As promised, I’m going to provide you with some delicious dressing recipes for the gorgeous salad you are now growing. (You did plant your lettuce seeds, right?)
But first, let’s talk about…
Why Salad is So Good for Us
Most of us know that veggies and leafy greens do our bodies good. And as with most foods in nature, color generally indicates health and nutrient density, and so the darker the color of the salad green, the more nutritious it is. Folic acid is supplied by the darker-colored greens, along with beta-carotene. Most salad greens are also good sources of vitamin C, potassium and, of course, fiber. Many provide vitamin A, as well.
But the good stuff doesn’t stop there! More important than providing micronutrients, raw salads provide our body with living enzymes. Enzymes are essential to all functions of life, most notably digestion. Eating a salad before your meal provides your body with enzymes so that the rest of your food can be broken down and used.
How to Screw Up Your Salad
As good as salad is, there are ways to negate all the positives in your salad bowl. The biggies are:
*Using a store-bought dressing. A salad dressing with preservatives (such as those added to hydrogenated oils or the common sodium benzoate) will kill off the beneficial enzymes. (This is what preservatives are designed to do, since enzymes cause food to break down (rot).) Beyond that, most of the ingredients in store-bought dressings are dangerous: Cheap, rancid oils (such as soybean), high fructose corn syrup, artificial colorings, dangerous chemicals and additives (like MSG)… (But don’t worry, homemade dressings are easy to make and are WAY MORE DELICIOUS!)
*Using a low-fat dressing or avoiding dressing. It used to be that I thought it was the height of health to eat salad and raw veggies without any dressing. If anything, I would use plain vinegar and salt. But I was wrong, wrong, wrong! We need to eat fat along with our veggies so we can absorb all the good stuff in them. Even mainstream nutritionists will tell you this. In fact, some mainstream studies have stated that a minimum of six grams of fat is necessary to be consumed along with vegetables to benefit from their consumption. I submit that even more high-quality fat is necessary, as the most important micronutrients are fat soluble. Low-fat/ no-fat dressings don’t provide the necessary fat, and have even more detestable ingredients than store-bought full-fat ones to make up for their lack of flavor.
*Putting certain vegetables in raw. Certain greens should not be included in a raw salad because they are high in oxalic acid, which is irritating to the mouth and intestinal tract, and blocks iron and calcium absorption. It may contribute to the formation of kidney stones. You can reduce the oxalic acid by lightly steaming or cooking the greens in which it is found: spinach, chard, parsley, chives, purslane and beet greens, to name a few. Now, don’t stress about a tiny bit, but also don’t eat a raw spinach salad every day. (Oxalic acid will leech into cooking water, so it’s best to avoid these greens is soups and stocks, as well.)
Cruciferous vegetables should not be eaten raw because they are goitrogenic, which means they contain chemicals that block the production of thyroid hormones in your body. Examples of these include arugula, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, collard greens, bok choy, brussel sprouts, radish, rutabaga and watercress. Again, an occasional helping of coleslaw isn’t going to be dangerous, but don’t make a habit of regularly eating crucifers raw. (Cooking reduces the goitrogenic chemicals by 2/3.)
Finally, there are some veggies that aren’t harmful raw, but are just better for you when lightly cooked. Examples of these include carrots, asparagus and French beans. Steaming or blanching makes the nutrients more available.
How to Make a Perfect Salad
*Use fresh greens and veggies in various colors, avoiding the ones above.
*Cut everything into small pieces. Sally Fallon writes in Nourishing Traditions, “Chopping or grating vegetables is the first step in the process of thorough digestion, leaving less for the teeth and digestive juices to do, and allowing more surface area of the vegetables to be coated with healthful dressing.”
*Add in cheese, particularly raw cheese. Many imported cheeses, such as Roquefort and Parmesan, are made from raw milk. (This is particularly synergistic if using flax oil in your dressing.)
*Top with fish, shrimp, chicken, beef, lamb or hard boiled eggs to make your salad a meal.
*Use a high-enzyme, high-fat dressing made of raw ingredients: high quality oils, vinegar, lemon juice, whey, avocado and raw or cultured cream. (Nourishing Traditions is an excellent source of dressing recipes, in addition to those I share below.) You’ll probably even find your own recipes and adaptations as you go. Comment below with any salad dressing ideas you have!
Salad Dressing Recipes
*Mexi-Ranch. Mix prepared ranch dressing, above, with homemade or organic jarred salsa. (I usually do about half and half.) Amazing on a salad topped with thinly sliced red onions, avocado and grilled steak.
*Creamy Caesar (The quick & dirty version). Blend 1/4 cup homemade mayo, 1/4 cup olive oil, juice of half a lemon and 2 cloves garlic (crushed). Add in several dashes organic Worcestershire sauce (Annie’s, Wizard’s or homemade), and salt and pepper to taste. (Chopped anchovy fillets are optional, but adjust salt if using.)
*Creamy Caesar (A bit more traditional). In food processor, blend 3 cloves garlic, 4 Tbsp. raw vinegar (red wine or apple cider), 3/4 cup mayo, 2 or more anchovy fillets, 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce (see above), 2 tsp. Dijon mustard, 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil while blending until emulsified. Add in sea salt and black pepper to taste.
-Note: All Caesar salads are made from romaine lettuce, and usually include grated Parmesan and additional black pepper on top, as well.
*Thousand Island. Blend mayo and organic or homemade organic ketchup (can substitute tomato paste). I like it with about 1-1/2 times as much mayo as ketchup. Thin with apple cider vinegar if desired. Add in organic relish (ingredients are so-so) or, better yet, chop up real fermented pickles. (This is what I use on our ‘Big Mac’ dinner salad… I’ll have to share that when I do another recipe roundup…)
*Miso Dressing. This is my daughter’s favorite. Blend 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup filtered water, 1/4 cup mellow fermented miso, 1-1/2 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar and 2 Tbsp. organic brown syrup (or sub your healthy sweetener of choice). Mix in sliced green onion, if desired.
*Blue Cheese Dressing. Combine about 2 oz. of blue cheese (you can probably find a raw blue in your grocery store’s cheese department), broken up with a fork, with about 2 Tbsp. raw whole milk until reasonably smooth. Add in 2 Tbsp. sour cream (can sub fresh cream), 1-2 Tbsp. mayo, 1 tsp. lemon juice, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar, a pinch of garlic powder and sea salt and pepper to taste.
*Red Pepper Sweet Vinaigrette. Melt 2 tsp. red pepper jelly (you can probably only find this without food coloring and other yucky ingredients if you make it yourself or get it from a farmstand or farmer’s market, as I did). Add in 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil and mix well. Delicious on a salad of dark greens with red onions and sliced strawberries.
*Make Your Own Vinaigrette. Start with extra virgin olive oil. Remember these ratios: Americans tend to use a 1:3 vinegar to oil ratio, whereas the French tend to use 1:5. (I actually use a ratio closer to 1:2 (or more, see above!), because I loooooove vinegar.) You can sub any acid for all or part of the vinegar, such as whey or lemon juice. Add in spices, prepared mustard, garlic… whatever you like. Adding in a bit of unrefined flaxseed oil boosts the omega 3 fatty acids (linolenic acid).
So, who else is having a salad for lunch today?!
P.S. There is also a great salad dressing recipe in Against the Grain, my current favorite cookbook!
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