Raw spinach is versatile ingredient for many salads
Raw spinach is so versatile that writing 50 Shades of Spinach Salad would be a snap. For starters, there are three types of spinach to choose from — tender baby leaves; larger, more flavorful flat-leaf spinach; and super-dark, curly Savoy spinach that can be almost meaty in your salad bowl.
What to add to raw spinach? Nearly every fruit, fresh or dried, goes with this nutrient-dense leafy green. Try apples, apricots, cherries, cranberries, figs, grapes, grapefruit, mango, pears … just keep pairing your way through the alphabet. Nuts, from almonds to walnuts, are good with raw spinach. All kinds of seeds, too.
Of course, other vegetables work with a spinach salad. My favorites include grape tomatoes, thinly sliced onions, scallions, sweet peppers, sliced radishes and endive.
When I want more than a side salad, the proteins good in spinach salad can be meaty, vegetarian or vegan. Grilled chicken, salmon or sliced lean steak are all good. So are canned tuna or sardines.
For vegetarians, select hard-cooked egg or small portions of nearly any cheese. Think crumbled feta, sliced fresh goat cheese, curls of Parmaggiano-Reggiano or shards of pecorino, strips of reduced-fat Jarlsberg or cubes of sharp Cheddar.
For Caesar salad, flat-leaf spinach topped with a poached egg, garlicky whole-wheat croutons, and a lemon-Parmesan dressing gives this classic a nice twist. Going vegan, edamame, marinated tofu, or bits of pan-crisped tempeh are all great additions to make a meal-solid spinach salad.
As for dressings, the sky’s the limit: creamy without the cream; an Asian combo of rice vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil; simple olive oil whisked with lemon juice; slightly sweet balsamic vinaigrette; or one with a touch of raspberry vinegar. I even like using the orange Japanese dressings that include carrot and miso.
So far, the most unusual spinach salad I have tossed up is this one with Mexican flavors. It includes heat from roasted poblano pepper and crunch from corn chips, along with a shower of crumbled feta, and a sweet-tart lime and honey dressing.
Mexican Spinach Salad
1 tsp. honey
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
¼ tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. canola oil
3 Tbsp. raw pumpkin seeds
1 poblano chile pepper
6 cups baby spinach
3 Tbsp. finely crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese
½ cup baked corn chips
For dressing, in small bowl, whisk honey, lime juice, vinegar and salt until salt dissolves. Whisk in oil. Set dressing aside for up to 1 hour, remixing it before using.
Set small, heavy skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add pumpkin seeds to dry pan. Slip your hand into oven mitt, and lift pan, moving it in circular motion over heat to keep seeds moving so they do not burn. When many seeds are golden and some have popped, about 2 minutes, spread them on dinner plate to cool.
Using tongs, hold pepper over open flame and turn it until skin is charred all over, about 4 minutes. May also char pepper under broiler or over outdoor grill. When pepper is cool enough to handle, with your fingers, slip off charred skin. Halve pepper lengthwise, and use small knife to remove seeds and ribs. Chop half the pepper; set other half aside for another use.
In large salad bowl, place spinach. Add chopped poblano. Just before serving, pour on dressing and toss to coat spinach and pepper. Sprinkle on toasted pumpkin seeds and feta. A few at a time, lightly crush corn chips over salad. Toss, and divide salad among 4 individual salad bowls. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 130 calories, 8 g total fat, (1.5 g saturated fat), 12 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein, 3 g dietary fiber, 210 mg sodium.
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