Healthy Summer Salads

Peach, Goat Cheese & WalnutY’all. Memorial Day weekend is this weekend. Crazy. Summer is officially upon us. If you are trying to lose those few extra pounds for swimsuit season and looking to add a few more veggies into your diet, here are a few easy salad recipes to take advantage of the abundant fresh, seasonal produce right now.

When it comes to salads, there are couple things that are a must for me:

  • Lots of color = way more appetizing (and instagram-worthy).  Plus, the variety of colors means you are getting a variety of nutrients.
  • If you want to make a salad a meal, you’ve got to add protein to keep you full.  The easiest (and cheapest) ways I’ve found to have this on-hand to add are: pre-cooked hard boiled eggs or shredded chicken – find my two-step chicken crock pot recipe here.  Or if you want to be fancy, add grilled wild-caught salmon for some healthy Omega-3s.

If I can, I always try to make my own salad dressing for two very important reasons:

  1. A store-bought or restaurant dressing can quickly turn your “healthy” salad into a calorie-loaded fat bomb.
  2. Pre-made dressings are filled with preservatives and vegetable oils.  Vegetable/canola oils are full of free radicals that cause serious damage to your cells, meaning that your salad has become nearly as harmful to your health as those french fries you really want to eat instead. Learn more at my favorite doctor’s website here.

Homemade dressings are much easier to make than you’d imagine and if you make more than you’ll need that meal, put the mixture in a mason jar and keep for a week or two in the fridge.  Here are a few of my favorite salad & dressing recipes that take 10 minutes or less to prepare:

Strawberry Pecan SaladStrawberry & Pecan – Slice strawberries and add to raw baby spinach. Add pecans (or even better, honey-roasted pecans) for some crunch. Top with either goat or feta cheese for some tangy-ness. Another great item to add to this salad: snap peas.  Make a simple balsamic vinaigrette for this one; it pairs perfectly with the strawberries. Put the following ingredients in a jar with lid and shake: 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp raw honey, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 clove minced garlic, salt & pepper to taste.

Peach & Goat Cheese (pictured above) – Slice some fresh peaches and lay on a bed of mixed greens.  Add some goat cheese crumbles and walnuts for crunch.  Top with a peach-basil vinaigrette: 2 parts extra-virgin olive oil to 1 part peach vinegar (find this at your local farmer’s market – I get it from Hill Country Olive Co.). Whisk with chopped basil and a pinch of sea salt. Variation: use other flavored vinegar to mix it up.. some of my favorites are the pineapple, pear & lemon.

Grapefruit Avocado SaladGrapefruit & Avocado – Peel and slice half of a ruby-red grapefruit and an avocado.  Pair with mixed greens and add sunflower seeds. Add thinly sliced cucumber for extra crunch. This is best with a sweet honey mustard dressing: Mix 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar, 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp raw honey with 1/3 cup olive oil. Add dash of salt, pepper, & garlic powder.

Caesar Salad – Chopped romaine with cherry tomatoes, topped with grated Parmesan cheese. The easiest way to make homemade Caesar dressing is by blending 1 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/2 tsp each of: garlic powder, sea salt, and pepper. I often add a few Italian herbs from my garden to the mix – rosemary, thyme, oregano. To make it creamy, add 2 Tbsp of  plain Greek yogurt.

Heirloom Tomato SaladMexican Heirloom Tomato – Nothing beats fresh heirloom tomatoes… slice one and season with a pinch of sea salt. Add with sliced avocado to an herb salad mix. Shredded raw cheddar cheese is a perfect topping for additional flavor, and a few tortilla chip crumbles for crunch.  The dressing for this one is one of my favorites – cilantro-lime vinaigrette. Mix 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup lime juice, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1 pressed garlic clove with 1/2 cup olive oil. Add dash of salt & pepper.

Happy Summer & Bon Appétit!

Why I’m Not A Vegan

If God wanted us all to be vegetarians...

In my search for the truth in health, one of the main controversies I’ve encountered has to do with whether meat and animal products are healthy for us.  I’ve seen Forks Over Knives and I think it’s a great documentary, with thought-provoking research and many convincing points – I absolutely recommend it.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, it examines the claim that most, if not all, degenerative diseases could be prevented and may be even cured by switching from our current animal-based, processed foods diet to a whole-foods, plant based diet. I agree with almost everything in the film, especially the healing abilities of proper nutrition, but I’ve had a few hesitations. History tells us that for thousands of years, humans hunted animals for food, which enabled them to survive, thrive and populate the earth with healthy children. Not only have humans hunted for generations, but they have developed ways to cook animals in a way to extract every possible bit of nutrition from them. Our ancestors fully understood the nutritional benefits as it helped them grow strong and protected them from disease. I don’t believe that we just happen to like the way meat and dairy taste, but that it tastes good for a reason.

When I wrote about my inspiration, I mentioned that the basic theory for healthy eating centered around authentic world cuisine.  When I say world cuisine, I’m not talking about the Italian fettuccine alfredo or Chinese sweet and sour chicken you might get at a restaurant today; I’m talking about the traditional, homemade & homegrown food from nations all over the world.  And when I say traditional, I’m not referring to Grandma’s fried chicken or chocolate chip cookie recipes made with Crisco; we’ve got to go back a few hundred years before scientists started creating fake foods that saved cooking time and money.  Many of the traditional ingredients and methods of cooking happen to be the ones you find in common across the world and across history, as they were the most successful for maintaining and improving health. Today, the best example of cuisine that has remained mostly unchanged in modern times is French.  The reason? They’ve always been kind of, well, arrogant, so their ingredients and techniques have remained the same for ages and continue to be studied by chefs in culinary school today.  When I think of French cuisine, I think of many foods in the Four Pillars: slow-cooked meat, rich broths, and healthy fats; I wonder if it’s a coincidence that they have much lower risks of heart disease and are known for being thin rather than obese, quite opposite of two of the worst epidemics we suffer from in America today.

All that said, let’s get to the point: why I’m not a vegan.  First of all, I fully understand and respect that some people have strong beliefs in protecting the rights of animals and don’t eat them for those reasons. In fact, I too have a serious issues with how most animals are farmed today, in unbelievably cruel and unsanitary conditions, as well as the fact that they are given unnatural hormones and harmful antibiotics. I could rant for hours on the topic (and recommend lots of documentaries if you’d like to see it for yourself), but, basically, that’s the reason I have chosen to only buy organic, hormone and antibiotic-free, pastured/free range (plus raw and local, when possible) animal meat and products. I also agree with the problems of environmental effects that modern farming due to an animal-based diet has created, but I also think the same can be said for produce farming – we are destroying the nutrients in our soil and plants with pesticides, toxins and genetically modified seeds.

Veganism and vegetarianism are not certainly not bad, and I absolutely believe that you can live a life full of nutrition and enjoy many benefits to your health. These diets rightly put the focus on whole foods and plants, instead of depending on meat and dairy for nutrition.  However, I want to make a case that there are health benefits of animal meats and products, when they are from good sources and cooked properly, as well as point out a few differences I’ve found between a vegan diet and an authentic world cuisine diet:
1. Animal meat cooked on the bones and broth made from animal bones provide essential nutrients, mainly collagen, to our joints, ligaments, tendons, arteries, skin, and hair.
2. Animal organs are extremely rich in vitamins, often more than can be supplemented with fruits or vegetables.
3. The anti-cholesterol and low-fat campaigns are myths.  We need healthy fat in our diets, and nature (not science) makes the best, including butter, eggs, and bacon.
4. We’re born dependent upon milk and it should remain an important part of our diet, as long as it’s organic and raw (or fermented like yogurt and cheese). Pasteurization and homogenization destroy the probiotics and fat molecules that help us maintain strong digestive tracks, immune systems, brain function and bones.
5. Wheat (unless it’s sprouted) becomes a staple for many vegans, who turn to bread and pasta as fillers, and, even if it’s “whole wheat” or “multi-grain,” it’s not quite as healthy or natural as it’s advertised to be.
6. Lastly, while definitely not true of all vegans, the lifestyle often necessitates the use of many processed, manufactured foods to supplement meals for those that don’t know how to cook or have trouble incorporating all the necessary nutrients to a vegan diet. These processed foods contain many harmful ingredients, mainly soy, vegetable/canola oils, and sugar.

I’ll be expanding on these points in future posts. I’m so excited to share what I’ve discovered in the coming weeks and hope this has peaked your interest a bit.  If you want to keep up with future posts, you can subscribe to my blog on the sidebar to the right to get an email whenever I post something new.  And, I’d love to know, which of the topics above are you most interested in learning more about?

– Christine