Healthy Dining #3 – Summer Broccoli Salad

I don’t know about you guys, but salads just don’t go over very well around my house. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fixed many a salad to go with our meals, yet my family avoids the green leafies and dives into the main dish. We’re a meat and potatoes kind of bunch, and salads just take up valuable space on the plate. I suppose that’s one of the main reasons why we also weigh what we do!

Since Sam and I are in the process of starting another weight loss regime, I have been on the look out for some healthy yet satisfying salad recipes, that will also help us utilize the abundance of fresh vegetables we’re about to get out of our garden. As fate would have it, Paula Deen was doing a show last week just on summer salads. Praise the Lord! My salad dilemma was just about to be solved, right? Wrong!

If any of you have watched her show you know about her love for all things fatty – she and I have that in common – but her salads looked so darned appetizing and satisfying. Her broccoli salad had all the good stuff in it – bacon, raisins, tomatoes, cheese and a sweet creamy dressing. These ingredients were made for broccoli. Mmmmm. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Since I knew I had a bunch of fresh broccoli in my fridge that was just about to grow hairy arms and legs and make a break for freedom I decided to try out her recipe as written (I’m one of these girls that finds that if I don’t like the original recipe, I probably won’t like the lower fat recipe either). What I found was an amazing reason for broccoli to exist! And I’m not kidding you. I am not the biggest fan of raw broccoli. I will eat it, but given the choice between raw broccoli and cooked broccoli, I’ll take the cooked every day (especially if it has a creamy cheese sauce on it). This salad was fresh, sweet, savory and satisfying. The dressing didn’t overpower the veggies, but it also didn’t wilt under the strong flavor of the broccoli. The raisins added a wonderful chewiness and mildly sweet flavor to the dish, and the cherry tomatoes just popped in my mouth with wonderfully fresh summer flavor. All in all, I’d have to rate this salad a 10.

So, after I gorged myself on the salad – I was sorry later, and so was Sam – I decided to put my thinkin’ cap on and come up with a version of this salad that would fit into our new eating regime. I needed a way to reduce the fat, calories and sugar without compromising the flavor. As far as the veggies go, they were all going to be just fine in this, but it was the dressing, bacon and cheese that concerned me.

The cheese isn’t as big of a deal – I used 2 cups of a shredded Mexican style cheese in the original recipe and a little of that goes a long way. Plus, there are many tasty low-fat and fat-free options that will work well in this salad. For the bacon, I can use turkey bacon or even turkey pepperoni, which will keep the crispy, meaty element of this salad intact. The dressing on the other hand is the lynch-pin of this dish. It is sweet and creamy and has just the right amount of tangyness. I am going to have to find a way to keep the spirit of the dressing without blowing away the calories. So, I’m going to use non-fat plain yogurt, mixed with light mayo to keep some of the egg-y taste without all the fat. And, I’m going to substitute artificial sweetener for the sugar, and reduce the amount used.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with for my lower calorie version of Paula Deen’s full fat broccoli salad.

Summer Broccoli Salad

1 large head broccoli, washed and cut into bite-sized florets, removing as much stem as possible
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries
1 cup low-fat shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup red onion, finely diced
6 strips turkey bacon, cooked crisp and finely chopped
1/4 cup light mayo
3/4 cup non-fat plain yogurt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 – 4 teaspoons artificial sweetener (such as Splenda)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl combine prepared broccoli, tomatoes, raisins or cranberries, cheese, onion, and bacon. In a small bowl, combine mayo, yogurt, vinegar, 2 teaspoons artificial sweetener, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir dressing until creamy and well combined. Taste for seasonings. If you want it a bit sweeter add an additional teaspoon or two of sweetener. The dressing should not be overwhelmingly sweet though. Pour prepared dressing over salad and toss to coat evenly. Refrigerate salad for 2 hours, allowing time for the flavors to come together.

Serve with burgers or grilled chicken and enjoy!

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