Monday, July 18, 2011

A Colorful Plate: Salad & Stir-Fry

I've read that the more colorful a dish is, the better it is for you.  Think bright red tomatoes, deep purple eggplant, and crisp green beans rather than red meat, white meat, or orange roughy.  They say brightly colored food packs a lot of nutrients that can aid in cancer prevention, and just generally make your body happier.  I'm not sure if those are true statements, but I'd like to share two colorful dishes Dan and I made yesterday.

The Big Salad
Eating hot food on a hot day is not something I enjoy, so in the summer I make a huge bowl of salad every week.  Most days, I bring a giant tub of it into work for lunch with a little olive oil & balsamic mixture as dressing.  I've gotten at least one comment that my salads actually look good which is high praise coming from a non-salad-eating co-worker!

I do have some tips for making a potentially mundane bowl of vegetables more exciting.  

1.  Go nuts!  Literally.  I sprinkle sunflower seeds and sliced almonds on top of every salad.  They add a lovely crunch and great taste.  If you are worried about calories, cut them out somewhere else.  These are too yummy to miss!  (Just kidding, sort of.  Another good idea is to throw some chickpeas or beans into the mix.  You get the earthy taste of nuts with less calories.)
2.  If the salad is a little boring flavor-wise, throw some fresh salsa on top.  Trader Joe's make a deliciously vinegary mild tomato salsa with a ton of flavor.  
3.  Chop it up.  For some reason, lettuce and most other vegetables taste better when they are chopped into tiny pieces.  This is why restaurants offer "chopped salad" on their menus.  All it takes is a few extra minutes.

In this salad: chopped up red and green head lettuce, cucumbers, spring onions, shredded carrots, green and orange bell peppers, organic grape tomatoes
Other things that are good in salad: red onions, arugula, fresh mint, fresh cilantro, chickpeas, black beans, red cabbage, broccoli

The Stir-Fry
The great thing about stir-fries is that you can throw in almost anything and it will taste good.  You need  a really big pan or wok to cook it all and a good knife for chopping, but that's about it. Whatever vegetables you have leftover in your fridge, whatever they had available at the farmer's market that week, doesn't matter because it will all taste good.  I'm a big fan of mushrooms, carrots, and sugar snap peas so those will be staples in mine if I have them.  Ginger, garlic, and onion makes a delicious base.  Ours turned out really well - light on the sauce, but tons of flavor!

Stir-fry tips:
1.  Don't buy a pre-made stir-fry sauce.  It's very likely whoever manufactured it put crap in there that you wouldn't eat if you knew what it was.  Peanut butter mixed with low sodium soy sauce (a trick I learned from You Blog What You Eat) makes a yummy and simple dressing.
2. Always add cashews!  They taste fantastic with the flavors of the veggies and spiciness of the peppers.  Add them at the very end because they just need to be heated up but not cooked.
3. Don't overcook the veggies.  5-7 minutes on medium to high heat is usually enough to get them crisp-tender.  Serve over rice or rice noodles.  We made brown rice to go with ours.

In this dish: zucchini, broccoli florets, crimini and shitake mushrooms, sugar snap peas, sliced carrots, ginger, garlic, shallots, hot green peppers, bell peppers, cashews, crushed red pepper flakes, and sauce: 1 cup vegetable broth, 1/4 cup water, 2T low sodium soy sauce, dash of freshly ground pepper, 1t sugar, 1 small scoop natural peanut butter

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