By Josette Keelor
Salads are a staple for anyone trying to lose weight or eat healthy, but experts offer mixed advice on whether or not they should be part of a healthy winter diet.
What could be healthier than a big bowl of fresh veggies? According to Anne Palmer, a board certified integrative nurse health coach with Nourish Yourself Well in Front Royal, that question depends on the time of year.
Vegetables contain the most nutrients when in season, but because most vegetables don't grow in Virginia during the wintertime, she said it's best to look for what does grow locally -- root vegetables and cold weather veggies grown indoors.
"The healthiest way to eat is closest to the source," she said. She recommended hot foods during the wintertime. Hearty options are those that use potatoes, sweet potatoes or winter squash and recipes like vegetarian chili or braised kale with mushrooms and beans.
"That's what people find most nourishing," she said, "because it warms the constitution."
But according to area chefs, you can have your stew and salad too.
Dan Cornish, executive chef at Winchester Medical Center, agreed produce isn't as readily available in the wintertime but said that's no reason to ditch salads for a warmer day.
"I'd definitely recommend eating salad any time of the year," he said.
He suggested a mix of hearty cold weather greens like kale, radicchio and endive, spiced up with fall fruits like apples, pears, dried fruits, nuts and other vegetables you enjoy. Throw in some cooked sweet potatoes, he said, and one of his favorite salad toppings -- beets.
With so many competing flavors, he said a simple vinaigrette is all that's needed to top off the dish.
"Grains are always great," he said, "wild rice of course."
Or turn up the heat, said Cornish, who also enjoys warm salads like spinach and bacon salad with warm bacon cider Dijon dressing.
At La Nicoise Café in Winchester, owner Frederic Boukaia uses shrimp, tuna, chicken, turkey, lamb, flank steak with Teriyaki sauce and even sausage to make salads different. Experiment with seafood, he said, since "every fish is good for you."
The tuna salad he serves at his French restaurant includes boiled red potato, boiled eggs, black olives and French green beans, with a red wine vinegar sauce.
When it comes to choosing salad toppings, he said there are plenty.
But those aiming for the healthiest options should consider the source of their fruits and vegetables. Online, warnings of the "dirty dozen" caution against buying produce most likely to contain pesticides or other toxins.
Apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, domestic blueberries, grapes, hot peppers, lettuce, imported nectarines, peaches, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, spinach and strawberries appear on lists of foods reported as containing the most pesticide residue, unless organically grown. The Environmental Working Group also recently added domestically grown summer squash and leafy greens, specifically kale and collard greens, to its list at www.ewg.org/foodnews.
But any produce is better than none, said Jennifer Carter, a registered dietician and clinical nutrition manager at Winchester Medical Center, and she said concerned veggie lovers can also decrease the amount of pesticides they consume by washing their produce with water and either a store-bought fruit wash or one made from four parts water and one part dish detergent.
"Foods do lose their nutritional value the longer they sit," she said. If looking for fresher options, she said choosing frozen vegetables is another way to go.
"I know a lot of people think they don't have as much nutrition, but they do," she said.
The cleanest produce, in terms of pesticides, are asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangos, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, sweet frozen peas and sweet potatoes, the EWG said.
Whether or not a typical winter dish, salads are some of Boukaia's most popular recipes, and what really brings in customers is his chicken liver plum salad, featuring chicken liver in a glazed plum sauce made from port wine on a bed of spinach with red onion, strawberries, black pepper and balsamic olive oil.
"It's my creation," he said. "People come special to my restaurant to eat this one."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or email@example.com>
Braised Kale with Mushrooms and Beans
This "stick to your ribs" vegetarian dish is adapted from Dr. Mark Hyman's "Ultra-Metabolism Cookbook." Anne Palmer has increased the amount of shallots and garlic to give it more "oomph" and replaced the olive oil with coconut oil, which is safer for sautéing. It can be prepared in advance, keeps in the refrigerator for a few days and reheats well.
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2/3 cup minced shallot (onion works fine)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
8 ounces mixed mushrooms (such as shitake, cremini and white button)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 1 1/2 pounds kale (approximately), tough stems removed and cut into 1-inch strips
½ cup organic low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup canned, low-sodium or cooked white beans, such as navy or great northern, drained and rinsed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper.
Cook 1/3 cup of shallot in I tbsp of coconut oil for about 5 minutes until translucent.
Add 1 clove of garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes
Add the mushrooms and ¼ teaspoon of salt and cook until the mushrooms have released liquid and they have begun to brown (about 6 minutes). Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set them aside.
Heat the remaining oil and cook the remaining shallot for 5 minutes and then the remaining garlic for 1-2 minutes.
Add the kale, broth, remaining salt and pepper. Turn the kale in the pan until it wilts. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes until the kale is tender.
Add the beans, cooked mushrooms. Heat them through and serve.