With the abundance of summer's fruits and vegetables, it's easy to conjure up delicious, healthful, low-fat summer salads. But low-fat salads can become high-fat disasters with the wrong dressing.
Traditional dressings are loaded with oil. Typically they have two to three parts oil to one part acid. When you try to reduce the oil, you find it contributes more than just taste. Without oil, the dressing is unbalanced and becomes pungent and overly tangy. When you cut back the oil, the acid -- usually vinegar or citrus juices -- must be reduced as well. With less vinegar and oil, you are left with an insipid dressing that needs additional flavors to spark it up. Oil also adds thickness and richness. Although chicken broth, fruit juice, vegetable juice or water can be substituted for part or all of the oil, the result is a thin dressing. It does not provide the mouth-feel we have become accustomed to with oil-based dressings.
The solution: Substituting fresh fruit for at least half the oil. When soft fruits are pureed, they become thick and creamy. They also add a burst of fresh flavor that complements most salad greens, vegetables, meats and fish. The sweetness of the fruit is offset by vinegar, lemon, lime or grapefruit juice, plain yogurt or buttermilk. The flavors are varied by a sprinkling of herbs and spices.
Here are three substantial salads based on pureed fruit dressings. Each is stalwart enough for a fancy luncheon or light dinner, yet simple enough for a family meal. You will find that each dressing contains a small amount of oil. Although it may be eliminated, a little bit goes a long way to balance flavors and add richness.
Papaya plays a dual role in the grilled chicken salad with papaya, jicama and toasted pecans. Some of it is sliced into the salad, and the rest is pureed in the dressing. When buying papayas, look for those with a golden skin which give slightly when pressed in your palm. You may choose to toss all the ingredients together before serving. Or make a composed salad by arranging the ingredients on a platter or individual plates, passing the dressing separately. Without the chicken, this sunshine salad makes an impressive first course for an important dinner.
Pureed oranges constitute the base of the invigorating green and orange shrimp salad. You may either grill or saute the shrimp right before serving or refrigerate the cooked shrimp overnight. Or, cut your work in half and buy already cooked shrimp.
For an Oriental twist, puree kiwi with ginger, lime and sesame oil. The enticing pale green dressing is dotted with tiny black seeds resembling pepper. Its creamy texture and delicate flavor bring a new, lively taste to this vegetarian salad.
Supplement your salad selection with bread or rolls, a chilled, fruity Rhine wine and a heaping serving of strawberry or mixed berry shortcake for a breezy summer supper.
Crispy Chinese salad with kiwi vinaigrette
Makes 4 servings
Prep time: 35 minutes
Advance prep: Vinaigrette may be refrigerated up to 3 days. Vegetables may be grilled a day ahead, and greens may be refrigerated overnight.
FOR THE SALAD:
1 small eggplant (about 3/4 pound)
1 red or yellow bell pepper
8 to 10 large napa cabbage leaves, bok choy or green cabbage, cut into 1-inch squares, thick stems discarded (about 3 cups packed)
1/2 small head romaine lettuce, torn into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups packed)
3 ounces bean sprouts, rinsed, dried and cut into thirds
1 cup chopped cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
1 can (8 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
kiwi vinaigrette (see below)
FOR THE KIWI VINAIGRETTE:
1 piece fresh ginger, about the size and thickness of a quarter
2 large or 3 small kiwi, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
scant 1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons orange juice or water
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
2 to 3 teaspoons honey
To grill vegetables: Slice unpeeled eggplant into 3/8 -inch-thick rounds. Cut pepper in half. Remove seeds and pulp and cut into chunks. Oil grill rack and prepare coals. Brush vegetables lightly with vegetable oil. Grill over hot coals, turning until browned and tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool and refrigerate until serving. (Vegetables may be refrigerated overnight. Cut eggplant rounds into 1/2 -inch-thick strips.
To make salad: Refrigerate cabbage, romaine and sprouts in a plastic bag or bowl. (The greens may be refrigerated overnight.)
To make vinaigrette: In a food processor with the metal blade, process ginger until minced, scraping sides of bowl. Measure 1 teaspoon and return to processor. Add kiwi and process until pureed. Add lime juice, oils, orange juice or water, salt and honey and process until mixture is smooth and creamy. Remove to small bowl or jar. (The dressing may be refrigerated up to 3 days.) Makes about 3/4 cup.
To serve: Add vegetables, cucumber, water chestnuts and carrots to salad. Toss with dressing. Serve immediately.
Grilled chicken salad with papaya and jicama
Makes 8-10 servings
Prep time: 30 minutes.
Advance prep: Dressing may be refrigerated overnight. Chicken may be grilled, nuts toasted and greens prepared a day ahead.
FOR THE SALAD:
2 large heads romaine lettuce
3/4 cup pecan halves or large pieces (about 3 ounces)
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 papaya, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped or sliced
1 cup chopped jicama (about 4 ounces)
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and sliced or chopped
1/4 cup chopped green onions with tops
papaya vinaigrette (see below)
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:
2 small green onions (white part only)
1 cup chopped papaya (about 1/2 papaya)
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 to 4 tablespoons orange juice
salt and pepper to taste
To make vinaigrette: Chop green onions in a food processor with the metal blade. Add papaya and process until pureed. Pulse in lime juice, oil, vinegar and 3 tablespoons orange juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (The dressing may be refrigerated overnight. It will thicken. Stir in 1 tablespoon orange juice before serving.)
To prepare salad: Wash and dry lettuce and tear into bite-size pieces. Refrigerate. Toast nuts on a baking sheet at 350 %J degrees, stirring once or twice, until very brown and toasted, about 12 to 15 minutes. (Greens and nuts may be refrigerated overnight.)
To grill chicken: Oil grill rack and prepare coals. Lightly brush chicken with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side over hot coals until cooked through. Cool and refrigerate. (Chicken may be refrigerated overnight.)
Before serving: Slice chicken and, if chilled, bring to room temperature. Place lettuce in a large bowl. Add papaya, jicama, avocados, green onions and chicken. Toss with dressing. Sprinkle with nuts. Or, arrange ingredients on lettuce leaves and pass dressing.
Green and orange shrimp salad
Makes 4 servings
Prep time: 30 minutes
Advance prep: Dressing may be refrigerated up to 3 days. Greens may be prepared a day ahead.
FOR THE SALAD:
1 large or 2 small heads Boston or butter lettuce
1 orange, preferably seedless, peeled and divided into segments
2 small green onions with tops, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh or canned pineapple chunks, drained
pound medium cooked shrimp
1/4 cup roasted and salted sunflower seeds
pureed orange dressing (see below)
FOR THE DRESSING:
1 seedless orange, peeled and divided into segments
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons nonfat plain yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
To make salad: Wash and dry lettuce and tear into bite-size pieces. Refrigerate until serving. (May be refrigerated overnight.)
To make dressing: Puree orange segments in a blender with honey, vinegar, oil and yogurt. Whisk yogurt in a small bowl. Whisk in orange mixture until blended. Season with salt and pepper. (Dressing may be refrigerated up to 3 days.)
Before serving: Place lettuce in salad bowl. Add orange segments, green onions, pineapple chunks and shrimp. Pour over as much dressing as needed to coat and toss well. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds.
Marlene Sorosky is a Baltimore-based food writer and the author of five cookbooks on entertaining. Her "Season's Greetings: Cooking and Entertaining for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's" (Harper/Collins) has been recently reprinted.
TIPS FOR SUPER SALADS
* Wash greens a day ahead and if possible spin-dry in a salad spinner. Wrap in paper towels and place in a plastic bag and refrigerate overnight.
* Cut vegetables a day ahead and refrigerate in sealed containers or plastic bags.
* Save clear plastic salad bar containers to store fresh herbs, berries and cut up vegetables. They will stay fresh twice as long.
* If short on refrigerator space, chill salad ingredients in an insulated picnic container with artificial ice packets.
* If time is short, buy poultry, meat and fish already cooked. Because it is cut into slices or chunks, a little bit goes a long way.
* Toss greens as close to serving as possible so they don't get soggy.
* To preserve flavor, chop fresh herbs as close to using as possible.
There is no chemistry required to assemble a salad. Mix and match components by taking advantage of readily available ingredients, such as leftover cooked meats, fish, pasta, grains and vegetables; fresh herbs; a variety of greens; fruits; and supermarket specials. Instead of chicken, try cooked sliced lamb, beef, turkey or pork. For fish, experiment with cooked tuna, salmon, a mild white fish, crab or scallops. Replace part of ++ the greens with pasta, rice, couscous or other grains. By switching one or two ingredients, you will have a brand new salad.