It's only the beginning of June, yet the air here in Orlando is already beginning to take on that heavy, wet sauna-like feel, much like the sensation you get if you hold your head too close to the sink as you drain a pot of pasta. The time of year when running the oven for hours at a time can only be termed masochistic.On the other hand, with produce stands brim full of lovely local selections, why not eat more food in its uncooked state? That's right, RAW. While the Raw Food Movement is certainly gaining momentum among many divergent groups, I'm not suggesting we forsake favorites that require some form of cooking to achieve their appeal, but that we make raw food the center attraction at more meals.
Fresh fruit smoothies for breakfast, salads for lunch, a glass of freshly extracted carrot juice for mid-afternoon break, and instead of accompanying the evening serving of animal protein with a starch: potatoes, rice, pasta, etc., serve a couple of raw veggies along with cooked ones. Take advantage of the fabulous flavors of fresh produce, get your 9 servings of fruit and veggies a day, increase your energy level, boost your health, and as an offshoot, perhaps shed a few pounds.
One of the things I like best about putting together a salad is—no recipe needed. No exact amounts crucial to the outcome. No precise ingredient needed to achieve success. Experiment. Use what's freshest, use what's on hand. Aim for a variety of nicely diced or sliced vegetables in an array of colors, a mix of textures, some soft, some crunchy. Add some bite with vinegar or lemon juice, some heat with fresh chilies or ground spices. A generous drizzle of your very best extra virgin olive oil adds an eye-appealing sheen and a must have luscious mouth-feel along with a depth of flavor that complements the crisp, fresh vegetables.
I often add a little something sweet. Raisins or some cut up fruit: orange segments, mango pieces, diced peaches, pineapple tidbits, sliced apple. Pumpkin seeds or nuts are a great addition to salads. Lightly toasting them in a dry skillet adds a wonderful layer of flavor, as well as packing in more nutrition. Walnuts, pecans, pine nuts are just a few suggestions.
Adding a bit of cheese includes some protein and calcium. Here's the bean and corn salad shown above with a little diced Monterrey-jack cheese with jalepeño. An added layer of zing! But feta or chèvre or sharp cheddar would be just as good. The bean and corn salad is sprinkled with Adobo seasoning giving it a Southwest touch. (I noticed that the Adobo seasoning in the supermarket, and I checked several brands, listed salt as the first ingredient. Avoid these. I purchase my spices and seasonings from Penzey's and the Adobo seasoning I use is made up of onion, garlic , black pepper, Mexican oregano, cumin and cayenne pepper. No salt. I add my own to taste.)
Salad #3 with Cheese
Salad combinations are only limited by our imaginations. Starting out conservatively is good. But with each successive salad, be a little more adventurous. Try different vinegars, various oils, for instance, if you have walnuts in the salad, try a drizzle of walnut oil. If you have fresh raspberries on hand, add a few to the salad and use raspberry flavored vinegar in the vinaigrette. The addition of different types of cheese gives the same old salad a different taste and look.
Tips: Use the freshest ingredients. Limp, tired, old veggies are not salad prospects. Buy small, young, firm veggies. Young vegetables are sweet and tender, the bigger they grow, the better off they are in a cooked dish. Keep fresh herbs ready to use. Grow some pots on the patio, especially basil and thyme. Buy parsley and cilantro regularly at the farm stands or market. Wash and spin them when you bring them home, then stand them in a glass of water and cover with a small plastic bag or plastic wrap then store in the fridge. They stand up well using this method and are crisp, clean and ready for mincing when you reach for them. Add a variety of olives to your pantry along with some interesting peppers. Roasted red peppers, pepperocini, pickled jalepeños, kalamata and niçoise olives, and pitted pimento stuffed Spanish olives.
Build a salad around a can of beans, that you rinse and drain. White beans as well as black and pinto beans make a great addition to diced vegetables. See the sautéed corn and black bean salad above. Open a can of tuna, drain and add it to a mixed greens salad with some sliced celery and onion (salad #2). Oil and vinegar replace the standard mayo and it's still called tuna salad. Tastier and healthier.
Enjoy the harvest, make life in the kitchen easy and fast without sacrificing flavor or nutrition. Make fresh, raw vegetables a regular part of each menu plan. They're great!
Until next time. . .keep on dicing!