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Well, that was fun while it lasted.
The cakes, the cookies, the candy canes and champagne – they’re all increasingly fleeting memories. Now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty.
Now it’s time for salads.
Don’t groan. Salads are great, even if you haven’t made 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 delicious sesame sticks.
Add hard-boiled eggs if you like, and cheese.
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.
The first one is called The Best Lentil Salad, Ever, and ordinarily I am wary of superlatives. 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 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. The orange juice rehydrates the dried cranberries.
The rest is a straightforward salad, with mixed baby greens, a simple vinaigrette and toasted pecans. It is the combination of orange segments and 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.
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.
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. 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
1 pound De Puy lentils, a firm, small lentil from France
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon strong mustard
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 medium red onion, diced small
1 cup dried currants or raisins
1/3 cup capers
Goat cheese, optional
Fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro or basil, optional
Sprouts and crunchy seasonal vegetables, optional
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: 348 calories; 11 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 15 g protein; 53 g carbohydrate; 15 g sugar; 7 g fiber; 776 mg sodium; 44 mg calcium.
– Adapted from MyNewRoots.org
COUSCOUS SALAD WITH CHICKPEAS
1 cup uncooked whole-wheat couscous
½ teaspoon salt, divided
½ 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
1½ teaspoons minced garlic
Pinch of granulated sugar
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 large ripe tomato, chopped, or a handful of cherry tomatoes
¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
Place couscous, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, ¼ 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 ¼ teaspoon salt, the remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper, mint, green onions, paprika, chickpeas and tomatoes. Sprinkle with cheese.
PER SERVING: 469 calories; 19 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 18 g protein; 63 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 12 g fiber; 818 mg sodium; 154 mg calcium.
– Recipe by Cooking Light
KOHLRABI SALAD WITH CILANTRO AND LIME
3 (4-inch) bulbs kohlrabi
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped scallions
¼ jalapeño, minced, optional
Zest from 1 orange
Zest from 1 lime
¼ cup olive oil
Juice from 1 orange
Juice from 1 lime
¼ cup honey
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Trim and peel kohlrabi. Cut into ¼-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 saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 17 g carbohydrate; 15 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 256 mg sodium; 31 mg calcium.
– Recipe by FeastingatHome.com
MIXED GREEN SALAD WITH ORANGES, DRIED CRANBERRIES AND PECANS
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons orange juice, divided
6 tablespoons dried cranberries
3½ 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
¾ 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 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 5 g protein; 34 g carbohydrate; 23 g sugar; 6 g fiber; 30 mg sodium; 206 mg calcium.
– Recipe by Bon Appétit