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Eating Wisely

The Salad Bar

Michele Call
Chesterfield MO USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2008, pp. 30-31

The salad bar is familiar to anyone who frequents American restaurants. The idea is that you can build your own personal salad from the raw ingredients provided and have a unique and healthy meal or side dish. Making a salad bar at home is a fun, creative, and tasty meal idea, and the salad will taste much better than the typical restaurant variety. It can be a great dinner in the hot summer months, when cooking a warm supper heats up the house too much. It also makes a fun and easy potluck meal -- the hostess provides the greens and the dressing, and the guests bring their favorite salad toppings. With some crusty whole wheat bread on the side, this salad can easily turn into a main dish.

The Elements

Lettuce, of course, is the backbone of the salad bar. While the basic restaurant salad bars offer iceberg lettuce, the salad will be tastier and healthier if you use a darker and more flavorful lettuce. My favorite is Romaine, although the other varieties are tasty as well. If you are serving a large crowd, you can mix a variety of lettuce types. Buying a bag of pre-washed lettuce can save time, but be aware that the lettuce often will not taste as fresh.

Next, you will want to add a variety of vegetables. These can be raw, such as tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, celery, and broccoli. Or they can be pickled or canned, such as artichoke hearts, palm hearts, olives, or corn. It is especially appealing to think about mixing colors. My family really enjoys red and yellow bell peppers. Purple onions also are pretty and provide a unique flavor.

In order to make the salad into a hearty meal, you will also want to include protein items. Chopped, hard-boiled eggs are good. Raw sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are tasty and healthy, as are chickpeas and kidney beans. Cheese and deli meats can also be good. My family likes chicken in our salad, cooked boneless with garlic, mushroom, cilantro, and seasoned with salt and lemon juice. Of course, this is just our preference -- any cooked chicken will do, as will ham or tuna.

The final topping is the dressing. Dressing can make a big difference. Certainly there are many bottled flavors available, but for the best taste and nutrition, it is hard to beat homemade dressings. It is so simple to make a vinegarette dressing once you know the appropriate proportions of oil and vinegar. You can be as creative as you like with the variety of oils and vinegars as well as different herbs and spices. I have provided a couple of my family's favorites to get you started. For more salad dressing recipes, see LLLI's cookbook collection (titles listed on page 31).

Putting It Together

When we have a salad bar for dinner, I arrange the different elements in different bowls, or put them each in a neat pile on a large plate, or a big tray. We usually have a toddler in the house. Since raw vegetables can be difficult to chew, I try to make sure I've included some soft choices, such as avocado. If not, I will steam some of the vegetables that I have chopped, so the toddler won't be left out. Our four older children love salads. I think the anticipation of finally being old enough for lettuce encourages them to see salad as a treat!

Recipes

Italian Salad Dressing

1 1/3 C. oil
1/2 C. vinegar
1/4 C. grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. salt (or less)
1 tsp. onion or celery salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 clove of garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients in covered glass jar. Chill for several hours. Shake well before using. Store in refrigerator. Yield: 30 (1-oz.) servings.

Tahini Dressing

1 1/2 C. Canola Oil
1/3 C. Tahini sauce (sesame seed paste)
1/2 C. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. Soy sauce
1 clove of garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
(opt.) chives and parsley

Blend in a blender. Store in refrigerator.

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