Monday, October 21, 2013

OMG a Recipe: Pledge Yourself to Produce!

We are entering the season of stewed meats, creamy soups and anything you can melt cheese on, which means the thought of a plate of fresh greens seems to dissipate like a summer breeze. True, it's much more appealing to think of having chilled salads for meals when it's a sweltering hot day, but there's no reason the refrigerator crisper drawer needs to stay empty in the cold months ahead. Why shouldn't we get excited about our vegetables, even in the chill of winter -- they're the bright shock of color our plates will need for the upcoming months of Brown Food!

Asian cole slaw - spicy, rich and flavorful, it makes an iceberg wedge cry - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I'm the guiltiest of the guilty when it comes to making Brown Food for the winter months -- meals lose their color and you're eating something that while tasting good, is a reminder that you're probably not getting your dose of vegetables. Look out, scurvy, here I come! A weird habit I took on over the summer is something I'm hoping to carry-over through the fall and winter months -- having salads for breakfast. Crazytalk! Madness! Or  is it...? It's mostly on the weekdays, when I don't have time to cook something in the morning and I don't want a heavy meal to weigh my stomach down for the day. Salads are the optimal meal choice because they can be savory or sweet, and they're relatively quick to throw together, especially if you have all the base ingredients semi-prepped.

I heartily enjoyed the salad days of summer -- I did a whole post on tasty dishes to make on hot days, which ended up being mostly salads, but they were all unique and meant to appeal to different flavor cravings. Sweet and savory, with prosciutto-wrapped melon; something light with shaved raw zucchini; a heartier main course-styled salad inspired by the Italian bread salad, panzanella. And I kept my plate colorful with whatever showed up in our CSA box -- I did a lot of sliced beet salads with citrus, goat cheese and toasted pecans or walnuts. They worked as first courses, but were just as filling when eaten as a meal. It didn't feel like a meal substitute at all.

Salads of all sorts, from summer through fall - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The folks at the Whole Kids Foundation got in touch with me -- they're an initiative from Whole Foods Market to push healthier eating habits primarily for children, but also adults, and introducing the concept of having at least one salad a day. I don't think that's unreasonable, so I support this idea. Given the fact that so many of us imbibe our veggies in a liquid-smoothie form, it wouldn't hurt to savor our greens a bit more. Granted, you don't have to be a weirdo like me and eat a salad for breakfast, but one of the most time-constrained meals children and adults face is usually lunch, and that's probably the one meal where it's easiest to make less than ideal choices. Which is exactly the reason why it's a good meal to target for hitting the salad bar. I'd argue it's faster than ordering a hot lunch, since you're instantly preparing what you'd like to eat, and you have total control over what goes onto your plate.

Simple parts of a tasty cole slaw - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I love Thai food but as much as I'd like to eat it for every meal, it's pretty indulgent with all that lovely coconut milk and heavier ingredients. I wanted to make a salad that could address Thai food cravings and keep my stomach satisfied for the day. I threw together an Asian-style coleslaw, one that uses crispy raw veggies tossed in a rich, sweet-sour dressing. I add unsalted dry roasted peanuts for crunch and protein, and the salad is really satisfying, even on a cold day. It's the dressing that makes it feel rich -- a combination of mayonnaise and sesame oil for creaminess, and rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and some Sriracha for kick. This version is vegetarian, but could easily be amended with adding some cooked protein like sliced pork, chicken or prawns. It's also a great side dish if you're making something like salt and pepper pork chops or anything meaty and heavy, but don't want to use rice or noodles. I often use plain cabbage as a fake "rice," but this is a much more enjoyable side dish that doesn't feel like you're cheating yourself on flavor.

I like using a mix of heartier vegetables that won't wilt as quickly as plain cabbage -- the purple cabbage is both colorful and sturdy, shreds of carrots and bean sprouts stay fairly crispy, and bell peppers also hold up nicely. You can use shreds of any vegetable you like. The biggest trick is avoid dressing the cole slaw until you're ready to serve. It can sit in the dressing for a little bit, but I wouldn't toss the raw ingredients with the dressing all at once, if you know you'll be eating it for a couple of days. I prefer mixing the dressing separately in a glass jar and just having that ready for when you want to have the salad. This is good as a general rule for regular salad-eating: mix your own simple dressings and keep them a glass container; pre-wash your greens and keep them in salad spinner-gadgets that keep them fresh but dry; if you like eggs in salad, pre-boil them; and chop any cooked meats you want to add ahead of time, so they're in sprinkle-able form. Having basic ingredients semi-ready makes it easier to just throw a salad together for a meal, and that's the best way to ensure there's at least one meal of greens a day.

Thai Inspired Cole Slaw

Salad Ingredients:
12 oz  mix of shredded carrots, red cabbage, green cabbage, broccoli - any combo of your favorite raw veggie shreds
8 oz fresh bean sprouts
1 red bell pepper, seeded and minced finely
1 small bunch of cilantro, stemmed and roughly chopped
1-2 cups dry roasted unsalted peanuts (OK to leave out if you're allergic)
Optional: slices of cooked pork, chicken or shrimp

Dressing Ingredients:
1/2 cup of mayonnaise
1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (OK to leave out if you're allergic)
1 heaping teaspoon of Sriracha if you like heat - even more if you LOVE it

Preparation: Mix the dressing ingredients in a glass jar - shake or mix well to fully incorporate.

Take all the raw vegetables and toss evenly in a bowl. If you're serving all at once, mix in cilantro, but if you're eating the salad incrementally, keep the cilantro in a separate container, so that it doesn't wilt too quickly. Depending on how you're serving, toss the salad with the dressing and peanuts in whatever portion size you need, and serve. So easy! Enjoy.

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