JOPLIN, Mo. —
We know deep in our gluttonous guts that eating is about hunger. Quality should trump quantity.
I grew up loving all-you-can-eat buffets, so it's been hard retraining my brain and stomach. I still want to stuff myself until my breathing becomes labored; gorge until my stomach and lungs are fighting for space. But I don't. Usually.
Salad bars are a fun way to bring the buffet experience home. Right now, spring greens are ripe for the picking in your garden. Pop into the farmers market for more varieties, such as kale, collard and turnip greens, spinach, arugula and beautiful lettuces. Pull out all of your soup, cereal and mixing bowls. Fill them with everything you could possible want on a salad. Obvious veggies aside, I like to offer beans, sunflower seeds, different varieties of cheese, chopped boiled eggs, mushrooms, olives, beets and anything else I have in the fridge. Add tuna, crab, baby shrimp and chopped chicken to make the salad feel more like a meal. Offer cooked barley, quinoa or serve hunks of crusty bread, and the meal is complete. I don't see how anyone couldn't love salad bar night.
I love the variety of a salad bar, but sometimes we fall prey to the items that make a salad worse for us than a main dish. When making a salad bar at home, keep serving sizes in mind, especially for the foods that aren't vegetables (the cheese and eggs, for example). Dressing is the main culprit. A serving size is usually 2 tablespoons. Measure it out a couple of times so you can eyeball your pouring more precisely. It's best to make your own dressing; the bottled stuff is usually full of sugar, bad fats and words you can't pronounce.
I prepare a huge salad weekly that waits in the fridge, ready to stand in as the main meal or side dish at any moment. Each time I prepare the big salad, I make a fresh batch of vinaigrette. I keep mine pretty simple, using olive oil and balsamic or red-wine vinegar with a touch of Dijon mustard and honey. I switch it up when I'm feeling saucy by adding a dollop of plain yogurt and hot sauce. Salad dressing can be tweaked in a number of ways, depending on what you prefer. Add ginger, garlic, avocado or anything else you like.
Roasted tomato vinaigrette
12 ounces plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise and cored
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square glass baking dish with cooking spray.
Toss tomatoes, garlic, oil, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Spread the tomatoes in the prepared baking dish. Bake until the tomatoes are broken down and the juices are thick and syrupy, about 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 35 minutes.
Transfer the tomatoes to a blender. Add vinegar and puree. Use caution when blending hot mixtures. Cool completely before using.
Creamy cilantro dressing
2 green onions
3/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 ounces soft tofu, drained and crumbled (1 to 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup rice vinegar
Thinly slice one green onion; set aside. Cut the other onion into pieces; place in a blender. Add the cilantro, garlic, honey, oil, soy sauce, red pepper flakes and salt; cover and process until blended. Add tofu and vinegar; cover and process until smooth.
Transfer to a small bowl; stir in the sliced onion. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
Strawberry lemon basil dressing
For the dressing (yields 2/3 cup):
1 cup fresh strawberries
1/4 cup packed fresh basil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup, to taste
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
For the salad:
Slivered almonds, toasted
Shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
In a food processor, add the strawberries, basil, lemon juice and oil. Process until smooth. Add the salt, pepper and maple syrup and process again. Assemble the salad as desired.
Adapted from ohsheglows.com
Low-calorie creamy balsamic salad dressing
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons nonfat Greek yogurt
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Mix well, store in fridge.
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