Basil, Nectarine and Blueberry Salad with Chicken and Feta
Are you the type of person that hates salad? I’m not, but I bet you hate salad because of taste-less greens. But this salad has a secret weapon! Fresh basil leaves right in the greens. I used spring mix as well, which typically has a mixture of spicy and slightly bitter greens. You’ll probably find some arugula, spinach, baby kale, baby chard, radicchio, and frisee. I love frisee. It’s fun to say, fun to look at, and I love the slightly bitter flavor. I know bitter can be a weird flavor to love, but balance is everything!
For a while I have been curious about the combination of fresh basil and fruit. Fresh basil and tomatoes are a classic combination. With tomatoes technically being a fruit, I didn’t see any reason not to combine fresh basil with other fruit.
In my CSA box this week, I received nectarines and blueberries and immediately thought about my curiosity of combining fresh basil with other fruit. I knew the color combination would be pretty (orange, dark blue, and green), but would the flavors?
I made a simple salad with spring mix, a sweet and tangy dressing with a suprising ingredient – blueberry all-fruit preserves, and crumbled feta for a salty flavor contrast and creaminess. I also added chicken for a meal-worthy salad
Not only do I love the colors of this salad, but there are so many textures going on. My boyfriend and I ate this while we watched What the Health on Netflix.
I don’t think I need to go in depth on commentary on that one since Robb Wolf pretty much covered everything. As far as my commentary on that one, basically my thought process within the first few minutes of the movie was: ok processed meat isn’t the best to eat. You know, because of nitrate and nitrite preservatives: when synthetic sodium nitrate is added to meat and heated above 266 degrees F, it creates nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. The addition of vitamin C and limitations by the USDA of the amount of sodium nitrate added to meat helps reduce the problem, but sodium nitrate and nitrite are still considered a possible human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization (1). On the flip side, our saliva is a source of 70-97% of the nitrite in our body since the bacteria in our mouths produce it (2). Nitrites are primary derived from vegetables in our diets (3). I couldn’t find a good citation for the average amount of nitrates the average person consumes, but for as much as saliva and vegetables make up I would speculate a much smaller percentage. For as much press as nitrates and nitrites get about being associated with cancer, they might actually have healthful dietary effects such as blood pressure lowering effects (2). A more in-depth article about this was written by Chris Kresser. While I personally think it’s best to eat food as close to nature as possible and avoid foods that cause you irritation (an n = 1 experiment), I do think it’s best to look at all angles before coming to conclusions.
But I digress…once the topic of processed meats was broached it quickly evolved to meat is bad and then suddenly it was sugar doesn’t cause diabetes and make you fat (at this point my boyfriend and I looked at each other like “wtf?” because I’m pretty sure there’s lots of evidence to contradict this).
I found their example of how fat prevents carbohydrates from entering cells to be confusing at best. Basically, it looked like cells lining the arterial walls were buttered up with fat, and the hexose sugar molecules were bouncing around trying to get in. I would really love to know the reference for how they came up with this idea. Based on many resources (here’s one, for example), insulin is the stimulus for plaques forming, and the conditions for insulin to remain high are situations when sugar concentration remains high in the blood stream. Thus, sugar is the cause of plaque. I found this interesting summary here.
Without getting my biases in the mix too much here: the thing about watching a documentary is it’s not like reading a journal article or book where we can go check out the references. The information is fleeting and is typically delivered in the most impactful way, such as the amount of people dying from cardiovascular disease is equivalent to four jumbo jets crashing every hour every day for a year. I suppose if they had just put a bar graph up on the screen it wouldn’t have been that exciting. I think the big takeaway is that if you want to make a dietary change to better yourself, don’t just watch documentaries or read books. Go to the peer-reviewed literature. Books may contain peer-reviewed literature but they are not all peer-reviewed. Books published through a university press are the exception since they were reviewed by faculty members before publication. By the way peer-reviewed means the work was critiqued by a group of colleagues in the particular area of science for accuracy, strength of hypothesis, to ensure the experiments were conducted stringently, and results were appropriately assessed based on the outcomes of the experiments.
No doubt the standard American diet and lifestyle attribute to obesity, heart disease, cancer, etc…However, when you choose whole foods and reduce pro-inflammatory foods, you’re going to have a positive impact on the level of inflammation in the body. It’s up to you to do the research and choose the diet that feels best for you.
I thought this review on Vox was also an interesting read.
And for those of you who are still with me, here is the recipe…
The recipe makes 4 big meal-sized servings of salad. I can eat a pretty good amount of salad, so if you have a tinier appetite you might get 6 servings.
- 4 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
- 5 tbsp blueberry all fruit preserves
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
- 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 8 cups spring mix
- 2 cold cooked chicken breasts (about 8 oz), diced or shredded
- 1 cup (packed) torn basil leaves
- 4 nectarines (white or yellow), pitted and sliced
- 2 cups blueberries
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 1. There are two ways to make the dressing. For more of a vinaigrette texture: add all ingredients except oil to a small bowl and while whisking add the oil gradually to emulsify. For a creamy texture: add all ingredients to a blender (I used a Magic Bullet) and blend until smooth. Set aside.
- 2. Toss lettuce and basil together in a large bowl or divide amongst serving bowls. Layer lettuce and basil, chicken, nectarines, berries, feta, and red onion. Drizzle over as much dressing as you like, toss together, and serve immediately.
(2) Hord, N.G., Y. Tang, and N.S. Bryan. 2009. Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 90(1):11-22.
(3) White, J.W. 1975. Relative significant of dietary sources of nitrate and nitrite. J. Agric. Food Chem. 23(5):886-891.