Book View Café Eats: Salad as a Meal

by Nancy Jane Moore

Almond Hershey'sI associate reading with food. When I was a kid, we all gathered around the breakfast table with the newspaper and read over the bacon and eggs.

There wasn’t a library in my hometown, but the bookmobile came weekly. My mother, sister, and I would go check out as many books as they’d let us have, and then pop into the grocery store next door, where we’d get a box of Hershey bars with almonds.

Then we’d go back home and curl up in our favorite spots with our books and two Hershey bars each. As far as my mother was concerned, that constituted dinner.

Needless to say, I did not learn about healthy eating from my mother. But she did teach me how to dress a salad — you would never have found commercial salad dressing in our refrigerator and you won’t find it in mine today.

I live alone, so I’m usually cooking just for myself. I want something tasty and healthy, but I want to be able to throw it together in about 15 minutes, so I usually make one-pot or one-bowl meals.

It’s summer, so salad makes a perfect meal (except that the greens have all gone to seed here in Texas with the summer heat, so you have to use ones from elsewhere). This isn’t my mother’s salad — that tended to be romaine lettuce and tomatoes, with perhaps a bit of bell pepper or cucumber — but it does incorporate her salad dressing instructions.

Spinach-Quinoa Salad

3 loosely packed cups of spinach, torn into eating-sized bits

1 cup of kale or chard (optional), cut or torn into eating-sized bits

a quarter cup of broccoli florets, chopped into eating-sized bits

2 ounces cooked meat, cubed (I use meat ends from the deli counter at the store, but canned tuna is also good)

1 ounce bleu cheese, crumbled (other cheeses can be substituted — I sometimes use parmesan)

a quarter of a large avocado

a quarter of a mango

1 green onion

1 small serrano pepper (or milder pepper if you prefer)

a third of a cup of cooked quinoa (I cook quinoa up in advance and keep it in the refrigerator, but it only takes 20 minutes to cook. Use 2 parts water to one part quinoa: bring the water to a boil, add the quinoa, and then turn the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for about 20 minutes.)

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil

a half of a lime

Put the spinach and other greens in a large bowl — they should take up no more than two-thirds of the bowl, so that you can mix the salad and dressing without it slopping over the sides.

Add the broccoli. Chop the onion and add it. Mince the hot pepper and add it. Toss the ingredients so that everything is mixed together.

Chop the avocado into bite-sized pieces and do the same with the mango. Add them and toss them with the greens and other vegetables.

Add the quinoa and toss again.

Add the chopped meat and toss again.

Add the olive oil. You want just enough to coat all the greens — too little will make the salad dry, but too much makes it soggy. Add a tablespoon, then toss the salad, then add another tablespoon and toss again. If some greens are still dry, then add a third tablespoon of oil.

Add the crumbled bleu cheese. Toss again.

Squeeze the lime over the salad. Toss again very thoroughly.

You’re ready to eat!

A few notes:

  • I don’t add salt when I’m using prepared meat and a salty cheese like bleu cheese, because the salt in those items will provide all the salt I want.
  • You can add any vegetables you like to this. I often stick other things in, but this is the basic recipe.
  • I’ve called for mangoes rather than tomatoes because I’m very picky about tomatoes and only eat fresh grown ones in season (the others just lack flavor). But obviously tomatoes work.
  • I never use lettuce, because lettuce has so little nutritional value — it’s mostly water — and I like raw greens. But you can use your own preferred mix of leafy stuff.
  • Lemons can be used in lieu of limes, and vinegar can be used as well. The general rule is two parts oil to one part vinegar or lime juice.
  • Pretty much anything can be added or subtracted from this salad. Experiment!
  • The trick to dressing the salad is to toss it with the oil first and then to add the cheese and lime juice and toss again.
  • And toss vigorously — that’s why you want the large bowl, so that you don’t end up with salad all over the counter!

And, of course, I read while I eat my salad.

PS: I still like almond Hershey’s, but I prefer them for dessert rather than for dinner.

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