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lemonveggie

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Cheap strawberries. It must be spring.

What more can I say? I bought a lot, with this vague strawberry balsamic vinaigrette salad idea. The kids were devouring the strawberries, and fast, so I knew I needed to try my experiment or I’d miss my chance. Dinner was going to be corn chicken chowder with bacon and chives, and I thought the sweet strawberry salad would be refreshing with the thick, savory chowder.

I’d never made the chowder before — it was a dish one of the kids requested when we were sorting through cooking magazines and looking for ideas. Remember that. Never made the soup before. Inventing the salad on the fly. Improv dinner — my favorite way to cook. When it works, it’s a magical victory. When it works…

I grabbed the ingredients that appealed to me — lots of crunchy jicama and radish, fresh herbs — and started playing.

Ingredients for Recipe for Spring Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, Avocado, Jicama, and Radishes

Ingredients, ready to go!

Ingredients:
(Side salad, serves six.)
6 cups of mixed baby greens.
1 large avocado, quartered lengthwise and sliced.
6 radishes, sliced.
1 cup diced jicama.
1 fistful of fresh mint, chopped.
1 fistful of fresh basil, chopped.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate extra for a couple of days.)
6 large strawberries, sliced.
1 T sugar.
1 T balsamic vinegar.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
Pinch of salt, to taste.

Recipe for Spring Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, Avocado, Jicama, and Radishes

Pretty colors.


I decided to macerate the strawberries in sugar and vinegar — my goal was a heavily infused salad dressing, so that the strawberry flavor would really permeate the salad. I started by slicing the strawberries and putting them in a large jar. I added the sugar, closed the lid and tossed the strawberries to really coat them with the sugar. I let that sit for a moment, then added the balsamic vinegar and tossed them again. While the strawberries released their juices, I began to work. I created a bed of baby greens, and chopped the jicama and the radishes. Then I added the herbs. I paused here to tend to the soup. You’ll want to let the strawberries macerate for at least twenty minutes, so plan your cooking accordingly. When the chowder was ready to dish up, I sliced open the avocado, added the oil and salt to the salad dressing, and combined it all.

Recipe for Spring Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, Avocado, Jicama, and Radishes

It looks so good...

The Verdict:
My core idea was solid. The macerated strawberries made a truly amazing salad dressing. Basil and mint were perfect herbs to pair with the vinaigrette, and the jicama and radish worked really well.

But… It was too mushy! The combination of the tender baby greens, macerated strawberries, and that enormous avocado was just not right. Even with the jicama and radish, it was too soft and squishy. I think I should have left the avocado out. Or started with a crunchier green — romaine, or endive — and used less of the avocado. I think really good endives and just a little avocado would make this a classy, well balanced salad.

But my real error was my meal planning, or lack thereof. Corn chowder. Remember that? I honed in on the salty bacon, and thought my sweet strawberry salad would be perfect with the savory soup. But the salty bacon? It was balancing all that sweet corn! This soup and salad combination was essentially dessert for dinner.

The strawberry salad really needs to be eaten alongside something strong and savory. Smoky dry rub barbecue, or a really good pork roast, or a hefty veggie burger. Not sweet corn soup.

So, play with the vinaigrette. It really is good. But keep your crunch ratio strong, and choose your main course wisely.

Make it a Meal:
Don’t bother — too much to fix. But if you’re doing the fixing (hearty romaine or endives, skip the avocado) I’d add some crispy crunchy protein — salty nuts, or sliced up fried chicken, or leftover pork chop.

Pack it to Go:
Again, don’t bother. Of course, if you’ve fixed the flaws, then pack your salad in a large glass or stainless steel container with a well fitting lid, and your dressing (including the strawberries, of course) in a large jar. If you dare to include avocado, put it in with the dressing to prevent browning. When you’re ready to eat, shake your dressing well, and drizzle it over the salad. Use a fork to fish out all of the strawberries. Use only as much dressing as you want. Fork toss, and enjoy.

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I love a good ranch salad dressing, and I don’t have go-to recipe for it like I do with vinaigrettes and citronettes. You’ve seen my experiment with buttermilk ranch vinaigrette. This time, some leftover homemade sour cream veggie dip* looked like the perfect addition to the pseudo-chef’s salad I was planning for lunch.

I bemoaned the absence of romaine or green leaf lettuce because I love their crunch with creamy dressings and deli meat. Instead, I made do with some mixed baby greens I had on hand. Then I grabbed the ham, turkey, cucumber, radishes, cherry tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and scallions — all ingredients that work really well for me with ranch dressing. I added tarragon and savory for extra flavor. And I got to chopping.

Ingredients for Recipe for Salad with Sour Cream Ranch Dressing, Deli Meat, Cucumber, Radishes, and Cherry Tomatoes

The ingredients, ready for action!

Ingredients:
(Serves one as a meal.)
4 cups of mixed baby greens.
1/4 cucumber, quartered and sliced.
2 large mushrooms, halved and sliced.
3 baby carrots, sliced.
3 radishes, quartered.
3 cherry tomatoes, left whole. If serving instantly, slice in half.
1 scallion, sliced.
3 thin slices of red onion, quartered.
2 slices of honey ham, sliced.
2 slices of turkey, crumbled.
2 sprigs of tarragon, chopped.
2 savory leaves, chopped.

Sour Cream Ranch Vinaigrette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate extra for a couple of days.)
2 T extra virgin olive oil.
2 T sour cream ranch veggie dip.*
1 T rice wine vinegar.
1/2 clove garlic, smashed and minced.
1/4 tsp maple syrup.
A pinch of salt, to taste.

I was making two salads for lunch, so I doubled all of the ingredients listed above, including the salad dressing. I mixed the ranch dressing in a small jar, tasting as I went to make sure I liked the flavors. It looked like a lot of dressing (I thought it would easily work for three salads), so I put some of my husband’s serving into my jar, which would be staying at home in our fridge. I thought we could enjoy it later.

With the sour cream ranch dressing mixed up, I started chopping veggies and adding them to the two beds of lush baby greens I’d built. The bowls filled up fast! I left the cherry tomatoes whole so that they would travel well. I nestled the dressing jar in the glass container for my husband before popping the red rubber lid on it. Mine just went into the fridge for lunch time.

Recipe for Salad with Sour Cream Ranch Dressing, Deli Meat, Cucuber, Radishes, and Cherry Tomatoes

Two salads, prepped and ready to eat. All they need is that delicious dressing drizzled over them...


The Verdict:
Yummy! This was the creamiest dressing I’ve ever made, and due to the inclusion of the sour cream dip, it had a really nice depth of flavor. I used every drop of the dressing I set aside for myself. (Remember, I thought I had enough for two salads? Wrong.) My poor husband texted me at lunch time to tell me that he loved it, and he’d never worked so hard to get every drop of dressing out of the jar before… Moral of the story? Really thick, creamy dressings don’t spread as well as light vinaigrettes. Or we just both adore lots of good, sour cream ranch deliciousness with our crunchy cucumber, radish, and carrot bites.

This salad was really filling. I didn’t mind the softness of the baby greens as much as I thought I might, though I still think romaine or green leaf lettuce or even a very fresh iceberg would be a better match for the creamy salad dressing. It was still tasty, and I ate every bite. In fact, I was so hungry and it was so good that I didn’t realized I’d failed to snap a picture of it fully dressed until after I’d devoured every last bit. Oops… I will have to continue experimenting with ranch so you get more pictures of creamy delectability.

Make it a Meal:
Done. For a veggie version, skip the deli meat and toss in your favorite beans or some cheddar cheese.

Pack it to Go:
Done.

*Ingredients for Sour Cream Veggie Dip
1 cup sour cream.
1 sprig of tarragon, finely chopped.
1 scallion, very finely chopped.
Dash of rice wine vinegar.
Pinch of garlic powder, to taste.
Pinch of smoked paprika, to taste.
Pinch of Trader Joe’s 21 Season Salute, to taste.
Pinch of salt, to taste.
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste.

My husband whipped this up on the fly. Combine and sample and tinker with the ingredients until it pleases you. We went heavy on the garlic powder and light on the smoked paprika.

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Sesame Chicken and Asparagus Lunch Salad, prep one

Arugula, leftover chicken, asparagus, and red wine vinaigrette.

Sesame Chicken and Asparagus Lunch Salad, prep two

Basil, scallion, mushrooms and radishes ready for slicing.

Since I was supposed to be walking out the door for a homeschooling park day when I realized I hadn’t eaten yet, speediness mattered.

I raided the fridge for leftovers and found a jar of shallot red wine vinaigrette, and some sesame chicken with asparagus. I grabbed arugula, mushrooms, basil, and a scallion to make it a meal.

Salad ingredients:
3 generous cups of arugula.
4 radishes, sliced.
3 large mushrooms, sliced.
1 scallion, sliced.
1 fistful of basil, chopped.
2 small sesame chicken tenderloins, sliced.
3 fat spears of asparagus, chopped.

Red Wine Vinegar Shallot Vinaigrette:
(Mine was leftover from a double batch I’d made the day before. If you want to replicate it at home, here are the ingredients for a single batch. Use what you need, there may be extra.)
1 T of red wine vinegar.
3 T of extra virgin olive oil.
1 small shallot, diced.
1 pinch of salt, to taste.

I chopped fast, and dumped everything into the bowl. After drizzling the dressing over the top, I did a quick toss with my fork and then inhaled my lunch. Even when salad is quick to make, it’s never very quick to eat, but I did my best.

Sesame Chicken and Asparagus Lunch Salad

Dressed and ready to eat!

The Verdict:
Diverse flavors, many tasty bites, but the salad as a whole didn’t quite hang together. I think the basil and asparagus didn’t mesh as well as I’d hoped. If I’d had more time, I would’ve made a citronette instead, and replaced the basil with mint and lemon zest. I think a bright, citrus dressing would’ve been a better fit with the chicken and asparagus leftovers. Still, it was a decent lunch and provided me with plenty of energy for the park outing.

Make it a meal:
Already done!

Pack it to go:
This one would work well to go, just as-is, but why bother? Make a citronette instead, and use mint and lemon zest instead of basil. The ingredients are all hardy enough to handle spending the morning in the fridge. So, pack all the salad ingredients in a large container. The dressing goes in a small jar (I like jars that are little enough to nest inside the salad so you’ve just got one item to haul around). Add some dressing (start with a little so you don’t drown the salad), fork toss, and munch away.

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Crispy bits of applewood smoked bacon and chunks of chicken breast nestled in a lush bed of mixed greens.

Two mushrooms.

A small fistful of fresh basil.

Three radishes.

A jar of leftover balsamic vinaigrette.

Can you taste it?

Teaser Salad with Bacon and Chicken

You know what comes next.

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I was in the midst of preparing a very rich meal. I had two plump chickens roasting in the oven, a pot of rice simmering in garlic chicken broth on the stove, and a bowl of sliced leeks ready to add to the saucepan of chanterelles I was stirring on the front burner. I wanted a salad to round out this meal, and I wanted it to be assertive and bright. Something explosive, with strong, clean citrus juiciness to complement the chicken and mushrooms.

I grabbed one of each kind of citrus fruit I had in the house, and a large fistful of mint. I added lots of radishes for crunch, and some scallions for flavor, and I got to work.

Ingredients for Triple Citrus Side Salad

Time to slice and chop.


Greens for Triple Citrus Side Salad

A bed of greens, ready for the triple citrus zest.

Ingredients:
(Serves three or four as a side salad.)
4 cups of mache and mixed greens, including frisee and radicchio.
6 radishes, sliced.
3 scallions, sliced.
1/2 cup of grated golden beet.
1 navel orange, peel sliced off, quartered and sliced.
1 lime, peel sliced off, quartered and sliced.
1 large fistful of mint, chopped.
Zest of one orange.
Zest of one lemon.
Zest of one lime.

Citronette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate extra for a couple of days.)
1 T lemon juice.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1/2 tsp maple syrup.
1 small clove of garlic, crushed and minced.
1 pinch of salt, to taste.

Triple Citrus Side Salad, Orange and Lime

The orange peel is sliced off, and the lime is in step one of peel removal.


Triple Citrus Side Salad, Lime

The lime peel is now completely sliced off.


I started with a gorgeous bed of mache, radicchio, and frisee. Then I zested the citrus over the greens. Once the zest was safely in the salad, I juiced a lemon and prepared my citronette, giving the garlic time to mellow.

I sliced up my radishes and scallions, and turned to the lime and the orange.

I love slicing the peel off of citrus fruits and exposing the bright, jeweled fruit. I did this for the lime and the navel orange, and added them to the salad just before it was time to serve it, since mache wilts easily.

Triple Citrus Side Salad

Ready to serve!


The Verdict:
This salad was exactly what I wanted. My verdict? Amazing. It was quite sour, which I loved. My husband, on the other hand, was less impressed. He wound up leaving a little pile of pretty lime bits on his plate, and it was far too sour for the kids. Make this if you’re a fan of sour deliciousness. If not, move on.
Triple Citrus Side Salad, Plated

Time to eat!

Make it a Meal:
Garbanzo beans, chicken, or any kind of seafood would work very well with this salad.

Pack it to Go:
Citronette in a jar with all the cut fruit. The rest of the salad ingredients in a large glass or stainless steel container with a tupperware-style lid. Shake up the dressing and pour as much as you need over the salad before eating it.

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Sometimes I want my salad simple, clean, maybe even elegant. Sometimes I want a hearty, filling salad. And sometimes? Sometimes, I just want a rioting mosh pit of flavors and textures. I was definitely in the mood for some crazy flavors to explode against each other in my mouth when I made this salad.

I was inspired by a bag of lime & chile mixed nuts from Trader Joe’s, and I wanted to play with that amazing hami melon again, and I had a perfectly ripe avocado sitting on the counter… I just kept adding vegetables and ginger and herbs and garlic and more and more to the cutting board, until I was satisfied. And then I got to work.

Ingredients for Salad with Chili Lime Nuts, Winter Melon, and Avocado Citronette

Bold, colorful, and soon to be delicious.

Ingredients:
(Serves one for lunch.)
3-4 cups of arugula and asian greens.
3 mushrooms, quartered.
5 radishes, quartered.
2 scallions, sliced.
2 T dried cranberries.
2 T lime & chile mixed nuts (from Trader Joe’s).
1 fistful cilantro, chopped.
1 fistful basil, chopped.
1/2 cup hami melon, cut into bite sized pieces.
Zest of one lemon.

Avocado Citronette:
(Use only what you need. Extra can be refrigerated for a day.)
1 T lemon juice.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1/2 avocado, spooned into the jar.
2 tsp fresh grated ginger.
1 small clove of garlic, smashed and minced.
1/2 tsp maple syrup.
Pinch of salt, to taste.

I was making two salads, so I doubled all of the ingredients listed above. I started by creating my beds of greens, and I zested a lemon over each container of greens. Then I juiced the lemon and made two batches of the citronette. I chopped and sliced and chopped some more, divvying the fruit, veggies, and herbs up between the two salads. Finally, I packed both up and looked forward to the wild party my mouth would have at lunch time.

Salad with Chile Lime Nuts, Winter Melon, and Avocado Citronette

Yummy crazy flavor explosion.

The Verdict:
This worked. Completely intense, and incredibly tasty. I loved the spicy nuts with the creamy avocado citronette. And I loved the crunchy radishes with the crisp melon. The mushrooms did what they always do — soaked up the dressing and exploded. It was good. Crazy good. My anticipation and excitement were so great, I completely forgot to take a picture of it before devouring it. You’ll just have to imagine it in all it’s glossily dressed splendor.

Make it a Meal:
Done.

Salad with Chile Lime Nuts, Winter Melon, and Avocado Citronette, Packed.

Packed to go.

Pack it to Go:
Done. As usual, pack your dressing in a small jar (large enough to hold the avocado) and make your salad in a large glass or stainless steel container with a good rubber lid. Add the citronette right before eating, fork-toss or put the lid back on your salad container and give it a few good shakes to help combine everything.

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Dinnertime again, with just one hour for me to make food and for all of us to finish eating it. Luckily, my husband was home and he pitched in — he pan fried our wild snapper fillets and sliced the bread. I made the salad.

I knew I wanted something light and lemony, with lots of crunch. I was hoping the kids would enjoy it as well, since I didn’t have time to deal with broccoli or any of their other favorite veggies, and they’d already polished off a five pound bag of mandarins for lunch. I used romaine as a base, for the crunchy, clean flavor that my munchkins prefer. I added a navel orange for bright color and juiciness, avocado for creamy deliciousness, scallions for a mild onion tang, and radishes for more color and that perfect peppery crunch. I also mixed up a lemon shallot citronette, and grabbed a handful of mint for the salad. Mint is an excellent brightener, and it works incredibly well with any citronette. I wanted the salad to be really clean and simple, to complement the fish, and to appeal to the kids.

Simple Citrus Side Salad with Radish and Avocado

Rainbow of ingredients, ready for action.

Ingredients:
2 hearts of romaine, chopped.
3 scallions, chopped.
6 radishes, sliced.
1 avocado, quartered and sliced.
1 navel orange, peel sliced off, quartered and sliced, for maximum shiny jewel appeal.
1 fistful of mint, chopped.
Zest of one lemon.

Citronette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate leftovers for a couple of days.)
1 T lemon juice.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1 shallot, diced.
1/2 tsp maple syrup.
1 pinch of salt, to taste.

Simple Citrus Side Salad with Radish and Avocado

The finished salad, tossed and ready to serve.

I dealt with the lettuce first, making a nice base in the bowl. I zested the lemon over the lettuce, juiced the lemon, and made the citronette. My shallot was on the large side, and I thought about using half of it instead of all of it, but tossed it all in on a whim. I chopped and sliced the rest of the fruit and veggies, added them to the bowl, and then drizzled it all with citronette. While I tossed the salad, my husband started dishing up the fish and bread. My kids asked for salad, and two of the three came back for generous second servings.

Simple Citrus Side Salad with Radish and Avocado, Plated

On the plate, ready to eat!

The Verdict:
In case you missed it above, let me repeat: my kids asked for salad, and two of the three actually came back for seconds.

Yes. Total success. This salad rocked. It was incredible with the fish. Light, perfect flavors. Just the right combination of crunchy and barely sweet. Really delicious. My husband and I agreed that it was a real winner.

I do think in the future I’ll use less shallot, but the extra just coated the bowl and didn’t end up having any impact on the salad itself, so it isn’t really a big deal.

Make it a Meal:
It’s a very light, bright salad. I think if I were making it a meal on it’s own, I’d want something simple to add — grilled shrimp would be really good, or any other simple seafood. I think it would also work with grilled chicken. For a vegetarian version, I’m always a fan of garbanzo beans and lemon, although if I added chick peas I would cut out the avocado, or add another crunchy element, and I would swap garlic for shallots in the citronette… So that turns it into a completely different salad pretty quickly. I think shelled edamame would work well without any other changes, or some tasty toasted nuts.

Pack it to Go:
Easy enough — the orange goes in the jar with the dressing so that it’s juices don’t wilt the romaine. If you add protein to make it a stand alone meal, put the beans, chicken, fish or shrimp, (chilled, not hot, since heat also wilts lettuce) in the salad container. As always, leave space for fork tossing and combine it all when you’re ready to eat. Use your fork to pull the fruit out of the dressing so you aren’t forced to use all the citronette — remember, you might not want it all. Always add your dressing a little at a time, to taste.

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More often than not, I’m groggily making lunch salads for the grown-ups in the house at 7:00 AM.

Two Salads in One

Some of the ingredients, ready for chopping.

Two Salads in One - Lemon

Lemon juice extraction time.

Two Salads in One - Mint

Here's the mint, ready for chopping.

That’s what I did this morning.
A quick glance at the randomness in the fridge left me with the desire to create a base salad that would work well with the two different pieces of meat I had available — one last small tenderloin of sesame chicken, and a little leftover steak with sauteed mushrooms. I decided that a citronette would work well with both, and pulled out my hearts of romaine and a little pile of citrus fruit, as well as mint, radishes, mushrooms and more.


Ingredients:
(serves one as a lunch salad, or two as a side salad)
1 heart of romaine, chopped.
2 mushrooms, sliced.
3 radishes, sliced.
1 mandarin, peeled and carefully sectioned (membranes
left intact).
1 scallion, chopped.
1 fistful of mint, chopped.
Zest of 1 lemon.

Citronette:
(use what you need, there may be extra)
1 T lemon juice.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1/2 small clove of garlic, smashed and minced.
1/2 tsp maple syrup.
1 pinch of salt, to taste.


I doubled all of the ingredients above, and made two identical salads side by side. My husband’s salad went into a glass pyrex bowl with a lid for easy transport, while mine went into a regular bowl and then right back into the fridge for later. I mixed both batches of citronette in small jars.

I started by chopping the veggies and tossing them into their respective bowls. Then, I carefully peeled and sectioned the mandarins, trying not to rip them open. My goal was for their own skins to preserve them in the bowls, so they wouldn’t be leaking liquid onto the greens and wilting them. It worked. I always think citrus fruits are prettier when they’re sliced open, but they travel in salads much, much better when you leave the membranes intact. Mandarin wedges are perfectly bite sized, and are an ideal fruit for salads that will sit in the fridge for a while before being eaten.

Once I’d constructed the salads, I mixed up the citronette. I snuggled my husband’s dressing jar into the pyrex bowl, while mine joined my salad in the fridge. I used kitchen shears to slice the last piece of sesame chicken over my husband’s salad, and then I slapped the cheery red lid on top. I didn’t bother slicing up the steak for mine — I saved that for right before I tossed it and ate it, about four or five hours later.

Two Salads in One - Chicken

Here's the chicken version, ready for travel.

The Verdict:
I can’t tell you exactly what my husband thought of the sesame chicken salad, but he was definitely very grateful. (And I’m quite sure he liked it a lot more than the sesame chicken/red wine vinaigrette combo I tried the other day.) My lunch was absolutely delicious.

Two Salads in One - Steak

And the steak salad, ready to eat.

I really appreciated how different it was from the pear and arugula salad we had last night, with the very same steak and mushrooms. This time, the steak was cold, and sliced directly into the salad. It was a bright, refreshing meal. I also love knowing that all the vitamin C from the fruit and the citronette helped my body make the most of that iron rich steak. I think my favorite bites included steak, mandarin wedges, and mint coated romaine. Crunchy, juicy, sweet, and savory. Exactly how I love my salads.

Make it a Meal:
Done — two different leftover meat suggestions. Both worked well, so make your own choice: chicken, or steak?

Pack it to Go:
Done. (more…)

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