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A month or so ago I sent out a desperate cry for help with my lunches. I was stuck in a rut, eating the same thing day after day, which is quite boring. One suggestion I received was to put serving-size portions of stews, soups and casseroles in the freezer and take them out a few days ahead to thaw in the fridge; I have done that a few times with great success. Today I enjoyed a spicy bowl of chicken stew with red lentils, as good today as it was in January. I had some chili last week which was just as satisfying. But… the truth is that I am so trained to cook for two that I don’t often have extra, so these from-the-freezer lunches are few, maybe once a week. And so my search for lunch ideas continues.

At the farmers’ market on Sunday, I was excited to see a real variety of greens available, more than the kale and chard I’ve seen through the winter. Rabes of all kinds– broccoli, cauliflower, kale– rapini, and finally!, salad greens. Hooray! We got a giant bag of mixed salad greens and some sprouts to go with them, and this week I have been trying different salad combinations for lunch, with great results. Tuesday I had greens with sliced Pink Lady apple (you could use any apple), shaved Manchego cheese and a punchy lemon-dijon dressing. (True confession: it is based on the dressing Ina Garten uses for her avocado-grapefruit salad, and you feel free to make one of those with some of it. Yum.) It was crunchy and sweet from the apple and greens, sour and spicy from the dressing, creamy from the cheese, a wonderful mix of flavors and textures. Yesterday I tried the greens with dates, cashews (the only nuts in my house, but they worked), crumbled bleu cheese and a vinaigrette made with balsamic vinegar and pomegranate molasses. The dressing was sour in a delightful way, the perfect foil for the sweetness of the dates and the creaminess of the cheese and cashews.

I give an A+ to both salads and can’t wait to get more greens this weekend so I can make them again, or keep playing with flavors. The key to a great salad is a mix of flavor elements, if you will: something crunchy, something creamy, and various tastes that are salty, sweet, sour or bitter. Fresh fruits and vegetables of all kinds are wonderful: the standards like cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes and mushrooms, of course, but don’t forget about mandarins, mango, jicama and kohlrabi. Don’t be afraid of ransacking the cupboard for dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, cherries, etc.) and different nuts or seeds (sunflower seeds are my favorite), and mix up your vinegars for variety. One of these days I will share my over-the-top love of vinegar with you all, and you might think differently of me, but I won’t even mind, because a broad selection of vinegars is a good chef’s secret weapon. But more on that later. For now, happy lunching! Enjoy your salads.

Lemon-Dijon Dressing

  • 2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • approximately 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste

Mix the first five ingredients in a bowl with a whisk, or shake in a dressing jar. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly, or do a few tablespoons at a time and shake between each addition, until the dressing reaches your desired consistency. Makes enough dressing for 4-6 salads; keeps in the fridge for about a week.

Balsamic Vinaigrette with Pomegranate Molasses

  • 1 tsp. pomegranate molasses
  • 1 1/2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. honey
  • pinch of salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • 3 T. olive oil

Mix the first five ingredients in a bowl with a whisk, or shake in a dressing jar. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly, or do a few tablespoons at a time and shake between each addition, until the dressing reaches your desired consistency. Makes enough dressing for 4 salads; keeps in the fridge for about a week.

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