Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Last Night's Dinner : Southwestern Salad with Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

In an act of redemption following the large slices of super spicy sausage and pepperoni pizza the hubby and I consumed while watching football on Sunday, I decided to put together a yummy salad brimming with colorful vegetables for dinner last night. And since it got the seal of approval from the GT (and myself!), I thought I'd share the "recipe."

It's a "recipe" because, like I usually do, I just winged it last night. Throwing together a salad isn't an exact science. The dressing, well, that's a little more so. But science was never my best subject so when I make a vinaigrette it's a lot of guesswork, eyeballing, tasting and adjusting. That's the fun! I love whisking something together, giving it a try, bringing a spoon over to my husband to get his opinion, and then adding a little more of this or that to make it perfect.

Nevertheless, I realize that isn't so helpful to anyone trying to recreate the dish, so I've done my best to formulate an actual recipe. But I'll still encourage you: Have fun! Play with your food! Make it your own! It will taste that much better.

Southwestern Salad with Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette
Prep time: 15 minutes
Makes 2 generous servings

For the salad:
Romaine lettuce, chopped into chunks (I used a pre-washed package to make life easy)
2 cups grape tomatoes (red and yellow), sliced in half
1 ear of corn, husk and silky threads removed, kernels cut off the cob; reserve cob for vinaigrette
Half a can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup of red quinoa, cooked according to package directions
1/4 cup of pepitas (mine were roasted and salted)
1 avocado

For the vinaigrette:
Handful cilantro, leaves picked from stems and finely minced
Juice of half of a large lime
Sherry vinegar (can sub red wine vinegar, or even balsamic vinegar if necessary)
Extra virgin olive oil
Sriracha (or your favorite hot sauce)
Corn cob milk
Salt and pepper, to taste

While quinoa cooks, prep the vegetables. Once the quinoa is ready, assemble the salad ingredients. Place romaine in a large bowl and lay tomatoes, corn, beans, pepitas and quinoa over the top, in rows or a pinwheel design. Finish with slices (or chunks, if you prefer) of avocado.

To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl, whisk together about 1 tablespoon of vinegar and the juice of half a lime with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 1-2 teaspoons of honey, 1 teaspoon of Sriracha and the "milk" from the reserved corn cob. (Using the back of a knife, scrape the corn cob to release the corn milk. It is best to do this over the bowl in which you are preparing the vinaigrette.) Whisk to combine, then add cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. 

Try the vinaigrette; it should be tangy, slightly sweet from the honey and the corn milk, with a hint of spice from the Sriracha. Adjust seasonings if necessary to balance the flavors. Add more olive oil or honey if it is too bitter, add more hot sauce if you would like more heat, etc. Don't underestimate the power of salta good pinch can bring out all the flavors in the dressing!

Once you have perfected the vinaigrette to your tastes, dress the salad, toss and serve immediately.

The reason I love this salad is that, even though it is admirably healthy with fresh veggies, good fats and a light vinaigrette, it is also extremely filling thanks to the beans and quinoa, which coats the romaine once mixed. The creamy avocado and satisfyingly crunchy pepitas upped the yum-factor. You definitely don't feel like you are sacrificing flavor for fewer calories, and you can have a large helping guilt-free. On top of that, it is quick and easy to prepare. And no need to turn on the ovenperfect for those warm, Indian summer evenings.

If you decide to try out this recipe, I'd love to hear how you like itand how you made it your own! Roast the corn? Red beans instead of black? Baby greens mixed with romaine? Toss in grilled chicken? A sprinkle of shredded cheese? The options are truly endless. Happy cooking :)

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