Singing The Blues: Blueberry spinach with balsamic vinaigrette

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Does anyone else remember the song, “I Found My Thrill on Blueberry Hill”? When I was little, my Dad used to play this song a lot, and I always loved it. Multiple artists sang it, but he particularly loved Elvis’s version. It was and still is, a timeless, fun and happy song. The other day it hit my brain on the “repeat” cycle as I thought about some of my favorite summer recipes with none other than blueberries!

I am a huge fan of all berries, and all berries are great superfoods for everyone to eat, but blueberries are particularly beneficial. Not only are they one of the foods with the highest amounts of antioxidants, but also one of the most popular superfoods to consume. Blueberries have tons of nutrients; with so many antioxidants, they are often in the top 10 superfoods lists.

They are a powerhouse in helping with anti-aging, improving your skin and hair, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and improving mental health. These baby blues literally fight the blues! Who knew? A lot of us could use about a gallon of them right about now. Last but not least: blueberries can proudly boast about their cancer prevention properties; they literally seek out and destroy cancer cells with their high antioxidants.

I’ll stop with the nutrition class and talk about the next excellent thing about blueberries — they are super easy to add to your diet. Try to add some blueberries to your oatmeal or cereal in the morning or have a handful of them with your lunch or add them to your morning yogurt or smoothies. And why not? They are at their peak season and almost every supermarket features them as soon as you walk in. I’m pretty sure they even wave at me — they know how much I love them!

We are all familiar with the classic blueberry recipes: muffins, cobblers and the like. But I’m going to share some more fun and up-to-date, if you will, healthy ways to get these beautiful blues in. My first recipe is a Blueberry Spinach Salad with my favorite balsamic vinaigrette. This salad is loaded with flavor, color and nutrition, and can be served as a main entree or as a side for any main dish. We have this at least once a week in the summer, often topped with grilled chicken or shrimp, or as a side to my lightened-up turkey meatloaf. You can add or swap out strawberries (I love to add them!), or a can of drained mandarin oranges is perfect in winter when fresh berries may not be available. You can truly make it your own.

I’m also bringing back my blueberry margarita from last summer — it was a hit! As I said, everything is a little bit healthier with blueberries, right? So, grab a big salad bowl, a mason jar and put on a little Fats Domino or Elvis, and let’s get our thrill on Blueberry Hill!

BLUEBERRY SPINACH SALAD WITH BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

(Serves 4)

  • Four cups loosely packed baby spinach (preferably organic), washed
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup fresh sliced strawberries
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
  • ½ cup roasted pecans, walnuts or slivered almonds - go with your fave
  • 1 small block of feta cheese, crumbled by hand

Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • ¼ cup good quality Balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tsp both salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed and mashed into a paste with back of spoon
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • ½ cup good quality olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

In your favorite salad bowl, add baby spinach. Sprinkle red onion, blueberries and strawberries all around on top. Finish with crumbled feta cheese and pecans.

For dressing: in a small bowl with a whisk, or in a mason jar, add balsamic dressing first, then salt, pepper and fresh garlic. Shake or wisk to infuse salt and garlic into the balsamic. Add honey and wisk/shake, then finally add olive oil and give it another good shake. Just before serving, drizzle about half of the dressing over salad and toss, toss, then taste. Add the rest if you like. A little of this dressing goes a long way.

FRESH BLUEBERRY-BASIL MARGARITAS

(Serves 2)

  • 4 ounces 100% agave silver or Resposado tequila
  • 3 ounces fresh orange juice
  • 1 ounce (2 Tbsp) fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tsp agave nectar or simple syrup, more to taste
  • 4-5 fresh torn basil (or mint) leaves
  • ½ cup frozen or fresh blueberries

Rub the rim of two margarita glasses with a lime wedge. Dip rims of glasses in a small pile of kosher or sea salt. Add ice cubes to glasses.

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the blueberries, lime juice and a few torn mint or basil leaves if using until blueberries are crushed and infused with lime juice. Add the orange juice, tequila, simple syrup or agave nectar and a handful of ice cubes. Shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds, then strain into glasses. Garnish with a lime or orange wedge.

Alice Hickox is a personal chef and wellness and nutrition coach. Go to TheJoyfulJourneyCoach.com.

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