As we’re into summer now – though Scotland seems to have failed to get the memo so far – I thought I’d put together a little list of ideas for salad dressings. Salad dressings often get bad rep. and it’s often assumed that all dressings are high calorie and high in saturated fats. This is not wholly true though. There are a number of ways you can have a salad dressed with a proper healthy option. The fats in these dressings are ones which are good for you and which you do need, rather than a lot of saturated fats of which you don’t want a lot. It is more the acidic content you want to be wary of when it comes to vinegar-based or lemon based dressings (and that’s regarding your teeth not your body as a whole!) But as long as you don’t go overboard with dressing you’ll be fine. As always, it’s about balance, moderation, and common sense.
Here is my suggestions of dressing ingredients:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The standard minimal dressing if used on its own – plain but still flavoursome. Go for as high quality as you can as the better quality the nicer it is as a dressing. You want a full, rich, taste.
The history of this oil is immense – stretching way back to Ancient times, favoured by the Meditteranean for centuries and one reason for the area being renowned for having a healthy diet.
It is high in mono and polyunsaturated fats – the good fats.
Mixed with vinegars it makes lovely dressings.
It can also be infused with fresh herbs such as sprigs of rosemary (just pop the rosemary into the bottle in which it is stored and leave it until the hints of the flavour can be tasted in the oil)
You can also buy oils pre-infused with not only herbs, but also chilli, or other things like red peppers, or tomatoes.
A cheaper alternative to olive oil, it doesn’t have the distinctive flavour and is made from the seeds of flowers but if looking for a milder alternative to olive oil, then this may be a good oil to try.
Like olive oil it is high in the good fats.
If you’re in Scotland, like I am, you’ll know that at this time of year many fields are bright yellow due to the growth of Rapeseed, so if you like supporting local produce rather than imported, then that could be another reason for opting to use this.
Alternatively use some parts olive oil with some parts rape in dressings. You’d be in good company as if you check the labels of a lot of pre-packed salads at the moment, you’ll find that’s what supermarkets are doing too! (Cost effective)
Cold-pressed Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is one of the new ‘superfood’ craze foods and if were it not for the fact I’m über obsessed with coconut in all forms (fresh, desiccated, milk, water), I may not have tried it because as with all new ‘super foods’ it comes with a ‘nice’ price tag! Not too extreme, but I still would only buy it when its on offer.
This oil is solid at room temperature so if using as a dressing it will need to be warmed up (just leave some out in a small cup and it will melt if it is a warm day)
Unlike, traditional ‘healthy oils’ coconut oil does have saturated fats but from my reading on the subject, the form in which the fats take, are not as bad as other saturated fats in the way our body deals with them. (A quick search on a search engine will let you see my sources so go give them a read if you’re interested. As I make clear, I’m no nutritionist just a passionate healthy foodie who wants to keep her body as healthy as possible!)
The taste of the oil is gorgeous as it gives everything a coconut taste – hardly unsurprising (!) I use it a lot for cooking chicken.
There are more oils but these are my top 3.
This includes standard balsamic vinegar, balsamic glazes, and infused balsamic vinegars (e.g. raspberry, orange, strawberry, or garlic)
Balsamic is a wonderful dressing on its own, combined with other condiments to map dressings, while it is also a great dip for freshly baked rustic Italian bread too.
White Wine Vinegar
This is a great base for a number of dressings – French, mustard, or simple vinaigrettes.
Made from apples this is a traditional British vinegar
Although I personally don’t like this, I’m including it as comes with numerous benefits (There are even books devoted to the goodness of it.)
In dressings it is often used with salads containing radishes, walnuts, apples etc.
Mustard seeds or powder can both be used
Adds distinctive spiciness
Adds a fiery heat
Cook first then chop finely or use dried chilli flakes
Great using for salads containing oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
Also great with thinly sliced beef in salads
It add an undeniable hotness
Can use in a variety of ways – roasted, bought in an oil suspension, garlic paste
All of the above ways make great additions to salad dressings
Adds sweetness to dressings to counteract and complement the acidity / flavour of other ingredients e.g. lemon / mustard seeds
Goes great in mustard seed dressings
Similar to honey but with its distinctive flavour and less sweet (nutritionally lower in sugar too)
Dates (standard or the currently Medjool dates)
Finely chop or blend to a paste
Orange juice / Pureed Raspberries / Strawberries
All add sweetness and go lovely with balsamic based dressings
The juice of lemon is a wonderful contrast to the flavour of salmon but equally goes with a variety of salads
Lime juice adds sourness again but with a less bitter taste
HERBS (just a selection)
Finely chop it in the dressing and also leave some to sprinkle over at the end too for a nice final touch
The basis of the tasty thing that is pesto!
Can be used blended (in oil / vinegar etc.), finely chopped, or whole
My second favourite herb after basil
Use in a similar fashion to basil
Can be used in dressings for many different salads
Looks great finely chopped sprinkled over the top too
Add these to taste and I also seem to finish with a twist of freshly ground black pepper over everything savoury I cook. You just need to check my previous posts to see!
Here in Scotland, there has been a remarkable run of sunny days since around Easter Weekend. This has made me more in the mood for salads and maintaining a good, clean, diet. Clear blue skies and sun from sunrise to sunset have been making me feel like it’s summer already! It is mainly during summer that I have loads of salads and less hot, cooked, meals as I seem to go off hot food and also don’t require so many calories to keep me warm due to the warmer climate. This salad is served warm so is perfect as an evening meal at this time of year when, despite the sun, there is a distinctive drop in temperature by early evening from moderately warm to noticeably cool. Serving a warm salad is thus in the middle, not too hot and not too cold! (Writing that sentence has just reminded me of the children’s story, Goldilocks and The Three Bears)
Recipe for my ‘Warm Cajun Chicken Salad’
To make 1 portion:
1 chicken breast (cut into chunks or diced)
1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp Paprika
1/4 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Coconut oil
Two mini sweet peppers (try and go for two different colours) A plateful of mixed salad leaves (spinach, watercress, lambs lettuce, and radaccio is great)
In a frying pan, heat the coconut oil and add the seasoning. Add the chicken and cook until piping hot throughout and no pink remains. Spread the salad leaves on a plate. Cut the peppers lengthways, remove the middle, and quarter. Arrange on salad leaves. Top with the cooked chicken and glaze with the balsamic.
Serve with garlic pitta bread or on its own.
Tip: For extra protein, add mixed beans or cooked lentils.
It is now officially the season of spring and what better lunch to have on a sunny day than a tasty salad? (I may be a bit biased, of course, as this is my own recipe…) This salad is packed full of protein and will leave you feeling like you have had a proper lunch not just some leaves as some people seem to think is the sole constituent of a salad! Chicken breast provides lovely lean protein and Puy lentils provide plenty of fibre as well as plant-based protein. The salad also has baby kale which is my new addiction. I love traditional kale, too, but the baby variety is perfect for salads. The addition of pepper adds some sweet crunch to the salad. The salad is quick to assemble but the chicken will have to be cooked in advance. I had chicken curry on Sunday and while I was cooking the curry on the hob, the chicken for the salad was cooking in the oven. This made it perfect for knocking up this quick salad for lunch on Monday. You could easily have this salad for dinner too.
Recipe (serves 1):
For the chicken:
1 chicken breast
1 tsp Olive Oil
Sprinkle the seasoning over the chicken, drizzle with oil and wrap the chicken in foil.
Bake the chicken in the foil for 25-35mins at 200C. (Make sure it is white throughout and piping hot in the centre.)
Leave to cool and then refrigerate
For the salad:
1 serving of baby kale
1/4 of an orange pepper (cubed)
80g Puy Lentils (I often use pre-cooked lentils for quickness but the dried lentils are cheaper and can easily be cooked up and used to make a salad for a couple of days, just store it in the fridge.)
Herb chicken breast (sliced)
Extra Virgin Oil
Assemble the salad on a plate loosely layering the baby kale and lentils before topping with the chicken and pepper.
For the dressing, simply combine equal amounts of the oil and vinegar to make a simple vinaigrette. You can omit the dressing if you wish.
TIP: If cooking lentils from scratch, cook the lentils in vegetable stock rather than plain water to add extra flavour. Add a bay leaf too as it adds great flavour.
Hopefully the sun is out when you make it so you can enjoy it with the sun streaming down on you as you eat it like I did
I have recently been having lots of cravings for prosciutto. It must be something to do with this time of year, as I remember this time last year, I bought a huge Continental meats festive platter, crackers and melon to have as a late night study snack after spending all of daylight hours in the library and much evening hours working on my dissertation! The platter was clearly put together with the intention that it would form some of the food at a Christmas party but I had it all myself. Greedy, I know… Anyway, back to the present [clearly I can’t get Christmas off my mind…] I whipped up this salad to serve as a not-too-filling starter earlier this week but, equally, it could be served as a light lunch. Or with some rustic bread, or a bowl of soup, for a more substantial lunch. The saltiness of the prosciutto is nicely contrasted with the refreshing iceberg lettuce and sweetness of the melon.
Prosciutto and melon salad
Ingredients (serves 2):
1/4 to 1/2 melon (depending on size) cut into chunks (honeydew and cantaloupe works well)
2 handfuls of shredded iceberg lettuce
6 slices of prosciutto (I used prosciutto de Parma i.e. Parma ham)
Optional: Bread, to serve Scatter one handful of the lettuce on each plate.
Arrange half of the melon on top of each the lettuce on each plate.
Create ‘prosciutto roses’ by rolling the prosciutto up while pinching the middle section, until it resembles a rose. I hope that makes some sense but it is difficult to explain. Here is a picture to try to illustrate my point:
Place 3 roses on top of each salad.
Finally, drizzle with balsamic glaze.
Serve on its own or with fresh rustic bread or baguette, if desired.
This is super easy to make as it simply involves assembling the ingredients in an attractive way on a plate. The dressing is minimal but satisfying and the dish is suited for lunch and dinner alike. It also features the fruit with which I’m most obsessed at the moment: avocado!
Ingredients (to serve 1):
1 portion of cooked prawns (about a handful)
1/2 an avocado (peeled and chopped or sliced)
2 handfuls of shredded iceberg lettuce
1 wedge of fresh lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
1 nest of rice noodles
1/2 tsp reduced salt light soy sauce
1 handful of baby leaf spinach
1. Cook the rice noodles according to their packet.
2. Stir in the soy sauce and some black pepper
3. Arrange the lettuce and/or spinach on a plate and top with the avocado
4. Scatter the prawns over the salad and serve the noodles on the side.
5. Finish by squeezing the lemon juice over the prawns and salad leaves and season with black pepper to your liking.
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Have a lovely day,