It occurred to me in the autumn of 1984, as I spilled my third heaving ladle of Ranch dressing over my DIY fast-food salad (made up primarily of grated cheddar cheese, croutons, sunflower seeds, raw mushrooms, a wee bit of shredded lettuce and a dollop of chocolate pudding—not kidding), that maybe salads, regardless of what my mother told me, maybe sometimes salads were not the healthiest option—at least the salads my 16 year old self made.
I have had rocky relationship with salads ever since. In the ‘90s, skinny reporters spoke about the health threat of full-fat salad dressings. They said that you might as well eat a brownie a la mode, if considering a green salad topped with a creamy dressing. Blasphemy! Ranch, blue cheese or creamy Caesar dressings were the only aspect of a salad worth eating, I lamented.
So, I have struggled with how to prepare salads that are tasty, satisfying and healthy for years… Okay, maybe ‘struggled’ is a bit dramatic; I just thought about it a lot. I tried making dressings that were low in fat and on occasion succeeded, but more often failed…
But my approach was all wrong. I was looking at what to put on the salad, rather than what to put in it. Dressings are important, for sure, but if the salad is a melange of textures and flavors, utilizing raw and cooked foods—the dressings can be used sparingly (thus adding less fat)…
Then, I had an epiphany: Sweet Pea Paste. You heard me, sweet pea paste. Its nothing more than fresh peas (frozen will do, too), simmered in vegetable broth for mere moments, then whizzed up in a blender or food processor with some of the broth and a bit of extra virgin olive oil and fresh mint. Smear this on the plate, before piling the salad on, and it creates this surprise taste and texture element that catapults even the most mundane of tossed greens into the flavor stratosphere. Add in some toasted pumpkin seeds and ribbons of grilled courgette (zucchini) to the salad and you will see salads in a whole new lite (misspelling intended).
Sweet Pea Paste also makes a fabulous sandwich spread—just had it for lunch, spread on a crunchy roll with grilled chicken, fresh cracked black pepper and cucumber slices. Heaven.
Sweet Pea Paste
- 1 cup fresh peas (or frozen and thawed)
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 4 large mint leaves
Simmer the peas in the vegetable broth for about 2-3 minutes, until just cooked, but still bright green. Drain the peas, catching 2 tablespoons of broth– Drink the rest like soup (yum!). Puree the cooked peas, 2 tablespoons broth, 1 tablespoon olive oil and mint leaves. Add salt if needed.
Makes 1/2 cup paste. Store in the fridge. Keeps up to 5 days.
- The Daily Beast | 40 Salads That Can Kill You: America’s Most Unhealthy Salads
- Marie Claire | 9 Myths About Your Salad