Monday, January 2, 2012

Warm salads: my go-to cold-weather meal

Happy New Year! It's hard to believe that we've begun yet another year on the calendar, and it's time to get back to work after the holidays.

Today I want to share with you one of my favorite go-to meals for this time of year. It's a versatile dish I affectionately call a warm salad.

I started eating these a couple years ago when I found this recipe for a Cous Cous Salad with Winter Squash and Cranberries at TheKitchn. To be honest, I've never actually made the recipe exactly as written (which is not uncommon for me). But it's endlessly variable when you step back and look at the essential ingredients. What you'll need:
  • A whole grain, to form your base. In the original recipe, it's cous cous. I have brown rice a lot, and I've also had this with quinoa (with great success), buckwheat and millet, to name a few. Pick your favorite and go with it. 
  • A vegetable. Lately I've been using lots of sweet potatoes/yams, but I highly recommend butternut squash and beets, too. I've had it with broccoli, cauliflower, and other squashes, as well. 
  • Protein, usually in the form of nuts or beans. Again, pick your favorite, or what sounds good that day, and go with it. 
  • Fruit, whether dried or fresh.
  • A little cheese, if you like. Feta is my favorite.
  • And dressing. The original recipe has a dressing included, but I most often have this with an Italian vinaigrette. 
Once you have all those items on hand, you're ready to get to work! Here's my method:

Whole grain: I like to fix a batch of whole grain and have enough on hand for several meals during the week. Try this super-easy baked brown rice from Alton Brown. It's amazing. You'll need a 1/2 cup or so of cooked grain for one serving.

Next, add your vegetable. Sweet potatoes and yams are easily cooked one at a time in the microwave like a baked potato. Depending on the size, I usually use about half of one sweet potato for one serving. Roasted beets are great, too. Whatever you pick, cook it (or warm up your leftovers) and add it to the whole grain.
Next, add your fruit. Apples are readily available right now, and they make a wonderful combination with both sweet potatoes and beets. I'm generous with the apples, so I usually dice one small apple for one serving.

Finally, add your protein (Whole Foods' wonderful raw cashews pictured here), cheese, if you like, and dressing.
I mentioned that my favorite cheese to use is feta. In the picture above, I've used feta cheese made from goat's milk. For the last year, I've reduced my dairy intake, and in many cases (milk in my tea, little bits of cheese), I reach for goat's milk as an alternative. The nutritionist I worked with last year recommended it for me primarily because you'll find lower levels of hormones in goat's milk as compared to traditional cow's milk. I've gotten used to it and really like this feta, which I get at Whole Foods.
Voila! A versatile, warm, satisfying meal that is easy to throw together on a week night after work. I made this for my mom a couple months ago for the first time, and she's now hooked, too. Enjoy!