August 21, 2012

Make your own salad bar with this delicious mix of ingredients, toppings

If there is such a thing as book tour fatigue, I've got it big time.

Rants, raves, reviews and resources for Dallas-Fort Worth parents

If there is such a thing as book tour fatigue, I've got it big time.

In the past four months that I've been in Texas, touring the state to promote my cookbook, I have eaten out of a paper sack while driving 70 mph down the highway, using the dashboard for fries and a puddle of ketchup more times than I'd like to admit.

Whenever I've had time in between book signings, cooking demonstrations and classes, I've stopped by the closest salad bar, assembling what I could to make up for my sad and often soggy road meals. I'm happy to report that it was easier than I thought it would be, and healthier and more satisfying than I'd imagined, too -- just give me antioxidant-rich beets, chopped hardboiled eggs, some sunflower seeds and Roquefort. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and I'm on my way.

Thankfully, today's salad bars are more interesting than ever -- along with mixed greens, there always seems to be a large bin filled with baby spinach, and often kale, too, something we don't have in Paris -- so right there you've got a great start. Plus there's loads of color to make what used to be a restrictive and boring "diet" meal interesting. Carrots, yellow squash, zucchini, beets. Chopped green onions. Purple ones, too. Cheese, already grated or crumbled. Eggs, hardboiled and chopped, ready to be tossed on and in. Chicken, bacon, ham, all ready to go. Crunchy things, too, like seeds, nuts and tortilla strips. Prepackaged croutons? So 1985.

Salad bars also have expanded the definition of what a salad can be to include things that aren't just green. Throw some grains, legumes or fruits and veggies in a bowl, add a vinaigrette (or not), and call it a salad. Mix it up. The possibilities are endless.

Which got me to thinking. The business of not having enough time for dinner -- or even the energy to make something quickly -- is something that we all experience, and when it's still hot outside, salads are one of the few things that I'm in the mood for just about every day.

So why not spend a little time on the weekend -- say a Sunday afternoon with an iced coffee nearby -- prepping a few salad bar basics to turn your home fridge into a fancy-schmancy salad bar, ready to enjoy all week for dinner?

Having different salad bar ingredients on hand and in the fridge, labeled and ready to eat, means that you can eat healthy and still have a different salad each night.

I've listed a few salads that you can whip up in no time, along with versatile vinaigrettes you can make depending on your mood and what you're pairing them with.

I've been eating from my very own salad bar nearly every night since I got off the road, and I definitely feel better.

Now if I can only cut down on my daily cookie and coffee habit.

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of 'Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent' (Running Press, $25).; @cowgirlchef.

Beet, sweet potato and avocado salad

This is my go-to "to-go" salad. I put it in my carry-on when I travel from Paris to Dallas, and eat it over the Atlantic.

2 medium beets (about 1 pound)

1 large sweet potato (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Olive oil

Sea salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup quinoa

1 avocado, chopped

Small handful sunflower seeds

Chipotle vinaigrette, recipe follows

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim the ends off of the beets, rinse well and dry, and wrap them with heavy-duty foil. Put the beets on a cookie sheet and bake for about an hour, depending on the size of your beets. To check doneness, take them out of the oven, unwrap the foil -- do this carefully -- and slide a dinner knife into the beet. It's done if it easily cuts through the beet. If it doesn't, just wrap it back up, and put it back in the oven. When they're done, let the beets completely cool in the foil before slicing -- and don't wear white when you do.

2. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Put sweet potatoes on the cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss with your hands. Bake 30-45 minutes, flipping the potatoes over to the other side about halfway through so they brown evenly. Let the potatoes cool.

3. While the sweet potatoes are roasting, cook quinoa: Put 2 cups of salted water on to boil, and when it boils, add quinoa. Turn off the heat, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes or until the quinoa absorbs the water. Fluff.

4. To assemble the salad, put the beets, sweet potato, quinoa, avocado, and sunflower seeds in a bowl and toss with a couple of tablespoons of chipotle vinaigrette. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 333 calories, 8 grams fat, 57 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein, no cholesterol, 108 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber, 22 percent of calories from fat.

Cucumber-tomato salad

A great easy salad for weeknights or weekend barbecues.

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped

2 large tomatoes, chopped in big chunks

Sea salt and pepper, to taste

Sherry vinegar, to taste

Olive oil, to taste

4 ounces fresh goat cheese or feta

3 to 4 large leaves fresh basil, roughly torn

1. Toss cucumbers and tomatoes together in a big bowl, add salt and pepper, and let sit for about a half hour.

2. Before serving, splash on a bit of sherry vinegar and olive oil, toss and taste. Top with crumbled fresh goat cheese and basil and serve immediately.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 181 calories, 14 grams fat, 6 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams protein, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 105 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 67 percent of calories from fat.

Chipotle vinaigrette

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 chipotle chile in adobo, finely chopped

Sea salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup grapeseed oil or other light oil

Put sherry vinegar, shallot, mustard, chipotle and a big pinch of salt and pepper in a jam jar, and shake until combined. Let rest for about 10 minutes -- this softens the intensity of the shallots' flavor and allows the salt to dissolve -- then add the grapeseed oil. Taste for seasonings.

Nutritional analysis per 2-tablespoon serving: 164 calories, 18 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, trace cholesterol, 26 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 97 percent of calories from fat.

Asian vinaigrette

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 tablespoons lime juice (about 1 lime)

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

Small handful cilantro

1 teaspoon soy sauce

3 tablespoons grapeseed, canola or other neutral oil

Put your chopped ginger, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, cilantro and soy sauce in an old jam jar and give it a shake. Let this rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then add the grapeseed or canola oil and shake again. Taste for seasonings.

Nutritional analysis per 2-tablespoon serving: 98 calories, 10 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 88 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 91 percent of calories from fat.

Plum-basil vinaigrette

A super-light, low-acid vinaigrette that works as well with fruit salads as with subtle mixed greens.

2 fat, ripe plums, skin and seed removed

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil

Pinch sea salt

4 large leaves fresh basil

Put everything into blender and purée till blended. Taste for seasonings.

Nutritional analysis per 2-tablespoon serving: 26 calories, 2 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 10 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 77 percent of calories from fat.

Jalapeño-cilantro buttermilk dressing

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 pickled jalapeños, finely chopped

Big pinch sea salt and pepper

1 tablespoon chopped chives

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish

1/2 cup good mayonnaise, such as Hellmann's

1/2 cup crème fraiche or sour cream

1/2 cup buttermilk

Whisk together the first 5 ingredients and let rest for about 10 minutes. Add the mayo, crème fraiche and buttermilk, and taste for seasonings. Cover and put in the fridge for a half-hour before serving.

Nutritional analysis per 2-tablespoon serving: 99 calories, 11 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 12 milligrams cholesterol, 84 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 93 percent of calories from fat.

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