By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet

I’ll admit it, I’m the queen of salads. They are one of my favorite foods and the hubby and I’s go to food since kicking the junk food habit. I make a big salad and keep it in the fridge at all times for the perfect fast food. I love making them in lots of inventive ways and it is where my mind turns when dreaming up ways to use fresh produce.

It wasn’t always like this, there was a day when I.simply.hated.salads. Of course it didn’t help that I grew up in the high desert of Idaho and the only salad I ever saw was a wedge of iceberg lettuce with a glug of thousand island dressing dripping down the sides of it. Gag. Then one day my relationship with salads dramatically changed. I was about 10 and we were at some family shindig and my Aunt Marie brought the most amazing salad I had ever seen.

It made its dramatic appearance in a giant clear glass bowl that showed off the fact that it was fabulously layered with bacon, hard boiled eggs, onions, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and fresh green peas. It was topped with cheddar cheese and this gooey delicious salad dressing that was NOT thousand island. I was transfixed.

I loaded up my plate with that brightly colored salad and took a bite. Lights went on and an angel sung on high; my dormant taste buds came alive that day. Who knew veggies could taste so good? I made the momentous decision (particularly for a 10 year old) right then and there that I was going to grow up and love eating and making salads. I was going to be known far and wide as the “salad lady”.

Some folks find that making a really great salad can be intimidating but honestly it is quite easy. There are a few simple tips to making successful salads. Try to use as many “in season” and local veggies as possible. The fresher the veggies and greens the better it tastes. Sprinkle a few toasted nuts, chopped herbs and some goat cheese on your salad and you will make any salad special. Edible flowers also add a lovely extra dimension.

I also highly recommend you make your own salad dressings. I keep about 3 different homemade salad dressings in the fridge at all times. They are incomparable in flavor and are not loaded with preservatives that you can’t pronounce. Homemade dressings bring a bowl of ordinary greens to life.

When you get in a rut, look up some new recipes and give them a try. “Cooking Light”, has a great web site with some very inventive salads that I really get inspired by. “Epicurious” is another on-line site loaded with great salad recipes. One of my favorites is the OSU Food Hero website loaded with lots of fresh salad ideas.

Also remember that whatever you cooked last night goes great on the salad. For example; one night we roasted chicken and some root vegetables. For lunch the next day, I had pre-made salad with roasted chicken and roots on it with a garlic vinaigrette. Incredible. The most important thing with salads is to be imaginative and experiment. They are not rocket science. Have fun! I thought I would share some of my favorite simple salad dressings with you to get you inspired.

Garlic Herb Vinaigrette

This one can be easily modified by using whatever herbs you have on hand.

3-4 tablespoons of really good apple cider vinegar

Juice of one lemon

1 tablespoon of Dijon-style mustard

½ cup of olive oil

1 large shallot, chopped

3 -5 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/2 cup of fresh parsley leaves

½ cup of fresh rosemary or oregano leaves (or both)

½ teaspoon of sea salt

Black pepper to taste

In a blender, add the vinegar, lemon juice and mustard and blend for a few moments. With the blender low, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream so it will emulsify. Toss in the chopped shallot, garlic and herbs and blend some more. Add the salt and pepper to taste. This can last for a long time in the fridge.

Balsamic vinaigrette

The type of vinegar you use will make a huge difference in this dressing. Getting an aged balsamic vinegar from Italy is always a good bet.

3-4 Tablespoon of a good aged balsamic vinegar

1-2 tablespoons of honey or sugar

1 teaspoon of Italian herb mix (saltless)

1-2 garlic cloves minced

½ cup of olive oil

½ teaspoon of sea salt

A few cranks of black pepper

Throw everything except the olive oil in a blender and blend for a second or two. Then, while the blender is on low, slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a steady stream so it will emulsify. Adjust the seasonings and enjoy! You can also put all the ingredients in a glass jar and shake up but I like to do it in the blender so that it is creamy.

Shining Star Berry vinaigrette

My all-time favorite salad dressing. Use whatever berry is in season but my favorite is strawberries which are beautiful right now. This dressing is fantastic on a bed of greens, chopped green onions, berries, feta cheese and roasted almonds.

1 cup of berries, washed

1-3 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup

1 large shallot, chopped

¼ cup of chopped fresh basil or rosemary

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

7 – 8 tablespoons of a very good quality balsamic vinegar

½ cup of olive oil

Toss the berries, sugar and shallot into a blender and whip until smooth, then add the basil, garlic and vinegar and blend again till smooth. While the blender is still going slowly add the oil and then let it blend till it looks like a creamy, yummy mixture that you can’t wait to taste. Turn off the blender before you do that, of course.


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