- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

CONCORD, N.H. — As you contemplate spring cleaning, consider lightening the dietary load at the same time. This is the perfect time to start the transition from heavy and hearty winter fare to the lighter and fresher foods of summer. Cool-weather salads — a mix of fresh greens with substantial toppings — are a great way to welcome this season.

Served communally in a large pasta or stainless-steel bowl, these salads are wonderful with vegetable or bean soups for a satisfying lunch. Prepared on individual dinner plates and accompanied by warm bread and a bit of cheese, they easily stand as a meal on their own.

A few tips for making cool-weather salads:

m Opt for hearty greens. Baby spinach leaves, kale, dandelion greens, chard and arugula are available throughout the year, and during the off-season, they generally taste crisper and fresher than more delicate greens.

• Skip the citrus. Although orange sections are great in salads, keep those for cooling summer meals. Instead, try golden raisins plumped briefly in warm water.

• Include protein to give the salad substance. Sunflower, sesame and flax seeds are nice when lightly toasted. Or try chunks of seasoned tofu, fried tempeh or a mix of canned beans, such as chickpeas and kidney beans.

• Cheese is another great protein source. Crumbled goat cheese adds a sharp and creamy accent, while cubes of provolone offer a mild complement to tomatoes.

• Offer contrasting flavors, such as fruits and vinegars. Slices of dried figs are delicious in a salad dressed with balsamic vinegar. Thin apple slices and a sharp cheese, such as Parmesan shavings, are great, too.

• Stick to grape or cherry tomatoes, which tend to be sweeter and more tender during cool weather.

• Marinate cooked pasta elbows in a vinaigrette for about 1 hour, then drain and toss with salad greens before adding remaining ingredients. This bulks the salad into an easy meal and adds layers of flavor.

• Try an Asian-inspired salad by tossing raw bok choy with cooked udon noodles, baby corn, water chestnuts, sliced mushrooms and mung bean sprouts. Think stir-fry minus the fry. Dress with toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar.

Start the season right with a spinach and walnut salad with warm blue cheese dressing. This is a variation of the famous Waldorf salad, but with the crumbled blue cheese for tang and a luscious warm dressing.

If making the salad ahead, either prepare the apples just before serving or place the slices in a plastic bag with a tablespoon or two of lemon juice and toss to coat before adding to the salad. The juice prevents the apples from browning.

For an ever heartier salad, try mixed greens with kidney beans and ginger-raspberry dressing.

Most natural-food grocers now offer seasonal mixed greens, the contents of which vary according to what is fresh. Top these greens with beans and an assortment of lightly cooked hearty vegetables, such as cauliflower and broccoli.

The dressing for this salad is a variation of a typical vinaigrette but uses sour cream to create a silky base and freshly grated ginger for a bit of warmth. Soy sour cream could be substituted.

Spinach and walnut salad with warm blue cheese dressing

½ cup golden raisins

3 cups baby spinach leaves

½ cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted

½ Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced

½ cup crumbled blue cheese

2/3 cup milk

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 teaspoons cornstarch

Place the raisins in a bowl, and cover them with warm water. Let sit until just plump, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Arrange the spinach leaves on two salad plates. Top each with walnuts, apple slices, about 3 tablespoons of blue cheese and raisins. To make the dressing, combine the milk, oil and remaining cheese in a small saucepan. Heat over a low flame until the cheese melts. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in cornstarch, 1 teaspoon at a time, until dressing thickens. Dress each salad liberally with warm cheese dressing. Makes 2 servings.

Mixed greens with kidney beans and ginger-raspberry dressing

1 cup chopped cauliflower

3 cups mixed salad greens

10 to 12 cherry tomatoes

1 medium carrot

½ cup canned kidney beans, rinsed

½ small red onion, cut into half-moons

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons all-fruit raspberry jam

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8; teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

Bring a small saucepan of water to boil. Add the cauliflower; cook for 3 for 4 minutes, or until cauliflower is just barely tender. Drain and rinse under water to cool. Set aside.

Arrange the mixed greens on two salad plates. Add half the tomatoes to each salad. Use a vegetable peeler to shave the carrot into large strips into each salad.Evenly distribute the beans, onion slices and cauliflower florets in each salad. To make the dressing, combine remaining ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Dress each salad liberally. Makes 2 servings.

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