Friday recipe: Michelle Obama’s summer chopped salad

I’m a fan of nutrition counselor and Washington Post writer Casey Seidenberg, who contributes to the newspaper’s weekly “Lean and Fit” electronic newsletter (you can subscribe to it here). Her recent column, titled “A healthful bounty prevents a mutiny,” described our country’s “funny way of promoting health.”

“When a typical American says he is getting healthy, his approach is often to cut ‘bad’ foods or to eat less,” she noted. “But when we try not to think about something, we usually think about it more. And when we tell ourselves we can’t have something, don’t we want it more? Children are especially susceptible to this behavior.”Michelle Obama

Pointing out that many Americans are “overfed yet undernourished,” Seidenberg instead encourages us to think about the foods we can add to our diets to make them more healthy, rather than what to subtract. She’s compelled in part as a mother who wants her kids to “grow up enjoying food, not seeing it as the enemy.”

I applaud that view. Given we’re in the season of bountiful fresh produce, this is a great time to clean up our diets with crunchy salads and luscious fruits (just walk away from that mayo-smothered potato salad, please).

I think this was the mindset of First Lady Michelle Obama, who last year had published her book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America. “As both a mother and a first lady, I was alarmed by reports of skyrocketing childhood obesity rates and the dire consequences for our children’s health. And I hoped this garden would help begin a conversation about this issue – a conversation about the food we eat, the lives we lead, and how all of that affects our children.”

In my opinion, the biggest bonus of a garden is the crop. Think of what gardens bring to our diets. Why break into a bag of Cheetos when you can have a handful of cherry tomatoes instead? Why snarf a Ho-Ho when refreshing watermelon is at hand? And why go for mac-and-cheese when you instead can enjoy Michelle Obama’s summer chopped salad? Think delicious, not deprivation.

Summer chopped salad
From American Grown

For the pecans:

  • 1/2 cup pecan halves
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cajun spice mixture

For the salad:

  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 1 pound assorted summer lettuces, such as Bibb, romaine and red leaf, well washed and drained
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 mild radishes, such as breakfast radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 ripe tomato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3-4 scallions, white part only, chopped

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1/2 cup (or less, to taste) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Make the pecans: Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. In a small bowl, toss together the pecans, honey, brown sugar, melted butter and Cajun spice mixture. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, tossing the nuts every 10 minutes, until fragrant and caramelized. Set aside to cool.

Make the salad: Spray a large skillet with cooking spray. Heat the pan over medium-high heat and add the corn kernels. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, until the corn in brown in spots. Season with pepper and set aside.

Bring a medium saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook for 1-3 minutes; be sure that you don’t overcook them – they should still be a little bit crisp. Remove the beans with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water. Drain, pat dry, and slice into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.

Make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, and tarragon. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season with black pepper to taste.

In a large mixing bowl, place the salad greens, cucumber, radishes, tomatoes, bell pepper, green beans, corn, scallions, and spiced pecans. Pour the dressing over and toss lightly. Serve immediately.

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