Rarely do you receive a free piece of medical advice that can maybe, just maybe, change or even save your life. Last week, a television host asked a medical professional to share one tip that would help the average American live a healthier life in 2018. Without hesitating, he replied, “Eat a salad or bowl of greens with at least one meal every day.”
The doctor’s simple statement lingered in my mind. I realized he was speaking in general terms. However, the realization that the age-old “eat your greens” mantra could impact my life caused me to pull out my healthy salad and dressing recipes.
You may need a little convincing to follow the doctor’s advice. Salads are the Rodney Dangerfield of the dinner table. To quote the late comedian, they “get no respect.” Often when we talk about salads, we apologize. If we serve salad for dinner, we say we’re "sorry the meal is so light." If a co-worker asks what we ate for lunch and the answer is leafy and green, we say, "Oh, just a salad."
Salads that are composed of fresh ingredients and, here’s the important part, devoid of high fat dressings, meat, cheese, and fried toppings, are rich in vitamins and minerals. Simultaneously, they're low in sodium, carbs, fat and calories.
I believe salads are often shunned due to pale and tasteless iceberg lettuce. Instead of choosing this boring and low in nutrition lettuce, combine a variety of different flavors. Reach for endive, romaine, red leaf, spinach, and radicchio to add interest, taste, color, and, yes, a health boost to your salad.
But don’t stop with the base. As long as the portions are reasonable, a number of toppings can be added to provide additional flavor and color. These include:
1. Lean protein from grilled chicken, turkey, or seafood; thin slices of hard-boiled egg; a handful of chickpeas, kidney or black beans
2. Sliced vegetables, including green, red and yellow bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, asparagus, and artichoke hearts
3. Fresh fruit slices like strawberries, applies, mangos, peaches, and berries
4. Small amounts of toasted nuts and seeds
5. Sprinkle of lemon or lime juice
6. Low-fat vinaigrette dressing consisting of two parts vinegar to one part olive oil
7. Tangy balsamic dressing of apple cider or red wine vinegar mixed with a small amount of olive oil
Toppings to avoid include mayonnaise or sour cream-based dressings; strips of fried or cured meat; bacon bits, cheeses, and croutons.
One of my favorite healthy dressings doubles as a savory salad topping and marinade for chicken and fish. To make it, combine three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup of freshly-squeezed lemon juice, and two tablespoons each of apple cider or red wine vinegar, water, and fresh chopped parsley in a food processor. Blend until thoroughly combined. Last, add two teaspoons each of dried basil and minced garlic and a teaspoon each of dried oregano and Mrs. Dash, along with a sprinkle of ground black pepper; pulse until combined. It’s low in fat, yet high in flavor.
I’ll admit, it's not always easy to choose a healthy salad as a main meal or side dish. Some days, I’d simply prefer a burger and fries. To make the doctor’s suggestion easier to implement, I searched for a salad recipe that could trick my mind into thinking it was a full meal. With a base of satisfying pasta and filled with enough crunch and flavor to satisfy my craving for a hearty meal, it’s the perfect way to begin 2018 on a healthy note.
Crunchy Chinese Chicken Salad and Pasta
1 lb whole wheat spaghetti, cooked according to package
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded into small pieces
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
8 cups finely shredded Chinese or Napa cabbage
1/4 cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts, chopped
3/4 cup reduced-fat, creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4-1/2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1-1/2 teaspoons each: apple cider or red wine vinegar, olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
While pasta and chicken are boiling, whisk together peanut butter, water, lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, and red pepper flakes until well-blended.
Before removing spaghetti from boiling water, add sliced carrots and allow to boil for at least two minutes. Then drain and place pasta and carrots in a large serving bowl. Add cabbage, shredded chicken, and dressing; toss everything to coat.
Sprinkle salad with peanuts. Refrigerate for a few minutes before serving to allow flavors to meld together.