Hope Springs Eternal: Celebrating the End of Winter with a Renewed Dedication to Healthy Eating

Despite the fact that the ground is still snow-covered where I live about 30 miles north of New York City, the calendar continues to assure me that spring does indeed start today. And after a miserable winter that pretty much compelled me to live on comfort food for the past several months (simply refer to my last post for evidence of that!), I think many of us are looking to the warmer weather as the impetus to shed a few extra pounds and reintroduce more healthy foods back into our diet. Combine that with the fact that it’s National Nutrition Month and we have too many good reasons to ignore.

My focus for this post is two of my favorite salads. In fact, few things make me happier than the day in mid-May that I plant my annual herb garden of basil, chives, rosemary, parsley and cilantro. It compels me to get creative with different ways that I can use them.

Persimmonsmango photo

What I love about making salads is that the more variety in the ingredients, the better. There are countless mixtures of lettuces, herbs, fruits, and cheeses that make delightful combinations. That was never more clear to me then the time I sent my husband to the store for persimmons for a salad I was serving to 40 people at a holiday party that evening. He came home with mangos. Really. Have you ever seen a persimmon next to a mango. They’re not easy to confuse and, needless to say, I was more than a little annoyed by his mistake. But I didn’t have time to make a change so mango it was. And you know what? It was delicious. Mango has since become one of my go-to ingredients. (Just don’t tell my husband I said that!)

The combination I am going to share with you today is a mixed baby green salad with a variety of sweet fruits and crumbled blue cheese.

Spring Salad with Mango, Blue Cheese and Pistachio
Serves 6
8 cups (453g) loosely packed mixed baby greens (the pre-washed versions are fine but fresh from the farmer’s market are even better)
1 ripe, medium mango peeled and chopped into ½ inch pieces
1/2 cup (45g) dried cranberries
1/2 cup (58g) shelled pistachios
2/3 cup (80g) crumbled blue cheese (goat cheese can be substituted for the distinct taste of blue cheese)
3 tablespoons (9g) diced chives (I use a pair of kitchen scissors and simply cut into pieces)

Optional: 2/3 cup (66g) seedless grapes, sliced (some may find the grapes to be unnecessary, but I love the flavor of the grapes and blue cheese together)

1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
1/4 cup (60ml) balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons (30ml) honey
1 tablespoons (15ml) Dijon mustard
1 tablespoons (15ml) Good Season’s Italian dressing mix

Slowly pour olive oil into vinegar while whisking. Whisk in honey, mustard and dressing mix. Toss with salad ingredients.

One of my more recent discoveries is the great taste of kale. Not only is this super-food packed with vitamins and tons of health benefits, it’s low calorie and can be used in a variety of forms (raw, steamed, baked, etc.).  The following recipe is a slight variation of one made popular by a gourmet food store in my neighborhood. Before I knew it, everyone was talking about this salad and a friend of mine did an impressive job recreating the recipe. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Kale salad with currants, pine nuts and parmesan cheese

Kale salad with currants, pine nuts and parmesan cheese

Autumn Kale Salad with Pine Nuts, Currants, Garlic & Lemon
Serves 12
1 cup (225ml) extra virgin, fruity green olive oil
1/2 cup (118ml) lemon juice
4 bunches leaf green kale, stems removed, chiffonade
2 cups (360g) grated parmesan cheese
3 bunches scallions, finely chopped
2 cups (303g) dried currants
2 cups (232g) toasted pine nuts
2-3 tablespoons (19-27g) chopped, fresh garlic
Salt & pepper

Mix olive oil and lemon juice. Toss with remaining ingredients. Let marinate 20 minutes at room temperature, tossing occasionally.  Put in refrigerator for at least an hour and take out about a half hour before serving.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

So, what do you say: will you join me in telling Mother Nature that we’ve had enough and are moving on with or without her?  And please share some of your favorite recipes and ingredients with me. Maybe your mistake will become my new favorite.