Salads can taste good. Really.

30 Jan

Spinach and Trader Joe's mini heirloom tomatoes topped with Bogart's brisket. (Ref "T" and "R.")

Salads are not the most exciting food out there. (Like that’ s a national secret.)

When you think “salad,” you probably envision a pile of junky lettuce topped with pedestrian ingredients, all swimming in a fatty creamy, artery-clogging dressing. When the server plunks this down in front of you, you wish you would have ordered the bacon double cheeseburger instead. Sadly, many salads contain ingredients that in terms of nutrition, you probably would have been better off getting the burger. Guess what? It doesn’t have to be that way. You will never see us eating a plate of shredded greens tossed in nothing but lemon juice. That’s not a meal; that’s rabbit food.

We’re not rabbits, but we’re not cavemen, either. Stick around and we’ll show you how to eat a salad like a gourmand, but with a nod to Paleo diet considerations. In just a few minutes you can make a delicious salad that won’t go straight to your hips, and you won’t nurse a raging case of food coma and PTDG (post-traumatic-dining guilt).

For your reading and eating pleasure, here are a few key ingredients for making a tasty salad. Give our tips a whirl, and pretty soon your kid’s McDonalds will look like the processed garbage it really is. (For more salad ideas, take a peek at Mark Bittman’s 101 Simple Salads. You know the drill…..stay away from dairy or bread if you can.)

Tips (And yes, the ABC-thing is the goal here and will probably fail miserably. Contain your laughter if you can.)

  • Avocados. These things are super versatile and they add a creaminess to salads similar to that provided by dairy products. Yes they have fat in them, but relax because it’s the good kind. Don’t eat twelve a day or anything (you’d be tipping the scales AND broke), but throwing one on your salad for lunch a couple of days a week is healthy and it adds some variety to your salad repertoire. As a bonus to the salad-leery who fear a pile of green healthy stuff won’t satisfy you, avocados have that great combination of protein and fat that will fill you up. Go on. Try it. Don’t know how to pick a good one? Check back with Palatable Paleo later this week for an avocado primer and a recipe for guac, just in time for the Super Bowl.
  • Bacon is the holy grail of meat. Don’t believe us? Check the Periodic Table of Meats. You don’t need much to add a smoky, salty punch to your greens. What’s more, the bacon drippings are a rich, porky base fat for a quick dressing. Get a bed of romaine, add the aforementioned sexy creamy avocado, a pile of lean bacon and a few heirloom cherry tomatoes with some homemade bacon-based vinaigrette and — Bam — you’ve got a Paleo Cobb Salad. Extra hungry? Drop a chicken breast on top, too.
  • Cilantro, and not just as a flavor enhancer. Use cilantro, basil, mint, or any other mild-flavored leafy herb as a supplement to the beautiful, lush green foundation of your salad.
  • Dijon mustard mixed up with a diced shallot, dash of lemon juice and bit of oil makes a killer dressing in less time than you can say “Hidden Valley Ranch.”
  • A couple of eggs from our own chickens.

    Eggs — hard-boiled, poached and even fried — are a good protein source to top your salad if you don’t have meat readily available. Bonus, the yolk supplements your vinegar and oil, and it drenches your greens with its warm yellow richness.

  • Fruit, including apples, berries, pears, grapes, grapefruit, oranges, pomegranates and whatever good-looking sweet stuff you find at the grocery store or the farmers market make the salad complex in flavor and texture. The sweet pairs well with nuts. (Ref “N.”) Don’t forget dried fruits, and don’t be afraid to pair a couple of them, e.g. fresh d’anjou pear and dried cranberry is a classic flavor combination.
  • Greens. You know the greener the better, but ya don’t have to eat the same ol’ boring Romaine lettuce all the time. Try field greens, baby spinach, arugula and anything in-season at the farmers market. Make yourself try something new.
  • Honey in your dressing. Yes, Paleo people cut out sweets, but a teaspoon of good organic honey isn’t going to kill anybody. (That’s why this is Palatable Paleo, not “Take all the joy out of life” Paleo.) Give this quick little dressing a whirl.
  •  Immersion Blender. No, this isn’t food, but this thing will change your life. I don’t care what you have to do — sell your first born, pick up a paper route, whatever — but get your hands on one. (I’m a fan of the Cuisinart, a wonderful gift from Tom last year. It gets used at least once a week.) What does this have to do with salads? Lots. It’s a relatively mess-free way to whip up dressings in a hurry. Trust me, get one.
  • Jalapenos, banana peppers and any other spicy pickled condiment that floats your boat. Not only do they add a punchy heat to your salad, but it’s a sandwichy flavor your mouth doesn’t expect from a salad. Try this Antipasto Salad with some diced ham, pepperoni or your favorite cured meat.
  • Kebob. Grill your favorite kebob, and instead of serving it on a bed or rice pilaf, give it a shot on top of a salad. Making lamb? Pop a couple of skewers on a simple Greek salad. (If you’re behaving yourself, ditch the feta.)
  • Lunchmeat. Watch the salt, but lean ham or turkey add convenient meatyness to salad leafiness. Like the greens, get out to your neighborhood deli or other local altar of blessed cured deliciousness (in St. Louis, check out VolpiG&W Sausage and Salume Beddu) and experiment. Turkey pastrami, coppa, venison sausage, bresaola….the list goes on and on.
  • Mushrooms. They’re good for you and they add bulk and beefiness to the salad. Female Palatable Paleo-er doesn’t like them raw, so she sautees them or nukes them in the microwave to make them warm and tender before tossing them in the salad.
  • Nuts. Throw a handful of almonds or pistachios on top to make crunchy crunchy Paleo goodness. Nuts (we always use the lightly salted variety) complement the flavors of meat, fruit and veggies. They add good fats and savory bulk to your dish of green.
  • Olives. (Just don’t tell Tom.) Ditch the tasteless plain black olives and score some briny Kalamata or Niçoise.
  • Protein. Meat, meat, meat. Lunchmeat, leftover pork loin, rotisserie chicken, shrimp, smoked salmon, canned tuna, a steak, bacon (pork, bison, beef, or turkey), chicken, duck, etc.
  • Quiche. (Yep, reaching a bit for “Q.”) This is an elegant combination — a wedge of quiche (working on a paleo-y version of this) and a tossed salad. If you are the type of person who isn’t satisfied with a big salad for a meal, go halfsies. Do a half salad with a paleo soup, quiche, or a protein (ref “P”).
  • Restaurant leftovers. Grab those last few morsels of last night’s steak and broccoli out of the styrofoam container in the fridge. It was good last night, chances are it’ll be better today tossed with a few of your own ingredients. (The picture at the beginning of this post had un-sauced Bogart’s brisket on it. If you’re in St. Louis, make sure you stop by and grab some ribs or pastrami. The food’s phenomenal, but the folks who work there are even better. Go now.)
  • Shallots are indispensible to salad dressings. They look like a cross between a clove of garlic and an onion, and they have a delicately-onion-y flavor profile that complements darn near anything. One of the best uses of these delicate little nuggets in the whole wide world? Salade Lyonnaise, the perfect example of a classic (French!) recipe that is totally Paleo without any tweaking or tinkering. It’s fancy-schmancy and quick to make. If you wanna bulk it up, drop a seared salmon filet on top. Bam. (Note: The y-chromosome of this blog hates frisée like a papercut, so she subs it for field greens or arugula.)
  • Tomatoes. In the winter and spring, the regular-sized varieties are mealy and tasteless, but you can still score good quality cherry and grape tomatoes. Trader Joe’s shopper? Check out their mini heirlooms. They’re yummy and their variety of shape and color look pretty darn good on a plate. (Yep, we’re down with taste AND plate aesthetics. That’s how we roll.)
  • Unsalad salad. I know, I know, I can hear your “WTF?” from here. What I mean by “unsalad” is that salads don’t have to be assembled in the regular yummy-stuff-on-lettuce configuration. Nobody said you HAD to put lettuce in a salad. Have a load of beautiful veggies that go well together? Toss them with dressing, sans lettuce. Why ruin a good thing? Don’t worry; we won’t tell. Here’s one of our little creations that I make from time to time.
  • Vinegar & Oil. We don’t keep store-bought salad dressings around the house. (We’re not snobs, promise.) The stuff you get from the store has a bunch of fake crap in it, and it’s crazy to buy when you can take 30 seconds to make your own paleo dressing. You can have fun with this. Generally, it’s two parts oil to one part vinegar  Stop at Vom Fass or another specialty food store to pick up a few different vinegars and oils. You’ll be shocked at the varieties available and the delicious flavor combinations you can come up with. Have fun with this and get creative. You’ll surprise the hell out of yourself.
  • Wilted [insert salad here]. Salads don’t have to be cold and crispy. They can be warm and sultry. Try this. (Note the reappearance of shallot and Dijon mustard. These are ingredients in the salad dressing canon, folks.)
  • Xavier Soup. With your salad.
  • Yellow peppers, sauteed yellow squash. Put them on top of your salad.
  • Zest, from whatever citrus floats your boat. Either loose in salads or in the dressing, zest adds a jolt of happy freshness to whatever you’re cooking. If you’re making anything Greek or north African, you can’t escape it. Pick up a zester to make the process a little easier (a microplane grater can work in a pinch, too), and give this unsalad salad a shot.

Garbage Breakfast

14 Jan

Eating Paleo isn’t too hard when you keep good ingredients on-hand. Case in point? This morning’s breakfast. This was thrown together with no plan, the first things I saw in the fridge, and the power of a slightly-hungover brain. (Yeah, I know booze isn’t Paleo, but my bestie doesn’t come into town every day. Bite me.)

The meal: Half a sliced avocado topped with lightly sauteed spinach and mushrooms and a fried egg. Accompanied by blueberries and a Trader Joe’s chicken sausage and you’ve got a filling breakfast that will keep you going all morning. It received an enthusiastic thumbs up from darling Tom.