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Thinking outside the bowl

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In 2008 after my diagnosis of diabetes I thought that I had figured out that the best way to keep my carbohydrate count down and not to be hungry was to eat lots and lots and lots of salad. Two months into this regime my eyes started turning back in their sockets at the vaguest thought of a salad.

Even as a chef, I had not started thinking creatively about salad. Sure, I made a different dressing for each meal (or used bottled low-carbohydrate dressing when appropriate), I added things to the salad to make it a little different, but I did not look at salads the same way I looked at protein.

I must have a zillion recipes for chicken, fish, meat, pork and even eggs, but salads were more of an aside to a meal, something used to fill in the blanks. No wonder I was bored!

Now I do have a zillion recipes for salads as a meal and as a side dish. I just had to adjust my thinking a little. Eating out for people with diabetes can be a chore. It is great that so many restaurants now offer a salad bar option. The trick is to think about how much fun that was when you are at home.

Now salads can have a starring role at my table. Let me share just a few with you.

AVOCADO SALAD: Guacamole has always been a game day tradition. It even works OK as a dip for vegetables if you are avoiding chips. This salad has more flavor and texture and is meant to be eaten with a fork. I never feel cheated with this on the party table.

CALIFORNIA ITALIAN SALAD: Similar to the avocado salad but using artichoke hearts instead. Rumor has it that artichokes are just terrific for us. The change in dressing is to use a red wine vinegar in place of the lemon. The artichokes seem to like the sharper vinegar. Here too I like to add some cheese for protein. My favorite is shards of Granna Padano, but feta works really well and is easier to find.

CAULIFLOWER SALAD(S): Cauliflower started off as JUST a substitute for potato. But I soon discovered that the taste and texture turned this into a better dish than plain old boring potato salad. I have two versions, the standard mayonnaise and an Alsatian (German/French) version using vinegar, oil and bacon.

SPINACH SALAD: This old war horse of a dinner salad takes on new life with the additions of toasted walnuts, bacon bits, eggs and canned tuna. Sprinkle the spinach with grated parmesan cheese and use a low-carb dressing like Caesar to spark up the flavor. There is something so hearty about this salad I do it as a meal even on the coldest days of winter.

VEGETABLE SALAD: Who says a salad needs greens (lettuce or spinach)? Not me! I prepare a salad of broccoli, snow or snap peas, carrot, celery, tomato and radish. Radish is one of those really overlooked veggies. It is crisp and has a little kick. There are tons of textures and flavors. Pick your favorite dressing (mine is Ariston Balsamic vinaigrette or a sherry wine and lemon), and chow down.

VEGETABLE AND COTTAGE CHEESE: I realized that the old standby of fruit salad and cottage cheese was now not a good choice for me. Using a BIG assortment of low-carbohydrate high-fiber veggies made it work for me. If you have never done this kind of salad before, try it. You will be amazed how good it is and moreover, how creative you get to be.

Chef Ward Alper retired to Albuquerque after being a professional chef in Boston and New York City. He blogs as “The Decadent Diabetic: Taking Back My Life and Table,”



2 servings

Net carbohydrates: 10 g.

2 medium ripe tomatoes (plum or on the vine)

Courtesy of Decadent Diabetic
Branch out from guacamole with this hearty salad of avocado, olives and tomatoes.

¼ cup pitted calamata olives, sliced in half

½ small red onion, sliced thinly

2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon chopped parsley or cilantro

½ jalapeño pepper seeded and finely diced (optional, or ¼ green pepper finely diced)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 medium ripe Hass avocado

Slice the tomatoes horizontally. Gently squeeze out as much of the seeds and jelly as you can. Cut each tomato half into four wedges.

Combine all ingredients except the avocado in a bowl and let sit for 15 minutes or more before serving. NOTE: The longer it sits, the more juice and flavors are released.

Remove the flesh from the avocado by cutting in half lengthwise and running a spoon or small spatula around the flesh to remove it from the skin. Cut the avocado into chunks and add to the other ingredients.


Serving size about 1 cup

Net carbohydrates: 8 g.

For each ¼ cup of olive oil:

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

You might never go back to potatoes after trying this Alsatian Cauliflower Salad.

3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1-2 stalks of celery, chopped

½ red pepper, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped (can use ½ teaspoon dried)

2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

1 small shallot thinly sliced OR 2-3 scallions, sliced

¼ cup cooked bacon or pancetta (crumbled)

¼ cup black olives, chopped (optional)

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

Mix all of the ingredients except the cauliflower together in a bowl.

Cut cauliflower into florets (about a ¾ inch). Boil cauliflower for four minutes and drain. Add to the bowl.

Stir and allow to cool. Best served at room temperature or slightly warmed.


3-4 servings

Net carbohydrates: 8 g.

1 small head of broccoli crowns

1 large cucumber

¾ cup pitted calamata olives

A vegetable salad of broccoli, cucumber and olives offers plenty of textures and flavors.

4 ounces feta cheese

¼ red or orange pepper, diced

6 tablespoons low-carbohydrate ranch dressing (most brands are for this flavor)

2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated

Cut the broccoli into bite-sized florets and blanch in salted water for 2-3 minutes depending on how crunchy you like broccoli. Drain and shock in iced water. Drain from the iced water and place in a bowl.

Peel the cucumber and cut in half lengthwise. Using the tip of a small spoon or a small melon baller, remove the seeds. Cut the cucumber into bite-sized pieces and place in the bowl with the broccoli.

Check each olive to make certain that the seed is gone or slice the olive in half. Add to the bowl. Add the diced peppers.

Add the ranch dressing and parmesan cheese and stir.

Cut feta cheese into small dice and add to the bowl. Stir gently so as not to break the cheese.

Serve at once or refrigerate for up to 2 days.


Serving size 3 tablespoons

Carbohydrates: 3 g. per serving

1 small garlic clove, grated or minced

1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

½ cup mayonnaise (try one with olive oil)

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/8 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2-3 tablespoons water

You can do this any of three ways, in a bowl, in a jar or at the table. If you are doing it at the table you start with an empty seasoned salad bowl. I frankly find it dramatic but too messy.

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl or jar. Either whisk together in the bowl, or shake the jar. Thin the dressing out starting with 2 tablespoons of water. Toss with your choice of lettuce and serve with shaved parmesan or Granna-Padano cheese.