Guest blogger: Amanda in Philadelphia

When I started this blog I asked a few like-minded, long-distance friends to join me as regularly featured guest bloggers. One of the people I asked is my super talented and very smart friend from grad school, Amanda. We met in Philly in 2007 while attending the University of the Arts, Book Arts, MFA program. Amanda, myself and two other girls (shout out to Phu & Steph) quickly bonded as friends; even though we've now spread to four different cities these girls are still very close to my heart.

I asked Amanda to blog with me for several reasons. Foremost: she is a fellow artist who has been known to make a lot of interesting art about food*. Second: she was raised by a James Beard Award winning, 2nd generation chef. Third: like myself, she recently found the need to make her lifestyle a little more heart healthy. 

Amanda's first post follows. It's about growing up in a family that included salad as a normal, happily anticipated part of every dinner. A habit that indisputably helps instill healthy eating habits in children and helps maintain them in busy adults. Thank you Amanda!

A Salad Every Day
I grew up the daughter of an Italian chef in the Midwest. While a legitimate gourmet, my father exposed us to every type of food, from Velveeta mac and cheese and frozen fish sticks to veal osso buco and balsamic glazed short ribs. Whatever the meal on the table there was always one constant: My father’s dinner salad. A base of greens, topped with tomato, cucumber, and red onion, dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, I ate this salad at the end of every meal as my father did, thinking I was more worldly than kids who ate their salads first. I firmly believed that salad at the end of my meal helped digest my dinner, and while I’m yet to find hard evidence that this is true, there is no denying that raw vegetables should be consumed everyday, providing the body with lots of vitamins and nutrients and a little bit of roughage.

In my own kitchen I love cooking with Asian, Indian, and Mexican flavors that were absent from our Italian-American kitchen, but I continue to make a salad every night. Based on his basics, I adjust ingredients to better pair with what I’m cooking.

What you need:

  • Foundation greens. Typically lettuce or baby greens, I also love arugula, spinach, or shredded cabbage. No greens? Make a base of shredded root vegetables: cauliflower, radish, carrot, even apple.
  • Base Toppings. Our salads always had cucumber slices, tomato wedges, and thinly shaved red onions. Radishes have become a staple in recent years. I’ve been known to add carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, peppers, anything not too strongly flavored and easy to eat.
  • Featured Toppings (optional). Olives are my favorite, especially when I’m eating Italian food, but they have a strong taste and can clash with other foods on your table. Having pork? Add apples. Having fish? Add orange segments. Avocados and various cheeses (particularly feta or gorgonzola) will break down in the acid of vinegar or citrus, adding another dimension to your dressing. Chickpeas, hummus, hard-boiled eggs, almonds, or tuna fish add protein making your salad a heartier part of your meal.
  • Dressing. Made of three parts: oil, acid, and salt and pepper. I rely most heavily on the standard olive oil and red wine vinegar, but have used variations. Sesame oil, rice vinegar, spicy mustard diluted with apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, tahini, mashed anchovies- so many possibilities. Dressings can be whisked together in a bowl and adjusted to taste before going on the salad, but most nights I pour the ingredients right over the greens and toss to coat.

The most important step in all of this is to toss the salad. I hate getting plates of greens with dressing on the side. Tossing your salad with a light coat of dressing insures every bite to have a bit of flavor without having to balance a forkful of thick bottled dressing on the side. Whether simple, like Cullen’s favorite salad of arugula and lemon juice, or fancy, like my radish and apple slaw with mustard and lemon over baby greens, salad deserves a place on your table, and in your belly, every evening.

*Amanda and Phu recently had collaborative works at the Woman Made Gallery in Chicago. The works involved laser cutting words and phrases onto foods. I find them fabulously tongue in cheek. Click here for more: HERE!

Photo of Larry D'Amico's salad ©Travis Anderson