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Salads Take Center Stage

The reason I remember the first time I was served a main-course salad, easily 15 years ago, is that it was such a revelation.

It was served to a group of us, six or more, in a large shallow wooden bowl and it was full of all kinds of good things; greens, chickpeas, nuts, seeds, sliced chicken breast and a dressing fragrant with fresh tarragon and basil. I remember my hostess saying how uncomplicated a meal it was to prepare, serve and clean up after.

Main-course salads are a terrific opportunity to combine a variety of ingredients creatively and colorfully. The late, celebrated U.S. cookbook author, James Beard said meat salads originated in North America as a way to use leftovers; maybe he was right.

Certainly, it's a chance to be imaginative in the kitchen. When it comes to main-course salads, there is no wrong way. Add grains if you like, or stick to vegetables and meat. Or don't use meat. Or don't use vegetables. One of the best things about main-course salads is how few rules there are, although one is that you really should make your own vinaigrette.

I once put my imagination together and marinated and grilled chicken breasts on a grill pan, but you could barbecue them instead -- and how they can be paired either with buckwheat noodles or with crunchy coleslaw. The chicken can easily be replaced with salmon or tofu.

In Heartsmart Cooking for Family and Friends, Bonnie Stern does a take on a classic nicoise - made with roasted salmon and grilled vegetables, and served with wheat berries. Or rice. Or barley. It's served on one large platter or in individual portions.

In "A Good Day for Salad", there's a recipe for a main-course salad made with strips of cooked lamb, white beans, arugula and a dressing flavored with cherry tomatoes, garlic and fresh rosemary. There's another for a mango-mint chicken salad featuring boned, skinned chicken breast, sugar snap peas, arugula, bean sprouts, mangos and mint sprigs for garnish. The dressing includes fresh lime and lemon juice, honey, mint leaves, soy and grated fresh ginger.

In her cookbook "Nigella Bites", Nigella Lawson includes a ginger-hot duck salad. A duck breast is grilled and then carved on the diagonal into thin slices, tossed with a couple of tablespoons fish sauce, the juice of half a lime and half an orange; a finely chopped hot pepper; some grated fresh ginger and a few drops of sesame oil, and turned out onto serving plate covered with baby spinach or watercress. Or both.

I've made all these salads -- and then some. I've taken recipes and changed them, played with them, added to them and subtracted from them. I've made main-course salads for myself and made them for a crowd. And I'm far from an expert cook. If I can do it, so can you.

We have a wonderful salad that makes a meal by itself called "Japanese Cabbage Salad" (Serves 8).

Japanese Cabbage Salad

Makes a full meal when served with any Asian-style chicken, fish or tofu.

2 cups shredded red cabbage
2 cups shredded green cabbage
6 greens onions, sliced
1/4 cup slivered almonds, to toast
1/2 cup sesame seeds, to toast
1/4 cup dried cranberries, optional

Dressing:
1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Whisk together dressing ingredients and set aside. Spread sesame seeds on a baking tray and place in a 350F (180C) oven for about 5 minutes. Watch carefully -- they burn quickly. Toast almonds separately, at the same temperature but for a bit longer. Place all salad ingredients together in a bowl. Toss with dressing right before serving, so as not to lose the crunch. Makes 8 servings.

Per Serving: Calories 190, Protein 3g, Fat 16g, Carbohydrates 12g, Fiber 3g, Sodium 195mg (less if salt is omitted from recipe).

Author: Susan Rutter -- Publisher, Nutritionist, and Instructor who assists patients and the public make healthy choices and changes in their lives. Web Site: Healthy YOUbbies http://www.geocities.com/healthyoubbies/

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