastes wonderful. See below for the how-to.
When I’m detoxing, I simply avoid some of the other salad goodies like cheese and dried sweetened cranberries, even though very healthy safe choices do exist. It doesn’t mean I will never eat cheese or sugary cranberries again (Ease up that grip on the steering wheel.), but taking a few weeks off from foods that make my body work really hard is a nice breather. And, keep in mind that the road ahead, paved with good intentions, does have roadside diners along the route. If you get off to splurge, there’s always an on-ramp to resume your trip to better health.
Hungry for more? FEAST Magazine ran a great detox salad recipe in their January issue. It’s a planned destination on my road trip to better heath.
To Poach Salmon
Remove your fillets from their wrapping, rinse and place in a sauce pan large enough to hold them. Cover with water and add a few lemon slices. Season with salt–a heaping teaspoon or two. Bring to a boil over high heat; then, immediately remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 10 minutes–it’s kind of like cooking an egg. The key points to remember are plenty of water and not to overcook. At the end of 10 minutes, remove from the water and refrigerate until ready to serve. The skin will peel off nicely, no worries. You can add salt and pepper to taste. Freshly ground black pepper is especially nice.
Concerned about being green and still eating seafood? Check out Sea Watch, one of the most reliable resources for making green decisions about eating fish.