Sep 26, 2012

Versatile Fruit, Nut, and Cheese Salad

If you think you don't like salad you may change your mind after trying this recipe!

These days restaurants, even fast food ones, are selling more and more interesting salads. But at home creativity may be lacking. 

This Versatile Fruit, Nut, and Cheese salad is not so much a recipe, but more about learning to use the ingredients you already have on hand to create a delicious green salad any night of the week. My Sweet Vinaigrette recipe ties together the sweet and savory flavors perfectly, but theoretically you could just use your favorite dressing for this recipe. 

Concerning salad dressings, though, store-bought salad dressings are very unhealthy and should all be replaced by homemade dressings with good quality ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, unpasteurized vinegar, yogurt, and fresh herbs. Bottled salad dressings in general are filled with unhealthy ingredients including bad oils (soy, canola, vegetable, sometimes even hydrogenated oils) that are already rancid before the dressing is even bottled (then it sits on a shelf forever before being put in your fridge where it also lives forever until it's all used up), lots of artificial ingredients, sweeteners and starches - including high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives. The fact alone that store-bought salad dressings have such a long refrigerator life should be concerning. Healthy food - REAL food - should spoil if not eaten right away, so when your food last forever you should question how good it really is for you. My homemade salad dressings last for about a week for creamy dressings made with yogurt and fresh herbs, and 2 to 3 weeks for vinaigrettes. 

My recipe for Sweet Vinaigrette is a very versatile and easy. Honestly, it's easier to throw this dressing together than to select a dressing and purchase one from the store. Also, making a good quality, nutritious salad dressing like this is cheaper than the bottled stuff, especially if you were already trying to buy the more expensive healthiER kinds.

Okay, back to the salad. Here are the basics:

Every good salad starts with good quality greens:

Dark green lettuce such as romaine, regular and red leaf lettuce, bib lettuce, etc. Notice I did not include spinach. Spinach actually is not healthy eaten raw. It is often touted as a high source of iron, but that iron can't be absorbed unless the spinach is steamed or lightly cooked. It's not terrible to eat a spinach salad on occasion, but it is not the healthy salad green it is typically thought of.

The fresh fruit:

Strawberries are my favorite fruit for this salad, but most fruits work. Blueberries and raspberries are good, chopped apples (great for fall), peaches, pears, even mangoes.

The dried fruit:

I love cranberries because they are nice and tart, but just about any dried fruit is good. The chewy texture is a great addition to any salad. Other ideas include raisins, apricots (chopped), mangoes, blueberries, etc.

The cheese:

I usually use feta, but blue cheese is also great if you are a fan. During pregnancy when the soft cheeses are not to be eaten I used cheddar or Colby jack cheese cut into half-inch cubes, which actually was very good. 

The nuts:

Nuts add great crunch and increased protein. I usually use almonds, as they are cheapest (aside from peanuts, which wouldn't go with too many flavors). Pecans are great, and walnuts would be great for fall. Toasted is best for the flavor.

The onions:

Onions add such an interesting twist to this kind of salad. You can omit if you hate onions, but if you're just unsure, I encourage you to give onions a try. Red onions are the strongest, green onions also have a stronger flavor, sweet onions (usually white or yellow) are more mild and may be better for kids.

The dressing:

Now, you could really use any dressing of your choice, but there is just something about a sweet vinaigrette that just ties together the sweet and savory aspects to this salad. Find my recipe below.

Optional meat:

I have also added meat to this salad for a delicious and light meal. Chicken goes surprisingly well with this combination of toppings. Thinly sliced steak is also great. Grilled meat gives the best flavor.

The Versatile Fruit, Nut, and Cheese Salad

The greens:

1 to 1 1/2 cups dark leafy greens per person

The fresh fruit:

1/4 cup chopped fresh fruit per person (such as strawberries, chopped apples, etc.)

The dried fruit:

1 to 2 tablespoons dried fruit per person (cranberries are my favorite)

The cheese:

2 tablespoons cheese per person (crumbled feta or blue cheese, 1/2 inch cubes cheddar, etc.)

The nuts:

1 tablespoon nuts per person (almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc). To toast the nuts, bake in a small baking sheet for about 4 to 5 minutes at 350 degrees, or until starting to brown lightly.

The onions:

1 tablespoon sliced onion per person (red onion, white onion, green onions)

To assemble:

Arrange lettuce and toppings in individual bowls or a shallow serving bowl. Serve with Sweet Vinaigrette.

Sweet Vinaigrette

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider or red wine vinegar
2 to 4 tablespoons natural sweetener (whole cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc.)*
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place all ingredients in a 1 pint jar. Screw the lid on tightly and shake vigorously to combine. The sweetener should cause the dressing to emulsify and thicken. Drizzle over salad just before serving.

*I prefer a tangier dressing so 2 tablespoons is enough for me, but 4 tablespoons is what most people prefer. Stevia can also be used for a low carb option, but the dressing will not emulsify.

Preparation time: 2 minutes. Yield: 3/4 to 1 cup.

Here are some other tasty combinations to try:

Strawberry Almond Salad 
(In photos above)

Leaf lettuce, or lettuce of your choice
Feta cheese
Slivered almonds
Red or white onions

Apple Walnut Salad 
(Great for fall!)

Lettuce of your choice
Chopped apple such as Fuji or Gala (toss with a bit of lemon juice to avoid turning brown)
Blue cheese or 1/2 inch cubes of cheddar
Red onion

Mango Blueberry Salad
(Pictured below)

Lettuce of your choice
Dried mango
Candied pecans
Green onions

Note: This combination was good, but I think it 
would have been better with fresh mango and dried blueberries instead.

1 comment:

  1. We loved it!!!!! Made it few times already, its delicious!!!!