I have a salad obsession. Hopefully just temporarily or else you won’t see any other recipes on this blog because I’ll forget how to cook. It all started with the trip to Israel. After several months of grey and cold winter weather that discouraged any meals that are not served hot, preferably in a bowl or a large cup (hot chocolate counts as a meal if you have three cups a day topped with freshly whipped cream), I finally got a taste of spring in sunny Tel Aviv (read more about my trip here!). Every day I had a huge bowl of freshly washed, chopped and tossed salad for lunch at a local shopping center’s food court (I know, an unlikely place for a healthy meal). One place had a ‘build your bowl’ arrangement where you pick from 30+ ingredients ranging from beets and sweet potatoes to pickled cabbage and fresh, salty cheese to be tossed with dressing of your choice.
My favorite place was called “Morsel Pretzel” which is actually a misleading name since they had nothing to do with German bread. Our local guy explained that it was named that way because there was only one man (the Salad Man, as I call him) behind counter washing and chopping produce, mixing salads in large stainless steel bowls, and taking orders while the other only took cash and issued receipts. Considering that this was the busiest spot during lunch break, you can imagine that the Salad Man’s arms were twisted like a pretzel while grabbing lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese at a blazing-fast speed. It’s worth mentioning that all food served in that place was certified kosher, which I came to realize, is not as common in Tel Aviv as one would expect.
Another great gem on this food court was a frozen yogurt place, with similar ‘build your own’ concept. It’s very simple- you pick a cup size, tell the guy which ingredients you want, for example frozen bananas, frozen cherries, frozen pecans and frozen chocolate shavings (and whatever else fits in the cup). He then takes the contents of the cup and drops it into a giant mixer along with a small block of frozen yogurt. After 10 seconds of churning, you are handed the cup filled with smooth colorful concoction and small chunks of chocolate and nuts. Heavenly.
Now back to salads. I used to think that the key to making a truly delicious and filling salad is making the right kind of dressing so that it complements each ingredient while marrying them together on a plate. This turned out to be only partially true because what matters even more is using the right kind of ingredients. It doesn’t matter which vegetables you use and in what proportion as long as you get the freshest possible produce, raised organically and harvested at the peak of its season. When you use crisp green lettuce (forget iceberg lettuce!), juicy ripe tomatoes, crunchy, slightly bitter cucumbers, and fresh olives, you can easily skip fancy dressing and just squeeze a wedge of lemon and drizzle few drops of quality olive oil. When I want to make it a meal, I add few spoonfuls of cooked qunioa or bulgur and top off with roasted pine nuts and crumbles of fresh sheep cheese. I could eat that every day and never get tired.
So here is one salad inspiration but I hope you try to create your own variation.
Salad Bowl or ‘Israeli Dream Salad’
Serves a whole bunch of people
– 1 head of your favorite lettuce, washed and gently dried
– 1 red bell pepper
– 1 avocado
– 1 green apple
– 4-5 endives
– 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and dried
– 3-5 gold or red beets (I used gold for this recipe)
– 1 cup of cooked quinoa (I used red variety)
– 1/2 cup of fresh crumbled goat or sheep cheese (optional)
– bunch of parsley, washed and dried
– few fresh mint leaves (optional)
– 2 tsp olive oil
– 2 tbsp quality olive or avocado oil
– 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
– pinch of red pepper flakes or crushed pink peppercorns
Place the beets on a sheet of foil, drizzle with a teaspoon of oil, cover with another sheet of foil and tightly wrap to create a sealed package. Roast for 45 minutes to one hour at 200C / 375F until beets can be easily pierced with a fork twenty minutes before beets are ready, line another baking sheet with foil and arrange endives, sliced in half with outer layer removed. Drizzle with remaining teaspoon of oil and roast at the same temperature as beets until soft and slightly caramelized (15-20 minutes).
While vegetables are roasting, prepare the fresh ingredients and whisk ingredients for the dressing. Thinly slice (in ribbons) bell pepper and apple, chop parsley, mint and avocado. Toss sliced vegetables in a large bowl with quinoa and chickpeas and one half of the dressing. Pull apart lettuce leaves, chop roughly and add to the bowl. When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel the skin and slice into thin half moons, adding to the mixture along with endives. Drizzle the remaining dressing, add cheese and mix gently but thoroughly (best to use the largest bowl you own).
Serve immediately, with whole-grain sourdough bread on a side. As a variation, try bulgur in place of quinoa, replace endives with baby artichokes and chickpeas with blanched green peas.