The heat is on! There's nothing better on a hot, sticky summer day than a crisp, cool salad made with an assortment of fruits and vegetables from the backyard garden, local produce stand or farmers market. We've come a long way from the traditional "dinner salad" made with iceberg lettuce and topped with French dressing. Of course that is still a staple salad, but our creativity with the "salad" has certainly exploded, and the sky's the limit with what you may find in a salad these days. Mixing various greens, brightly colored-vegetables and fruits, lean meats, fish and cheese and topping it with a zingy vinaigrette is a perfect summer meal for me and for many when it's just too hot to cook.
Many people have become adventuresome with lettuce salads, but have you considered the "cousin" to the lettuce salad as another salad to experiment with? Cabbage is another popular, staple salad and it, too, lends itself well to a little jazzing up. Coleslaw also has a traditional recipe, so to speak - shredded cabbage, maybe a few shredded carrots for color and a creamy mayonnaise-based dressing to hold it together.
The word coleslaw comes from the Dutch term "koolsla," which is a shortening of "koolsalade," which means cabbage salad. Of course, cabbage is the main ingredient, but certainly many other kinds of vegetables and fruits can be shredded into the salad as well to add color and flavor and additional nutrients. Raw cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C and provides folate, vitamin B6 and other phytonutrients. It is low in calories (about 25 calories in one cup) and a good source of fiber (about 2 grams of fiber per cup). You can boost the nutrient content of a salad made with shredded cabbage by slicing or shredding other ingredients into it, such as papaya, apples, mangoes, jicama, broccoli, cauliflower, green, red, orange or yellow peppers, etc. Really, whatever vegetable is ready to pick in your garden could probably be shredded and added to the cabbage.
Our traditional dressing is usually a mayonnaise-based one that provides a creamy texture. Substituting low-fat versions of mayo or sour cream, or using yogurt can help cut back on the fat content. And you can spice it up with mustards, horseradish or chilies for an extra zing.
If you're looking for a sweet/tart taste, vinaigrette dressings are a popular choice. They are lower in fat and add some zest to the salad. Adding small pieces of sweet fruits, like strawberries, raspberries and pineapple or dried fruits like dried cranberries or raisins can also add a nice touch to the salad. Top it off with some walnuts or almonds - yum!
If you're looking to avoid creamy and sweet, how about trying an Asian-inspired slaw? Ingredients like lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds or ginger can provide a new flavor to accompany traditional ingredients.
Now is a great time to experiment with new combinations of ingredients and dressings to accompany that head of cabbage in the refrigerator. High fiber salads with low calorie ingredients and vibrantly colored ingredients are the perfect way to spice up a meal on a hot summer day.
Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. You can also find nutrition tips on the blog she writes at www.averastorycenter.org.