Raise the (salad) bar with these all-star add-ins.


There are few dishes that can provide those who like to swim, run and pedal with more performance and health-boosting nutrients than a salad. But too often salads are as exciting as folding laundrysomething you need but hardly what you want to run to the kitchen for. That’s because most often salads have been turned into culinary has-beens, regrettable victims of uninspiring renditions. Baby spinach and bottled dressing can only excite your palate for so long. So you are probably thinking it’s time to raise the (salad) bar. Let us help. The following all-star salad add-ins are sure to bowl you over.

Roasted Chickpeas

Want to add crunch to your salad minus some of the calories in nuts? Look no further than oven-blasted chickpeas. In fact, crunchy chickpeas are easier to include than ever with several pre-made options in the snack food aisle. Plus, if you toss a handful onto your greens you’ll benefit from the added protein and dietary fiber they deliver. A mere one-quarter cup serving can have as much as 6 grams of fiber, which is an important perk considering that a recent American Journal of Epidemiology study found that there is a 10 percent drop in death risk from disease with each 10-gram per day increase in fiber intake.

Look out for bags of Biena Chickpea Snacks or try making your own by drying two cans of drained and rinsed chickpeas thoroughly with a kitchen towel (discard any loose skins) and then toss with a couple tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and any other seasonings you fancy such as curry powder. Place on a baking sheet and roast at 400°F, until crisp and golden, about 40 minutes, stirring twice throughout.

RELATED RECIPE: Warm Eggplant, Broccolini And Chickpea Salad

Dried Meat

As people continually seek out high-protein snacks and embrace caveman eating, the market is exploding with various types of dried meat products such as sticks and bites that go way beyond the typical packets of gas station beef jerky. So consider the ancient trail food a way to add some interesting flavor and texture to a pile of vegetables. Most jerky and similar dried meat products are a good source of muscle-friendly lean protein and highly absorbable iron. The latter is significant to athletes since the body requires iron to properly transport oxygen to working muscles. And with dried meats increasingly benefiting from snack stardom, you can now roam for options made from any number of beasts like grass-fed beef, bison, turkey, wild boar and wild salmon. Two options that will breathe new life into your ho-hum salads are EPIC Chicken Sesame BBQ Bites and The New Primal Beef Sticks (chop them up before tossing them on a salad). You can also adorn your salad with a jerky such as the excellent offerings from Field Trip that you’ve chopped up as an upscale and healthier version of bacon bits.

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Cherry Juice Concentrate

Beets aren’t the only red food that athletes are going crazy for. Sports nutritionists also know that tart cherries can also help give you wings. A number of studies suggest that frequently consuming cherries with a sour edge can offer those who regularly work up a sweat some important benefits. Case in point: A study in the Journal of The International Society of Sports Nutrition found that marathon runners who consumed tart cherry juice experienced less inflammation and infections after a race. Credit the hefty amounts of potent antioxidants in the red elixir for giving athletes a helping hand. But you need not only drink cherry juice from a cup or toss dried cherries onto your morning oatmeal to get your fix. As a super concentrated version of regular cherry juice, tart cherry concentrate can be used to create a taste bud awakening salad dressing that will assure your bowl of veggies are even more chockablock in antioxidant goodness. Simply whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons tart cherry concentrate such as King Orchards, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard and a couple pinches each salt and pepper.

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Peppadew Peppers

Consider Peppadews the much more exciting brethren of the supermarket standard red bell pepper. Peppadew is the trademarked brand name of piquanté peppers, which are sweet, slightly fiery South African globular peppers. They are perfect for stuffing as a fanciful party appetizer, but are just as good if chopped and tossed into salads to add a flavor explosion. Like other peppers, they contain a compound called capsaicin that has been shown to help regulate appetite as well as improve heart health. Habit-forming Peppadew peppers are usually available in the grocery store at the olive bar or order jars at Peppadew.com.

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Bocconcini

Forget the lackluster packages of grated cheddar. If you are going to add cheese to your salads, make it count. Mild-flavored bocconcini are small round balls of unripened mozzarella cheese that are semi-soft with a wonderful creamy and springy chew. The white balls can add great textural contrast to any crispy vegetables. Soft cheeses such as bocconcini contain more moisture than their hard counterparts so they are often not as calorie dense, a benefit to athletes who having to work a little harder to stay at race weight. But what the Italian-style cheese lacks in calories, it makes up for with plenty of bone-building calcium. Look for bocconcini sold in tubs filled with water or whey in the cheese section of most supermarkets.

RELATED RECIPE: Sun-Dried Tomato, Artichoke And Fresh Mozzarella Pasta