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Love: Strawberries (and my Favorite Strawberry Salad)

A few weeks ago I started making a list of all my favorite things to eat. I was doing this partly because I had thought of including it on the “about me” page on my new website (which is coming very soon, yay!) and partly because I love making lists, especially food-related lists. And partly because I was probably hungry. But instead of throwing the whole list up on a page where it would languish uselessly, I decided to blog about my food loves instead. So consider this post about strawberries the first in a series. Each post will sing the praises of some food I happen to love (or am loving that week) and include at least one recipe for said food.

Of course my Foods-I-Love list is a seasonal one. While I love cassoulet and creamy potato-leek soup, I don’t think about them much this time of year. Right now I love strawberries. The big, fat, perfectly sweet-tart berries you can only get in the summer. I love strawberries because they’re delicious but also because they really make me feel great. In addition to 100 g. of vitamin C per cup, which is almost as mush as in OJ, strawberries are high in fiber, calcium, magnesium, folate, and potassium — all good things, especially in hot weather. Recent studies have linked eating strawberries to improved memory function and reduced risk of heart attack and cancer. All that, at about 50 calories per cup.

During both my pregnancies I craved strawberries. I bought them in bulk at the farmer’s market (Both my kids were born in the fall, so I had perfect strawberries to offset the fact that I was carrying around 40 extra pounds during 100-degree weather.), and I got very creative with them, as only a pregnant woman can. I would stack strawberries on my toast, use slices of them for mini Parmesan sandwiches or in wraps with cream cheese and turkey, eat them by the handful as a snack with almonds, and of course plop them in my drinks (they were something to look forward to at the bottom of yet another glass of mineral water or iced herbal tea). During that time, I came up with several strawberry recipes that have withstood the test of (less-hormonal) times. While I don’t make too many turkey-strawberry wraps anymore, I do still occasionally make strawberry-pecan pancakes on weekends, and my strawberry salad has become a family favorite.

There are plenty of versions of strawberry salad out there, but I think mine is different enough to be worth trying. This recipe is on the menu of my husband’s and my fantasy restaurant — a place that would serve all the favorite meals we make at home just the way we like them, without messing up our kitchen. Like with all great dishes, the fresh ingredients each speak for themselves and also blend together perfectly. It’s simple to make and easy to adapt to your family’s tastes (Don’t like spinach? It’s also delicious with romaine or green leaf lettuce. I use spinach because it’s also in season and so awesome right now. Goat cheese would be a nice change, too.) Oh, and this salad is also easy to disassemble for kids who don’t like their foods to touch. I should know.

One last note: I can’t write about strawberries without a reminder that strawberries are one of the “Dirty Dozen,” in fact I just checked and they are currently ranked #3 on the list of conventional produce that is the most contaminated by pesticides. As if that weren’t bad enough, the state of California (where about 90% of U.S. strawberries are grown) just approved the use of methyl iodide, which has been called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth,” as a fumigant in strawberry fields. Whether or not the methyl iodide seeps into the berries themselves seems to be up for debate, but I don’t like the sound of it. Buy organic strawberries. Please. As much as I love them, I’d rather go without strawberries than eat conventional ones. This time of year, organic strawberries are plentiful and are really no more expensive than the pesticide-soaked ones.

Summer Strawberry Salad
1 large bunch fresh spinach (I know the bagged spinach is convenient, but I don’t think it tastes nearly as good. Buy a bunch of organic spinach — #5 on the Dirty Dozen, btw — fill your sink with cold water, give the spinach a good bath and rinse under running water, then put in salad spinner.)
1 pint organic strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup shaved hard cheese, such as Dutch Parrano

Red Wine Vinaigrette
3 tbs. red wine vinegar
2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tbs. honey
3 tbs. olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper

To make the vinaigrette, put all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake well. Assemble the salad and toss with the dressing. If you want to get fancy, you can toast the pine nuts on the stove: Put in a skillet on medium-low heat and cook until they start to smell toasty; this only takes a few minutes so don’t take your eyes off them or they’ll burn.

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