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A new Caesar!

One of the reasons I like dark green leafy vegetables is that, deep in my heart, I know you have to eat them with some kind of fat to unlock their nutrients. The specific vitamins I’m talking about are A, D, E and K, which are known as the fat-soluble vitamins; they need to be shepherded through your digestive tract by a little bit of (healthy) fat or oil so your intestines can absorb them.

Naturally, I’m not suggesting that you go out and deep fry a bag of spinach. But it is a little bit of relief to know that, in this post-holiday season as we try to cleanse our systems of too many cocktail party foods, it isn’t necessary to eat only brown rice and steamed vegetables.

I don’t like dark green leafy vegetables solely because they need to be dressed with a little olive oil, though. They’re also the foods that seem to provide services that are important to me: They cleanse my liver and they strengthen my optical system and protect my eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration.

In summer, I grow arugula, which I have learned is a demon green that spreads faster in my yard than the grass and the dandelions. Now that it’s winter, I try to cook a lot of bitter broccoli raab. (Steam it first, then quickly sauté it in some olive oil and garlic. Squeeze on some lemon juice and sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper.)

Over the weekend, my family dined at the new Falls Village Inn, whose pub serves freshly cooked and delicious comfort foods, including my daughter’s favorite restaurant meal: the Caesar salad.

I’m inclined to think of the Caesar as a moderately unhealthy indulgence. but, in fact, as luscious salads go, this one is actually  pretty good for you. And you can easily modify the classic dressing and add a few accessories to make it really pretty darn good for you.

The base of the Caesar salad is always romaine lettuce, which is one of the most nutritious of all the salad greens. It actually counts as dark leafy green, along with other more obvious ones such as swiss chard, spinach and broccoli.

It has vitamins A (good for your eyes), C (good for everything; fights colds and cancer) and K (strengthens your bones). It’s also got a lot of fiber, which is good for your digestive system.

As noted above, some of those vitamins do need a bit of fat to help them fight their way into your body, so the dressing on this salad is more than just, well, dressing. It actually unlocks the nutrition in the greens so you can enjoy their benefits.

Honestly, it’s probably been 50 years since anyone has actually made a classic old-fashioned Caesar dressing, at table-side, with the anchovies and raw egg. Most of us today think of this salad as slices of romaine with a light, creamy, gold-tinged sauce.

So bear with me here as I tinker further with the recipe. Part of it was inspired by a recipe at whfoods.com (George Mateljan’s always-interesting World’s Healthiest Foods website). The dressing itself comes from the wonderful Ina Garten.

Walnuts replace the traditional croutons and  are a source of fat (in the form of walnut oil); and garlic, flat-leaf parsley and hummus are also terrifically healthy foods. Hummus stands in for the egg. Feel free to add some slices of cooked chicken.

Caesar salad

Adapted from whfoods.com and Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessaâ€

1 large head of romaine lettuce;   2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts;   1 large garlic clove, chopped;  2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley;   1-2 canned anchovy fillets, mashed; 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard;  1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice;  2 tablespoons hummus (you can find hummus at every grocery store in the area,  usually in the same refrigerator case as the fresh pasta);   1/2 cup good olive oil;  coarse salt and fresh pepper

To clean my romaine, I usually strip off the outer leaves and cut off any damaged tips. For the salad, you’ll want to slice the head so you have “rings of romaine†that are about an inch or two wide. In a perfect world, it should be as dry as possible so it doesn’t dilute the dressing.

Combine the garlic and parsley in the bowl of a food processor and process until minced. Add the anchovy paste, mustard, lemon juice and hummus and turn on the processor; add the olive oil while it’s running. Season to taste with salt and pepper (keep in mind that the anchovy is very salty). SPrinkle the chopped walnuts on top.

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