ASIAN INFUSED SALAD WITH CHILI LIME DRESSING

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
— May Sarton

Did someone say spring fever? Yes, I am feeling anxious for summer. Even though I try to be the kind of person who views the glass as half full, believe me when I say that I gave winter the evil eye this year. Yes, I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Yes, I have lived here for most of my forty-six years. Yes, I know that I should savor each moment and wish life to move fast forward. Still, I find myself wistful for long hikes and vases full of fresh-cut flowers from my back yard. I watch the chickens preen in the sunshine and I eagerly anticipate long daylight hours filled with warmth and all of the possibility that we can gather in a few short months.

Since my family is fortunate to have a hoop house, April will be planting season for us and we are investing a lot of sweat equity into our garden this year. For a couple of months now we have been starting seeds in our house. My husband John started broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin, watermelon, and an assortment of flowers. Last weekend I started tomatoes and cucumbers. Check out the “mini-greenhouses” I used to plant cucumbers and recycle the large clamshell containers that greens come in from the supermarket.

In the fall it was difficult to go back to buying greens for salads and smoothies after being able to grow our own all spring and summer.
However, I found a neat way to recycle the large clamshell packages. They make great mini-greenhouses to start seeds. Fill with soil, plant seeds, water, close the top, and place in a sunny windowsill until your seeds germinate. 🌱🌱

Pumpkin plant windowsill garden.

We have a tiny house but we maximize our space and take advantage of the wonderful sunlight.

This weekend I am picking up squash seeds (zucchini, yellow summer squash, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash) to also start indoors. While we still have several feet of snow on the ground, on sunny days the temperature is reaching the low 70s in the hoop house. I can already taste the green beans, broccoli, and peas and I cannot wait to be able to pick fresh greens daily for salads.

When I make salads as an entrée for work or dinner, I like to bulk them up with ingredients that are going to have staying power. I love to add beans or nuts for protein and whole wheat pasta, other grains, or quinoa. For the salad that I am sharing with you this month, I decided to use rice noodles – because I thought they would work well with the spicy chili lime dressing. I usually have them on hand because my husband and I love them in my hot and sour mushroom soup. Rice noodles come in a variety of textures (for this salad I used a thin noodle) but the thicker strands would work well too. Both the rice noodles and the garlic chili sauce (that I use in the dressing) can be purchased in the Asian section of the supermarket.

This salad can be plated or made in a jar. While I used clementine oranges or “Cuties”, pineapple or whatever fruit or berries that are in season would work great. The sweetness of fruit partners well with the spiciness of the dressing.
I love to create vibrant salads, since we eat with our eyes first, and I think that taking time to artfully arrange food helps deepen our enjoyment and brings eating to a new level. That is why I enjoy making jar salads. Not only do the jars keep the salads fresh for up to a week, but they help make the salads visually appealing and ready to grab-and-go for work or when you are pressed for time at home. I love being able to prep my salads once for a healthy meal all week-long.

Normally, when I make dressing, I use my Vitamix blender. However, for this dressing, I wanted a chunkier consistency so I added all the ingredients into a pint-sized mason jar, put the lid on and gave it a good shake.

CHILI LIME DRESSING

  • 1 cup of rice vinegar
  • 1 lime (juice and zest. If you are using bottled lime juice, one lime renders approximately 1/4 cup)
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons of sesame oil (sesame oil has a very distinct taste and I love to use it to stir fry vegetables as well)
  • 2 Tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic chili sauce (Warning — chili sauce is SPICY so you may want to add a little at a time. I like heat so I even added more after mixing)
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped onion (I used red onion but green onions would be great for this dressing)
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped fresh ginger root (ginger has a very strong taste and if you are not used to it, I suggest adding a little at a time)
  • Fresh cilantro, finely chopped (1 used 1/4 cup. If you do not like cilantro, parsley would work well)

In the summer I also add a sprig of fresh mint and freshly chopped chives to the dressing.

 

I added 4 Tablespoons of dressing to the bottom of each jar and layered the following ingredients:

Orange bell pepper (chopped)
1 cup of snow peas
Edamame (I make sure to buy organic and purchase in the freezer section and thaw and use in the salads)
Rice noodles (cooked and cooled)
Sunflower seeds
Clementines
Cabbage (chopped)

I made four salads using quart Mason jars. You can decide how much of each ingredient to add. I used ¼ cup each of sunflower seeds, noodles, and edamame. I divided up one small bell pepper, used one clementine per jar, and filled the rest with crunchy cabbage (packing it well to ensure the salad had enough cabbage). Red cabbage works well with this salad as do carrots, tomatoes, broccoli – and if you eat meat you can add chicken or shrimp.

As sure as the geese will return to Upper Michigan skies, this salad will make a great addition to your spring and summer menu. It would be a great dish to bring to a picnic (imagine making small individual salads for everyone in pint jars). The dressing is versatile and while it perks up cabbage or greens in your salad, it is equally delicious drizzled over steamed or roasted vegetables.

If you have spring fever like I do, I hope you find a way to satisfy your yearning for warming days. Now is the perfect time to start some seeds indoors for your own vegetable garden. If you have limited space think about growing tomatoes and fresh herbs in containers. You will thank yourself in a few months when you are making salads from your own fresh produce. Trust me, food always tastes better when it is grown and prepared with a labor of love.

Watermelon sprouts.


 

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Top Ten Recipes of All Time (Five Year Blogiversary)

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Soren Kierkegaard

It was a short, three days, back to work after a relaxing winter holiday. Today is day #6 of the January Productivity Challenge and I am staying true to my goals. Our house is slowly getting reorganized and I am dedicated to a weekly blog post. I have missed writing and reaching out and making connections with others over healthy living. It feels good to fulfill my promise to myself (even though this is only the first week). Trust me, I savor every comment left here – and on Facebook and Instagram. It is rewarding to learn that others enjoy my recipes, my photographs, and my musings. I too find the support that receive in return is priceless. To my faithful readers, thank you for being part of my journey for the past five years. To those new to my blog, welcome – I hope you enjoying browsing my posts and find something that is helpful to you. ❤

I shared my intentions for 2018 with my students this week and I had them too create their own SMART goals. I suggested that they start by making a goal for the month of January and that in February we would access and plan accordingly. They were able to create a personal, family, academic, extra-curricular, or “Act of Kindness” goal. I modeled many examples of goals with them and we discussed how setting small, realistic, and measurable goals can help us achieve success and how, ultimately, this taste of success can snowball into larger accomplishments throughout the course of lives.

We discussed how even a simple health goal (like sleeping for 8 hours a night) can help us become better humans. It can lead us to be better academically and can help us have stronger relationships and interactions with others. We talked about how everything is connected and that we become better stewards of our lives when we are taking care of ourselves and planning ahead.

In my own goal setting I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to happen with my weekly blog posts. While I love creating recipes, a new recipe a week does not fit with my lifestyle right now. I am am a busy teacher, wife, and step mother. However, I am determined to share more. More photos, more musings, more aspects of my daily life, and (as a friend requested) maybe poetry and some of my creative writing.

For this blog post I decided to do some research and analyze my site statistics. Today I am going to share with you the top ten recipes from Produce with Amy in the past five years. With the exception of one green smoothie recipe, the most popular posts have been salads. It was not surprising, because I get more questions and feedback on Mason jar salads than any other recipes. I pride myself in taking the “boring” out of salads. Even my husband John has turned into a “salad person” and frequently asks for a salad with dinner, for a snack, or in a jar for work.

Here they are, starting with the most popular first (LINK TO POST UNDER PHOTO):

#1 Glowing Green Mason Jar Salads with Avocado Vinaigrette Dressing

 

The end of the school year is racing at me. I find that prepping my lunches and dinners makes healthy eating a snap. If you find yourself in a pinch at mealtime you cannot go wrong with salads in a jar.

#2 Mason Jar Salads: Fresh, Visually Appealing, and Versatile (Classic Salad Bar in a Jar & Waldorf Inspired Slaw)

#3 Paradise in a Jar Salad with Blueberry Lemon Dressing

#4 Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

#5 Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek Vinaigrette

Sweet and Savory ingredients make these Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing a seasonal hit!

#6 Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette
#7 Israeli Feast ~ Mason Jar Salad (with Tabouli, Hummus, and Olives)

#8 Garden Fiesta Mason Jar Salad

Summer on a plate!

#9 Watermelon and Cucumber Splash Green Smoothie (With or Without the Greens)

#10 Confetti Salad in a Jar with Creamy Chipotle Dressing

If you have questions about any of my recipes, please do not hesitate to ask. I love hearing from others that are also on the quest for a healthier lifestyle.

Thank you for helping me celebrate Produce with Amy’s five year milestone.  I am hopeful that 2018 will be full of inspiration that will inspire a plethora of new recipes and posts. Happy New Year and may yours be full of creative and healthy productivity! ❤

 

Tangy Ranch and Zesty Avocado ~ Plant Based, Homemade, Salad Dressing

“Lettuce is like conversation; it must be fresh and crisp, so sparkling that you scarcely notice the bitter in it.”
~Charles Dudley Warner

Homemade salad dressing that is fresh and free from the chemicals and preservatives that often accompanies store bought versions.

Homemade salad dressing that is fresh and free from the chemicals and preservatives that often are ingredients in store bought versions. 

Regardless of the season, salads are a go-to meal in our house. I am fortunate that one of Mike’s favorite meals is a dinner plate of greens, with whatever fruit and vegetables we have on hand, and some sort of protein (salmon is his favorite). If I want to receive an extra hearty, thank you, I include a generous amount of gorgonzola cheese and he is a happy husband. We both love the addition of olives and since I try to maintain a plant based diet my favorite way to add protein to a salad is a dollop of hummus and a sprinkling of raw nuts.

I like to make my own salad dressings. This is especially the case in the summer when I have an abundance of fresh herbs available in my garden. My favorite combinations tend to be a vinaigrette where I start with a very basic recipe: olive oil, spicy mustard, minced onion and garlic, and vinegar. I love fresh dill with orange (zest and a touch of juice) and oregano with lemon. I find that store-bought dressings often contain chemicals, preservatives, artificial sweeteners (and since I like a tangy dressing) are often too sweet for my taste buds. Growing up in my family we took our consumption of vinegar seriously. Ask any of my cousins what they loved to eat as children at our grandparent’s house, the late Thomas and Hilda Puskala, and I guarantee they will immediately say, “cucumbers and vinegar.” I fondly remember Grandpa serving my aunt Christina and I cucumbers straight out of his legendary garden with vinegar, salt, and pepper for breakfast. Yes, breakfast, and we savored every crunchy bite!

While I tend to like vinegar and oil based dressings, this winter (yes, it is still winter in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) I have really been craving a more creamy, ranch styled dressing. However, many contain dairy, and like I mentioned earlier ~ a cocktail of chemicals. So, I have been experimenting with my own concoctions and have settled on two recipes that I really enjoy. I used raw nuts to give the dressings some body and a kick of protein.

Tangy Ranch (Plant Based Dressing)

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup dairy substitute (unsweetened coconut or almond milk, soy milk, or hemp milk) I used almond
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • 3 Tablespoons of rice vinegar
  • 3 green onions (could use a couple tablespoons of regular onion)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (I used pink Himalayan salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Blend well. I did use dried herbs but plan to use fresh this summer. I used recycled spaghetti jars to store the dressing. As the ranch sits in your refrigerator it will thicken and may need to thinned out with water or extra vinegar or lemon juice (if you like your dressing tangy like I do). Weight Watchers PP = 2 PP per 2 Tablespoon Serving.

I buy raw cashews in the bulk section of our local co-op. If you don't have a high powered blender, I recommend soaking the nuts in water for at least a half hour.

I buy raw cashews in the bulk section of our local co-op. If you don’t have a high powered blender, I recommend soaking the nuts in water for at least a half hour.

I always have rice vinegar on hand. It really perks up the flavor of Asian soups, salads, and steamed vegetables.

I always have rice vinegar on hand. It really perks up the flavor of Asian soups, salads, and steamed vegetables.

This dressing is so simple and contains ingredients that those with a well stocked pantry already have on hand.

This dressing is so simple and contains ingredients that those with a well stocked pantry already have on hand.

I used bottle lemon juice but fresh would be even better.

I used bottle lemon juice but fresh would be even better.

Zesty Avocado (Plant Based Dressing)

  • 1/2 cup raw almonds 
  • 1/2 cup dairy substitute (unsweetened coconut or almond milk, soy milk, or hemp milk) I used almond
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 medium avocado
  • 1/4 cup of lime juice
  • 3 Tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar
  • Red onion (couple teaspoons)
  • Handful of cilantro
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (I used pink Himalayan salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Blend well. This dressing came out quite a bit thicken than the ranch so I added water to the blender. It will also thicken as it sits in the refrigerator and can be thinned out with additional vinegar, lime juice, or water. Weight Watchers PP = 2 PP per 2 Tablespoon Serving.

Raw, Unpasteurized vinegar has a lot of health benefits and I always keep a bottle on hand.

Raw, Unpasteurized vinegar has a lot of health benefits and I always keep a bottle on hand.

Cashews would work in this recipe as well.

Anything with avocado in it is a winner in my book. Cashews would work in this recipe as well.

Pretty and they pack a flavorful punch in this recipe.

Pretty spices that pack a flavorful punch in this recipe. You could add more or less of the red pepper flakes depending on your tolerance for heat. Hot sauce could also be added or even fresh jalapenos.

Ready to blend.

Ready to blend.

I would be lost without my VItamix. <3

I would be lost without my VItamix. ❤

I use recycled spaghetti sauce jars over-and-over.

I use recycled spaghetti sauce jars over-and-over.

My afternoon feast. A gorgeous array of fruit and vegetables with the Zesty Avocado Dressing.

My afternoon feast. A gorgeous array of fruit and vegetables with the Zesty Avocado Dressing.

I think the dressing would make a fantastic dip for vegetables as well.

I think the dressing would make a fantastic dip for vegetables as well.

As we move into summer I know that I will keep a steady supply of homemade dressings in my refrigerator. I promise to post more recipes as I experiment with new flavor combinations. Have fun experimenting with homemade dressings which are so easy, quick, and can be made to suit your personal taste. If you prefer sweeter varieties over a tangy dressing you can puree up berries or fruit to give your dressing a juicy infusion of flavor. One of the pit falls avoid with healthy eating is falling into a food rut. As long as we remember to switch things up often, salads will remain a healthy staple and we will never grow tired of them. The combinations are endless and it is so important to fill our plates with a rainbow of fresh produce.

Rainbow Plate