Well, OK. Don’t we all love real food, especially when our favorite dishes are on the table? Mmmmm….what are those dishes? Did you prepare them or did you open a box of stuff prepared by someone unknown…in a laboratory… working for for a major corporation?
Believe it or not, the stores in which you probably shop offer more processed, artificial foods than they do real food. Do you remember the popular diet rule about shopping the perimeter of the store and staying away from the inner aisles? It is still a good rule, except your perimeter has gotten thinner, as salad bars with heavy preservatives and vegetables grown with pesticides and herbicides are spotlighted in the produce section and heavily nitrate-laden meats from suspicious sources dot the butcher cases. It is so complex! Or is it….
One of my favorite writers is journalist, teacher, environmentalist and real food advocate Michael Pollan. His best sellers include In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The little gem I was thinking about when I started putting this post together was Food Rules, Pollan’s attempt (successful, I think) to simplify our view of food and what and how we should eat so we live healthier, more sustainable lives. And really, it is pretty simple, but it takes some rethinking and a little planning. According to Pollan, there are only three main rules: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Got it… Maybe…. Well, not entirely.
To minimize the challenge that we all face as we try to eat healthy and to keep on a diet of mostly real food is not fair, and Pollan would be the first to admit it. And he explains why we have this difficulty: “The more you process any food, the more profitable it becomes.” Processed food is cheaper to make, easier to market, lasts forever (well, way longer than it should) and when it inevitably makes you sick (which it inevitably will), the healthcare industry cashes in. Pollan points out that “populations that eat a so-called Western diet—generally defined as a diet consisting of lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains—invariably suffer the so-called Western diseases: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.” If you need more proof, check out Pollan’s many publications at your local library. But if you are willing to ditch those western ways and go real today, follow me….
And today, I am focusing the love lesson of real food on one of my biggest pet peeves—and Green Gal readers have heard this before, and before, and before—bottled salad dressing. I ask: Why? You go to the farmers market or the organic section of your grocery store, load up your cart or your market bag with fresh vegetables and fruits, take it all home, lovingly cut it all up and then smother it with artificial high fructose corn syrup goop. And the real bite in the kester is that nothing could be more simple to prepare, more enjoyable to eat, more economical, more delicious and fresh, more HEALTHY for you than your own, from-scratch salad dressing.
So, let me share two of my favorite salads and homemade dressings from this past month. One makes great use of in-season citrus and the other blends from-scratch aioli with herbs de Provence for a south-of-France experience.
I was, indeed, a lucky green gal over the holidays and received several real food gifts from friends—ruby grapefruits from my friend Mary Lynn, Meyer lemons from good friend Susan and homemade garlic powder from Bruce Haas of Daydream Farm. Salad and dressing just waiting to happen, in my opinion. And here’s what I did.
- Two ruby grapefruits, peeled and sectioned with all pith and tough skin removed
- One-quarter cup good-quality dark balsamic vinegar (splurge)
- Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Fresh garlic powder (Or perhaps Penzey’s, if you don’t have a farmer friend. I avoided fresh garlic in these dressings because I wanted a subtle, less harsh flavor and no heat. But if fresh garlic is your thing, add one minced clove.)
- One-half cup good-quality extra virgin olive oil
- Six to eight cups mixed greens (I used spinach and leaf lettuce.)
- On-half cup diced red onion
- One ripe mango, peeled, seeded and diced
- One-half cup dried cranberries
- One-half cup toasted walnuts
- Shaved sharp white cheddar (optional unless you are Don)
- One-quarter cup homemade aioli (See the link and notes below the recipe.)
- One-half cup red wine vinegar
- One tablespoon honey
- One tablespoon lemon zest
- One heaping teaspoon herbs de Provence (Again, Penzey’s has a nice blend if you didn’t grow, dry and store your own blend. I plan to try next year!)
- Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Six to eight cups mixed greens (I used Romaine and leaf lettuce with a little diced kale.)
- One-half cup diced red onion
- Two to three hard-cooked eggs, chopped
- Two avocados, seeded, peeled and chopped
- One cup black olives, either Kalamata or Gaeta
- One cup toasted whole almonds
- One-half cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (We do not think this is optional here, but can have substitutions such as Gruyere.)
- Begin by preparing the grapefruit and placing the sections in a small bowl. Toss with the dark balsamic vinegar and let marinate about 15 to 20 minutes. A lot of juice will accumulate in the bowl.
- Drain the grapefruit sections, reserving all the liquid, to equal at least one-half cup or more. Season the grapefruit juice/balsamic vinegar mixture with salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the olive oil until you have a stable emulsion. Set aside.
- Toss the grapefruit sections with the greens, onion, mango, dried cranberries and walnuts. Note that these were my salad choices and don’t need to be yours. Pomegranate seeds, apple slices, pistachios all occurred to me. Be brave and creative! Don’t have grapefruits? Try oranges, just increase to four, if they are small, and prepare the same way, though your dressing might be a bit sweeter. Add cheese if you desire and toss lightly.
- Whisk together the aioli, red wine vinegar, honey, lemon zest and herbs. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Toss together the greens, onion, avocado, egg and almonds. Toss with the dressing; then, add the cheese and toss lightly.
- Though I did not include them, homemade croutons fashioned from leftover bread would be delicious here. Also, Don included grilled chicken on his salad and proclaimed himself Chef for the Day. Not arguing.
Note that the prep time is a guess, depending on how much salad you are preparing. It includes the time it would take to make the dressings from scratch and assemble the salad. The servings above are quite generous.
Each salad dressing recipe makes about a cup of dressing. You can use it all to make the servings listed or use only what you want for your salad. The dressings will keep just fine for about a week in a tightly sealed screw top jar. Just shake to recombine ingredients.
Wondering about the Aioli, which is just “garlic mayonnaise” that you make yourself? I provided the basic steps for this simple, but essential, homemade ingredient last month under the subhead special ingredients. The only difference was I left out the garlic powder because there was a fair amount of roasted garlic in the recipe. So for this version, whisk your egg yolks, lemon juice (doesn’t need to be Meyer lemons, BTW) and white pepper until smooth. Once you have the yolk mixture and oil emulsified, add the Dijon and about a quarter teaspoon garlic powder and whisk to incorporate. You don’t have to limit the use of this wonderful ingredient to salad dressing; use the leftover aioli on burgers, in sauces, with eggs. Be brave. It will keep in your frig for about five days, but I think you will probably use it up before its deadline.
And love real food. Almost any recipe on this site will help get you there—from my friend Teresa’s Fish Soup to this month’s Borgia Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (as long as cake is not at every meal). Because that’s the beauty of Pollan’s conclusion—if we eat real food that we know is prepared well, make environmental sustainability part of our food-related decisions and use moderation when filling our plates, we don’t need to sacrifice taste or food groups or favorite recipes to be well and well fed. What’s not to love?
Looking for more salad and salad dressing ideas to love? Check out my previous post on a “Capsule Wardrobe for Salad Dressings” and get the basics that will allow to create all kinds of wonderful condiments for your greens. More? Winter greens are in season: here’s my best recipe for making the most of them. And here’s one I just found from my favorite health magazine Delicious Living: Warm Winter Kale Salad with Champagne Dressing–I’ll just be having mine without the grilled chicken, but I can’t wait to serve this elegant one-dish meal.