Lou's Clues: Saving with salads

Summer has officially arrived, which means humid air and a veggie garden ready for the eating. Sounds like salad time to me! Problem is, take a family of four to a salad/buffet restaurant, and you can easily be out 30 bucks or more -- and that's without drinks. What's a family to do? Bring the salad bar home, of course!

Throwing together a salad bar at home is easy. Super easy. Ridiculously easy. All you need are your favorite greens, an assortment of fixings, some dressing, and people to help you eat.

First up: the greens. I like to start with a head of iceberg lettuce, and a head of Romaine. Give them a chop or tear, then rinse them off, and take them for a spin in a salad spinner. If you don't have a salad spinner, just toss the greens into a large colander and give them a good shake to get rid of the excess water. Add a little sliced onion and chopped fresh tomato to the mix, and you're all set! (Store any leftovers of this mix in a large Ziplock bag, and it can be used for side salads or another round of salad bar any time over the next week).
For the fixings, you can really throw in anything you want. Veggies, cheese, nuts, fruit -- anything! My usual salad bar contains the following:

Can of sliced beets
Can of corn
Can of garbonzo beans
Can of red or white beans
Chopped nuts
Any fresh sprouts
Can of string beans

Let your imagination run wild, and if you have small children, let them get into the act as well. My son's favorite fixing was peanut butter -- he liked to slather it on celery sticks -- while my daughter loved to try different beans on her salad. I have found that when a child dresses his/her own plate, they're usually much happier about eating their veggies. Not only do they feel good about their own picks, they feel a certain pressure to show the table just how good their selections were.

To serve, round up all those butter tubs and Cool Whip containers you've saved for storing leftovers, and fill them with your fixings. If you prep before dinner time (say, on Sunday night if you have a busy Monday evening), these containers can sit in the fridge, ready for you to put out on the table or countertop as you set up your very own salad bar.

Keep a few inexpensive dressings handy, as well as olive oil and wine vinegar, and let the healthy eating begin!

Bored with your ranch dressing? Try this original of mine:

Chef Louie's Pizza Salad Dressing
In a blender, pour 1 cup of red wine vinegar, 2 cloves of fresh garlic, 2 tablespoons of any brand "Italian seasoning" or equivalent of dried basil, oregano and rosemary, salt and pepper to taste, maybe a few flakes of red pepper, 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup of tap water and one medium tomato, chopped. Let this rip at medium until well blended, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, and slowly drizzle in 1 cup olive oil. Even the pickiest eaters can't resist a salad topped with shredded mozzarella, and a healthy pour of pizza-flavored dressing!


Chef Louie hosts Good Day Food & Wine, a nationally syndicated weekend radio show. A culinary veteran, Chef Louie pledges to empower you in the kitchen, the supermarket, and help you eat better, entertain better and keep more of that hard-earned money close to home. Sign up for his free e-newsletter here.
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