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10 Low carb ingredients for great salads

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Low carb salad fixings

Romaine, iceberg, mesclun and spinach -- salad greens. They're healthy, tasty and low carb. You can buy a variety of greens year round and even shortcut the process and pick up bags of pre-washed greens. Salads are also safe low carb meals for when you find yourself staring at a limited restaurant menu. But if the thought of staring into one more bowl of greens is putting you into a daze, here are 10 delicious low carb ingredients to keep stocked in your pantry any time you want to jazz up a basic green salad and stick to your low carb diet. These flavorful additions add color, crunch and nutrition and require no cooking! Try a few the next time you're faced with a boring bowl of greens.

1. Artichokes, hearts or bottoms

Canned artichokes hearts or bottoms are ready-to-eat. Their straw color and tender texture is a welcome addition to any salad. Add some shaved Parmesan cheese and an Italian vinaigrette for a great appetizer salad. A 1/2 cup cooked, boiled, drained without salt has 4.69g carbs. Marinated artichokes are available too but read the label to avoid added sugar.

2. Bacon

Forget about smoking up your kitchen and handling a greasy pan. Bacon is now available pre-cooked and packaged. There are now several brands available. Just open the package and the slices are ready-to-eat. With .12g of carbs per thin slice it's easy to add the simple smoky, salty flavor to your salad.

3. Capers

You'll find capers in the olive and relish section of most stores. They are the buds of a particular type of shrub and are a staple in Mediterranean cuisine. They are harvested and preserved either in oil, salt or pickled in vinegar. Small capers are called nonpareilles and surfines and larger ones are called caper berries. They have a pungent intense flavor similar to a sour pickle. A 1 tablespoon serving canned and drained provides has .42g carbs.

4. Hearts of palm

These tender, golden stalks have a mild corn flavor. They are the center "hearts" of the sabal Palmetto, which is also the state tree of Florida. You'll find them sold in either cans or jars. A 1/2 cup canned and drained has 3.4g carbs.

5. Marinated mushrooms

Mushrooms are culinary sponges absorbing flavors and with 4.1g carbs per 1/2 cup (canned with salt) they pack a lot of punch. They are usually sold in jars in a variety of flavors from mild to wild. Read the label before you buy them to make sure there are no hidden sugars in the marinade.

6. Nopales

Looking for something really different? Reach for a jar or can of nopales, also called prickly pears. You'll find them in Latino grocery stores or in the international food section of many stores. Nopales are the fleshy oval leaves of the nopal cactus. They have a delicate, slightly tart green-bean flavor. Add some pepper jack or queso fresco and some Mexican spiced vinaigrette, (try adding some cumin and oregano to oil and vinegar) for a south of the border inspired salad. A 1/2 cup serving of raw nopales has 2.1g carbs.

7. Olives

Olive oil is one of the healthiest oils around and olives are great to eat too. From mild green olives to salty kalamatas there are flavors and colors to suit all tastes. You can buy olives canned or jarred or venture to the deli counter and ask to sample a few. Add some feta cheese and sliced red onions tossed with a Greek dressing for an Aegean-inspired salad. A tablespoon of canned ripe olives has .53g carbs.

8. Pine nuts

These sweet, nutty seeds of the pinyon pine tree are a staple in Mediterranean cooking and often an ingredient in pesto. They're tiny but flavorful and add texture to salads. Ten nuts have just .19g carbs.

9. Roasted red peppers

If you're looking for a riot of flavor and color then open up a jar or can of roasted red or yellow peppers. The sweet, smoky flavor perks up any salad. One tablespoon of roasted peppers, (sweet, cooked and drained) about a whole pepper, has .80g carbs.

10. Soy nuts

Are you longing for the crunch of a crouton? Then reach for a bag of roasted, salted or unsalted soy nuts. An eighth cup has 7g carbs.

If you keep a few of these items in your pantry you'll be able to get out of your salad daze and increase your menu options. Keep carb counts in mind though when combining ingredients but definitely experiment and enjoy.

Goat Cheese Salad with Sesame Vinaigrette

This lunch-sized salad uses tangy capers and flavorful roasted red peppers

Vinaigrette:
2 anchovy fillets
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry wine or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon raw sesame seeds or pumpkin or sunflower
2 teaspoons capers
1/2teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Salad:
2 ounces mesclun salad (2 cups)
1 medium roasted red pepper
1 medium ripe tomato
4 anchovy fillets
3 ounces goat cheese log, semi-soft

To prepare the vinaigrette:
Mash anchovy fillets in medium mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients; whisk thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings.

To prepare the salad:
Cut roasted red pepper into large julienne pieces. Wash and slice tomato. Cut goat cheese into round slices.

To assemble:
Place salad greens in mixing bowl with 3/4 of salad dressing; toss. Divide salad greens among four serving plates. Arrange goat cheese, bell pepper and anchovy fillets on salad greens. Place tomato slices around plates. Spoon remaining dressing over tomato and bell pepper slices.

Serve immediately. Makes four (1-cup) servings.

Per serving: 5.32g carbs, 1.17g fiber, 7.76g protein, 18.06g fat, 21.90mg cholesterol, 755.50mg sodium, 220.24 calories

-- Recipe courtesy Chef Jacques Haerninger.

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