Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Food Court Salvation: Spicy Red Lettuce Salad

If you try to maintain any semblance of a healthy lifestyle, you don't get psyched to eat in mall food courts. (Unless of course, you have a weakness for Arby's - not naming any names here - in which case, bring on the Horsey Sauce.) It recently got to the point where I was pushing "business casual" a little too far, so I resignedly hit the mall. Cringe. I used to relish the mall. I could spend hours window shopping and searching for killer deals. But that was back when: a) I could leisurely cruise the mall on a weekday, sans the throngs of weekend shoppers who, literally, could not give a sh*t that they are directly in your way of getting anywhere; and b) I had reason to shop for clothes other than button-down shirts and knee-length skirts.

So picture this: you're tired of shopping and hungry for a salad. You survey your food court choices - bad, bad, worse, barf-worthy, and then . . . a little ray of hope? Salad Creations. It looked pretty unimpressive with its sad neon sign and non-existent line, but nothing was pre-packaged and the ingredients looked pretty fresh. So I ordered the spicy veggie salad, which included cilantro and cayenne pepper, two of my faves. I can safely say that my expectations (granted, they were low) were blown out of the water. The food court grew dim and a shiny gold light emanated from my plastic salad container.* Angel voices poured from the greens.* Shoppers crowded around me for a glimpse of my ethereal meal.*

*Gross exaggerations. But, heck, the salad was good. 
These red beauties came straight from our little veggie garden. And in case anyone's curious, the photo above might be one of my favorite that I've ever taken.
Shortly after my Salad Creations revelation, I decided I needed to recreate it at home. The key players are the cilantro, the cayenne pepper and the avocado. Nothing too crazy about the ingredients individually, but the combo is a flavor bonanza that's hard to find elsewhere in a cold salad. My friend Jenn was coming over for dinner - one of my few friends that I could serve a vegetarian salad to as a main course and not have her question it - so I gathered my fixins and let 'er rip.

My salad didn't taste exactly like the one from Salad Creations (I have to imagine that they use a high dose of salty seasoning that jacks up the flavor), but mine was pretty darn good. I've found that cilantro is a polarizing herb - people either love it or hate it. But when coupled with the spicy cayenne pepper, creamy avocado and crisp red lettuce, I can't imagine anyone not liking this salad. The cilantro and pepper provide a flavorful heat and the avocado is like a soothing palate cleanser. A built-in sorbet if you will. In any event, for those who like to make salads at home, this is a fun, delicious twist on your average veggie salad. And if it's not on your radar, red lettuce is awesome. It's no more expensive than romaine, but in my opinion, the curly red leaves retain their crispness better. Make it happen.

I served the salad with rosemary roasted sweet potato slices, which were a perfect, hearty compliment. Instructions included below.

Spicy Red Lettuce Salad

Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2-3 as a main course

1 large head of red lettuce
2 big carrots, shredded
1 large tomato (or 3-4 little guys), diced
1/2 cucumber, cut into chunks
1 green bell pepper, cut into chunks
3/4 cups black beans, rinsed and drained
1 whole avocado, diced
cilantro, roughly chopped (I used 1 heaping cup of leaves loosely packed, or about 1/2 a bunch)

3 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. seasoning salt
(makes for a lightly dressed salad)

Add all salad ingredients to a bowl. Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk and pour over salad. Toss the salad to distribute dressing.

Serving suggestion: Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes (serves 4)

Wash and slice two sweet potatoes or yams, unpeeled (I might peel off a few strips if the skin is particularly rough or knotty). Toss potato slices in 3 tbs olive oil and 2 tbs chopped, fresh rosemary. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until roasted. Flip potatoes halfway through roasting.


  1. Oh how I hate the food court! I work in an office building connected to the mall in Ballston and the food court is just the bane of my existence! I wish they had some sort of salad creation place there! These rosemary sweet potato chips look awesome! Glad to see you blogging; I so look forward to your posts!

  2. As usual, you did it again, Katie! Salad dressing is yum! Thanks!


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