Reinventing an old-fashioned salad
When I was a kid, my mom’s potato salad was so good she never attempted cold cucumbers in sour cream, which turned out to be a good thing since I found that salad as unappetizing as I did sauerkraut or rutabagas. I didn’t escape that salad easily, though, because during the summer we regularly dined at grandma’s house, where a big bowl of those cold cucumbers in sour cream were always on her warm weather menu. I shunned her cucumbers, even though Grandma said they were “soooo” good. To me, they looked watery and limp and tasted sour like vinegar. Ugh.
Years later I discovered that Grandma, who made her own yogurt from scratch every week, used that yogurt instead of sour cream in her cucumber salad. Healthy? Yes. Tasty? Not a chance.
For many years I wasn’t a fan of cucumbers in any form: too big seeds, too tough skin and the fact that they made me burp allowed them to drift ever lower on my “favorite foods” list. Although cucumbers may be one of the oldest cultivated vegetables known, dating back to 7750 B.C., some believe they have few virtues.
For example, Irena Chalmers in “The Great Food Almanac” wrote that a cucumber: “... doesn’t taste like anything in particular. Nor does it have any food value to speak of ...” She goes on to muse that cucumber popularity may lie solely in its literal coolness, since the interior of an uncut cucumber maintains a temperature several degrees lower than the air surrounding it.
Chalmers may have written-off this veteran vegetable a touch too quickly. Many dieters would be lost without the refreshing qualities of the low-calorie cuke: fewer than 40 calories per 11 ounces. Zero fat isn’t a void; it’s a virtue, as are the 2.5 fiber grams. That cuke’s 433 milligrams of potassium and 647 IU of vitamin A seem to justify, at least in part, its multiple millennium existence, too.
Later in my life, my first sample of cucumbers in “real” sour cream almost stunned me with its unexpected sweet flavors, creamy smooth texture and clear cucumber notes. I even created a very popular low-fat version for my first cookbook.
After learning so much about cucumbers, I started to wonder whether some currently obscure cold vegetable salad could offer a higher value of healthier characteristics.
Cabbage slaw came to mind, but that’s popular, like potato salad. I recalled a molded orange gelatin salad with shredded carrots that had a limited summertime popularity, but deservedly disappeared. That led me to shredded carrot and raisin salad that still appears on salad bars more frequently than it does at home on warm evening dinner tables.
It turned out that just finding a carrot raisin salad recipe so I could make nutritional determinations became a project. Many of my older cookbooks either didn’t have the recipe or made vague references to combining carrots, raisins and mayonnaise. Finally I found a definitive recipe in a cooking school textbook titled: “The New Professional Chef.” Their recipe softens and plumps the raisins before making the salad - I liked that.
Of course, carrots play a major nutritional role in this salad. Based on a single serving the carrots alone contribute 19 nutrients; topping the list is 183 IU of vitamin A, followed by 220 milligrams of potassium and 2 grams of fiber. The raisins up the ante by bringing almost another gram of fiber to each serving along with more potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron.
My version of this salad sure tastes and looks better than the one made with orange gelatin. It also uses much less mayonnaise than a cucumber salad and no sour cream, reduced-fat or no fat. Using my food processor to grate the carrots makes that a job that takes, literally, seconds.
I usually double the recipe, since most folks come back for seconds and this salad disappears quickly.
Old-Fashioned Carrot and Raisin Salad
1 cup water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 cup loosely packed seedless raisins
6 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
6 tablespoons bottled low-fat or fat-free Catalina salad dressing
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled, ends trimmed and grated coarse
Add the water, sugar, salt and lemon juice to a small saucepan, place over medium-high heat, stir until the sugar dissolves and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, stir in the raisins and steep for 5 minutes, or until plump. Drain and cool.
To a medium bowl add mayonnaise and Catalina dressing and whisk together until combined. Add the carrots and cooled raisins and, using a large rubber spatula, stir and fold until coated with dressing. Chill. Taste and adjust seasoning (may need salt or sugar). Serve. Makes 10 servings.
Nutrition values per serving (no added salt): 101 calories(12.4 percent from fat), 1.4 g fat(trace of saturated fat), 22.9 g carbohydrates, 2.7 g fiber, 1.7 g protein, no cholesterol, 112 mg sodium.
LeanNotes: a natural sugar substitute, such as stevia, may successfully be switched-outq for the sugar in the raisin water as well at the end, if the salad flavor balance requires sweetening.
The quality of the carrots makes a very big difference in this salad. If you can find local farmer’s market carrots with intact bright green tops, you’ll be ensuring that your salad not only tastes good, but keeps all its nutritional promises.
Don Mauer’s “Lean and Lovin’ It” column appears every other Wednesday. Don welcomes comments, suggestions and recipe makeover requests at email@example.com.