Sometimes it’s just nice to have salad for dinner. It feels healthy, like I’m scrubbing out my insides with vegetable matter. Communing with the spring or summer earth through its crunchy raw leaves, sprouts, and vegetables. Of course, by the time I’m done loading up my greens with olives, nuts, cheese, and dressing, I admit it’s not exactly health food.
In an essay called “Salad, The Silent Killer,” Jeffrey Steingarten writes, “Adults who require a salad at every meal are like obsessed little children who will eat nothing but frozen pizza or canned ravioli for months on end…They think nothing of interrupting a perfectly nice meal with their superstitious salad ritual, heads bowed, snouts brought close to their plastic wood grained bowls, crushing and shoveling simultaneously—their power of conversation lost.”
This is, by the way, why I love Steingarten so much—as often as I tend to disagree with his conclusions about food, I have to catch my breath from laughing and acknowledge he’s got a point. So many people eat salad like it’s a duty. I have a friend whose nutritionist recommended that she prepare herself gigantic salads to start her meals because with all that chewing she’d be too full (or tired? or forlorn?) to overeat. I watched her try to put this into practice at a meal. The expression on her face was like she was folding laundry.
Steingarten also rebuffs the idea that raw veggies are healthier than their cooked counterparts. He points to nutrients that are only available or digestible when cooked and bacteria that can stow a ride on greenery and can only be rendered harmless by cooking. (The latest sprout scare, anyone?)
But still, I’d like to stand up for salad. Certified Naturally Grown lettuce and micro-greens from our farmer’s market and cucumbers and tomatoes when they’re finally in season are all meant to be eaten raw. And this salad, with tempeh (a fermented soy product that is an even better source of protein than tofu), is worthy of a whole plate.
You can whip this up quickly if you don’t go through all the steps with tempeh, but I can’t stand bitter-bland, dry tempeh. For me, it’s worth the effort to turn the tempeh into a treat rather than something to dutifully consume while reminding myself how good this is supposed to be for me.
Gourmet Salad with Sweet and Spicy Glazed Tempeh
Yield: Two dinner servings with leftovers
- 1 package tempeh, cut into half-inch thick strips and prepared as below
- Salad greens—whatever leaves and greens you prefer
- Optional salad fixings: sliced strawberries, crumbled gorgonzola cheese, candied pecans (directions below) or other nuts or seeds, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, sprouts.
Gourmet Salad 101: Gorgonzola or blue cheese (or aged hard cheese) pair nicely with strawberries (or other fruit) and nuts. You really don’t need to candy the pecans, since the tempeh is sweet and so are the strawberries, but I like the special treat. Just make sure you don’t add a sweet (e.g. fruity) dressing on top of all of that sweetness. (Plech.) Personally, I like a simple balsamic vinaigrette with this salad.
Sweet and Spicy Tempeh
- 2 cups apple cider
- ½ inch disc of fresh ginger, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 TBS soy sauce
- 2 TBS olive oil
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp cider vinegar
- 1 tsp or more chili garlic sauce (or other hot sauce)
- ½ tsp arrowroot or cornstarch
- Steam the tempeh slices for five minutes (on the stove or in the microwave, as you would steam a vegetable). This step makes the tempeh moister and ready to absorb the marinade.
- Mix together all the marinade ingredients except for the arrowroot or cornstarch. Add the tempeh slices and marinate for at least an hour in the fridge. If you’re planning in advance, you can leave it overnight for maximum flavor.
- Strain most of the marinade into a sauce pan and turn that on high.
- Meanwhile, bake the tempeh slices at 400 degrees for twenty minutes, turning them over after about half way. You can add additional liquid from the sauce on your stove at that time. Towards the end, switch the oven to broil for a minute to crisp the very outer edges.
- Boil the sauce rapidly on your stovetop and reduce it down to between half and one-quarter its original volume.
- Mix the arrowroot or cornstarch into just enough water to dissolve and add to the bubbling sauce. Allow to bubble just until it begins to thicken (this will happen very quickly) and then turn off the heat. Set this aside.
- When the tempeh comes out of the oven, coat with the glaze. Allow to cool a little before using in your salad.
- The extras (refrigerated and then quickly reheated in the microwave) are delicious the next day as a snack or in a wrap.
- ¼ pound raw pecans
- 1 heaping TBS brown sugar
- 1- ½ TBS hot water
- Dissolve the brown sugar in hot water.
- Heat the pecans in a nonstick pan over medium heat, keeping them moving. They will turn dark brown and eventually get hot to the touch. When they turn black in a few places, turn the heat to high and add the sugar water.
- Allow the water to bubble rapidly until the liquid is almost but not quite gone. Shut off the heat and allow the residual heat in the pan continue to caramelize and harden the sugar onto the pecans.
- Let the pecans cool for a few minutes before using on your salad.