Roasted Apple & Brie Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

Roasted Apple & Brie Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

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There are salads, and then there are SALADS. I’m talking super yummy, satisfying and healthful salads, filled to the brim with flavor, texture, and nourishment. A salad like this answers the body’s desire for fresh, clean, and nutrient-rich meals, to offset all of the richer and more indulgent meals we (I mean, “I”) enjoy eating. Salads like this are definitely a staple in my diet, and this one is a particular favorite of mine. There’s sweetness from the roasted apples, depth from the caramelized onion, freshness from the greens, richness from the cheese, and a punch of flavor from the delish sherry vinaigrette (my new basic dressing for everything and anything). Trust me when I say, this salad won’t disappoint.

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When creating a super satisfying “big salad” (Seinfeld reference), there are a few elements that I almost always include. There’s always something a bit sweet, there’s always something (or a few things) that adds richness and complexity, there’s always a balanced dressing, and there’s always an abundance of protein and fiber. But protein is the focus of this post.

I’ve decided to focus on meat-free protein sources for a few reasons. The first reason is that I get this question a lot, how do you get enough protein as a vegetarian or a vegan? Short answer, easily (sometimes I even eat too much protein by accident). The second reason why I’m focusing on protein today is because my class recently started our nutrition-specific lectures at school (Natural Gourmet Institute), and I’d like to pass on the basics of protein to all my lovely readers. And thirdly because this particular salad highlights almost all of the meat-free protein source categories, so it only makes sense to use it as a reason to talk about meat-free protein. So here we go!

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The first question I want to answer is, what does protein do for us? Protein is one of three essential macronutrients required for life and function (the other two are carbs and fat). Protein, as most know, is a building block of muscles and organs in the body (including the brain and liver), and allows for a physically strong and fit body. But protein is also essential for important bodily functions such as metabolism, fighting off infections, and the creation of enzymes and hormones. Additionally, protein is also needed for proper brain function and clear thinking. So basically, protein is super-duper important. But what is protein?

Protein is a source of amino acids for our body. Our bodies require 22 different types amino acids in order to function. 13 of these required amino acids are naturally produced in the body. But 9 of them are not produced by the body, which means these 9 ‘essential amino acids’ (EAA) need to be given to the body through ingestion (aka eating and drinking). Complete protein foods, like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, include all 9 EAA’s in sufficient quantities (easy enough).Point is, if you eat meat and dairy, it’s simple to get all those essential amino acids. And there are a handful of vegan complete protein options, including quinoa, chia seeds and buckwheat. However, most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly protein sources do not include all 9 EAA’s. We call these ‘incomplete proteins’.

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The issue is, as a vegetarian, I can’t eat quinoa all-day-every-day. Don’t get me wrong, I love quinoa, especially in this salad. But variety is the spice of life! No worries though. The cool thing here, is that you can combine incomplete protein sources to create complete proteins. All plants contain protein, therefor all contain amino acids. To get complete proteins, simply combine multiple protein sources. For instance, black beans + brown rice or whole grain bread + almond butter or whole grain pasta + kale & pine nut pesto or millet pilaf with pecans and baby spinach. Basically, grains are combined with veggies and legumes (nuts, seeds, beans), creating whole and complete protein sources.

For this particular salad, I used quinoa, so other ingredients weren’t necessary to create complete protein. But I added beans anyway for texture, additional protein and fiber. Then I added even more protein with fresh baby spinach and brie cheese. See? So much protein! All of which are vegetarian, most of which are vegan.

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So there you go, a brief summary of protein. To recap, protein is absolutely essential for a healthy and strong body and mind. Meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs are complete proteins, providing all essential amino acids in one swoop. Multiple incomplete proteins (most grains, vegetables and legumes) should be combined to create complete proteins. And veggie-friendly protein sources are countless, you just have to know when and how to combine them. And if you’re still wondering where meat-freers get protein, just take a look at this salad. Gang’s all there!

Roasted Apple & Brie Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette Dressing
Serves: 3 mains or 6 sides    Start to Finish: 1 hr

Ingredients

For salad
3/4 cup dry quinoa
Sea salt, fine grain
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large apples (like gala or honey crisp)
1 can organic kidney beans (1.5 to 2 cups cooked beans)
3 ounces Brie cheese, thinly sliced
1 large romaine heart, washed and chopped
10 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed
Sherry Vinaigrette Dressing (recipe follows)

For dressing
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons organic maple syrup
1 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (1 teaspoon chopped garlic)
1.5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teasooon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

To Make

Add quinoa, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1.5 cups water to a small saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover. Cook until quinoa is tender, about 13 minutes. Set aside, still covered, for 5-10 minutes. Transfer to bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in sauté pan. Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Cook until onions are caramelized, about 45 minutes. Add water to the pan when it gets dry, 3-4 tablespoons at a time. When onions are caramelized and the pan is at a dry phase, remove from heat. Transfer to container for cooling.

While onions cook, remove core and cut apples into big bite-size chunks. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and spread onto parchment lined baking sheet. Roast apples in oven until tender, 25-30 minutes, tossing once during cooking.

Drain and rinse beans. Wash and prep lettuces.

Make dressing. In a blender or using and immersion blender, blend all dressing ingredients until smooth and creamy. Season with sea salt to taste.

This can be a tossed salad or a composed salad. When all components are ready (quinoa, caramelized onions, roasted apples, beans, Brie cheese and dressing), divide among portions of romaine/spinach and drizzle with dressing to taste. Or toss all components together just before serving. Go easy on the dressing at first, you can always add more or serve more on the side for those who like lots of dressing.

*the components to this salad should be at room temp or chilled before tossing with lettuces.

**double recipe to feed a crowd or to keep around for future dinners and lunches in a pinch.

***sherry vinaigrette, caramelized onions, roasted apples and quinoa can all be made up to 3-4 days in advance. Store each component separately in tightly sealed containers and refrigerate.

Vegan Verde Crack Sauce

Vegan Verde Crack Sauce

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For awhile now I’ve been wanting to recreate the Mexican Goddess Dressing from the infamous Chop’t restaurant, a fast casual, create-your-own-salad chain that has pretty much taken over the lunch scene in New York City. Although it moves fast, between the hours of 12 and 2pm on a week day, the line is literally out the door. And it’s easy to understand why. Chop’t is seriously amazing for so many reasons. A friendly and efficient staff, fresh and high-quality ingredients (many of which are locally sourced), and the most amazing salad dressing of all time, their totally addictive Mexican Goddess Dressing.

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Because of their Mexican Goddess, I actually get the same exact salad every single time I go. Every. Single. Time. This tart, slightly spicy, super flavorful vegan dressing is more like a thick sauce. Not only could this sauce be used as a salad dressing, but it would also work beautifully as a dip for tortilla chips, as a salsa in burritos or as an enchilada sauce. I’ve seriously dreamed of all the possibilities, so naturally I made my own version of it (finally!).

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The base of my Verde Crack Sauce is freshly roasted tomatillos. Tomatillos are similar to green tomatoes in appearance and have a refreshing tart flavor. Along with the tomatillos, I also roasted the jalapeño pepper to add some depth and heat. You can control the heat by using one or two jalapeños and removing or keeping the seeds (the seeds are where the heat is). Cilantro, garlic and lime juice are added for even more flavor, and finally, I throw in a rich and creamy avocado.

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This is a great sauce to keep in the archives. In the last week I’ve used it as a salad dressing, a dip and as a suave for my scrumptious, tortilla-free zucchini enchiladas (recipe coming soon). I have a feeling I’ll be making this vibrant sauce all summer long.
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Vegan Verde Crack Sauce
Serves: 4-6 (as a dip or dressing)  Start to Finish: 20-30 min

Ingredients

1 lb Tomatillos
3-4 tbs chopped Cilantro
1 Avocado
1 tbs Lime
1-2 Jalapeños (depending on desired heat level)
2 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp Olive Oil
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2-1 tsp salt (to taste)

To Make

Remove papery tomatillo skins and rinse under cold water. On a foil lined pan, broil tomatillos and jalapeño (whole) until the skins are blistering and partially blackened, and the tomatillos have released some juices. I broiled for about 20 minutes, flipping once half way through. Every broiler is different though so refer to my picture.

Add tomatillos and juice to a food processor. Remove the stem of the jalapeño and remove seeds if desired. I left half of the seeds in to give a bit more spice. Add jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice, garlic and olive oil to the tomatillos in the food processor. Process for 10 seconds or until smooth. Add avocado, process for 5 seconds or until well blended. Season with salt and pepper (to taste). Process for 5 seconds.

Use as a salad dressing, as a sauce for smothering just about anything, or as a dip with any of your favorite Southwestern and Mexican dishes.

*Makes about 1.5 to 1.75 cups

Lighten Up: Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

Lighten Up: Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

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Crudités platters are often seen as the boring but required member of any party’s munchies spread. But that’s not at all how I see a good old veggie platter. In fact, I’m the girl at the party who heads immediately to the crudités platter. I’m not the girl that makes a plate of raw carrots and cherry tomatoes and considers herself full. I’m the girl who just stands there, dipping veggie after veggie into whatever creamy dip sits in the center of the platter. That is until I realize I’ve eaten about a pound of mayo. But then I dismiss that thought, telling myself that I burned 600 calories crunching and munching my way through the stacks of bell pepper, snap peas, and celery.

This love of fresh crudités and creamy dip is not just reserved for parties. I actually find myself craving sliced veggies and some kind of creamy, decadent dip, like Green Goddess or classic Ranch, on a regular basis. Lately, my dip of choice has been a lightened-up version of one of my faves, Blue Cheese Dip. And that’s the recipe I’m sharing today, my own special recipe for a creamy, dreamy (lightened up) Blue Cheese Dip.

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When it comes to healthy eating, I believe in balance and moderation. Because of that, the base of my dressing is equal parts low-fat, plain Greek yogurt and organic mayonnaise. This combo cuts the fat without losing the indulgent flavor I love. If you so please, cut out the mayo even further, or entirely, for an extra light and healthy dressing. Next comes red wine vinegar, some simple seasonings, and, of course, crumbled blue cheese. That’s it! Simple, delicious, versatile.

I use this blue cheese dip (dressing, sauce, etc) in countless ways, not just as a companion for fresh veggie sticks or chilled roasted veggies. I’ve also used my blue cheese dip with my easy buffalo falafel patties, as a spread on a veggie burger and as a dressing on chopped salads or coleslaw. I just love this dressing.

Lightened Up Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing
Serves: Start to Finish: 5-10 minutes

Ingredients
12 ounces combined whole milk yogurt (greek or traditional) mayonnaise and/or sour cream*
1 tablespoon vinegar, red wine or white wine vinegar both work
1/2 teaspoon each fine-grain sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper and garlic powder (or garlic granules)
1+ tablespoon milk or water (optional, + more to consistency)
6 ounces blue cheese crumbles

To Make

In a small-medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. I like to use an immersion blender to create a smoother texture. Serve chilled as a dip, dressing or spread.

*I like the richness and thickness of this recipe because it works on everything from salads, as a spread on sandwiches, and as a dip for veggies, wings, etc. For a thinner consistency, add water or milk, a little at a time. If using traditional yogurt, the consistency will be thinner without needing water/milk. If using greek yogurt, mayo or sour cream, water/milk is likely needed to create desired consistency.

**I most often use only plain, full-fat yogurt for this. However, any combination of yogurt, mayo and sour cream for a total of 1.5 cups will work. My second favorite combo would be 6 ounces yogurt combined with 6 ounces mayonnaise.