Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rainbow Pasta Salad

I feel like meals are much more satisfying when they are visually appealing, and one way to do this is to incorporate a range of bright and colorful fruits and vegetables in your dishes. Word on the street is that different-colored foods offer different health benefits.

Here's the low-down by color (source):

Red fruits and vegetables: Contain nutrients such as lycopene, ellagic acid, Quercetin, and Hesperidin, to name a few. These nutrients reduce the risk of prostate cancer, lower blood pressure, reduce tumor growth and LDL cholesterol levels, scavenge harmful free-radicals, and support join tissue in arthritis cases.

Orange and Yellow fruits and vegetables: Contain beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, flavonoids, lycopene, potassium, and vitamin C. These nutrients reduce age-related macula degeneration and the risk of prostate cancer, lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, promote collagen formation and healthy joints, fight harmful free radicals, encourage alkaline balance, and work with magnesium and calcium to build healthy bones.

Green vegetables and fruit: Green vegetables contain chlorophyll, fiber, lutein, zeaxanthin, calcium, folate, vitamin C, calcium, and Beta-carotene. The nutrients found in these vegetables reduce cancer risks, lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels, normalize digestion time, support retinal health and vision, fight harmful free-radicals, and boost immune system activity.

Blue and purple fruits and vegetables: Contain nutrients which include lutein, zeaxanthin, resveratrol, vitamin C, fiber, flavonoids, ellagic acid, and quercetin. Similar to the previous nutrients, these nutrients support retinal health, lower LDL cholesterol, boost immune system activity, support healthy digestion, improve calcium and other mineral absorption, fight inflammation, reduce tumor growth, act as an anticarcinogens in the digestive tract, and limit the activity of cancer cells.

White fruits and vegetables: Contain nutrients such as beta-glucans, EGCG, SDG, and lignans that provide powerful immune boosting activity. These nutrients also activate natural killer B and T cells, reduce the risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancers, and balance hormone levels, reducing the risk of hormone-related cancers.

Which leads me to share an almost embarrassingly easy concoction I whipped up. Its ease really makes me want to refer to it as a "non-recipe," because let's be honest, a pasta salad loaded with vegetables is really not original at all. Nevertheless, I wanted to share it if only to promote cooking with color.

To cook the chicken (which can totally be omitted if you're a vegetarian, Jeanne), I chose to braise it in my crock pot. When cooked this way, I have found that the chicken shreds way more easily than boiling, baking, or grilling. In fact I would argue that 6 hours on low, slowly cooking in chicken broth spiced with some garlic is really the only way to go with this one. If you plan ahead, this dish is a quick, fresh, and healthy dinner that you can have on the table in less than 30 minutes. And no, I am not the next Rachel Ray.
The Edibles:
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or equivalent in jarred or powdered garlic)
  • 2 halves of pepper of different colors, largely diced (I used green and yellow)
  • 1 c. cherry/grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 c. carrots, sliced into matchsticks
  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
  • 1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 c. cooked pasta
  • Britt's balsamic vinaigrette (see recipe below)
The Making:
  1. Turn on stove to medium and cover a medium-sized sauté pan with olive oil cooking spray. Place garlic in the pan; once it begins to sizzle, dump onion in and stir frequently.
  2. Let onion cook for 3-5 minutes, or until it is slightly translucent and has lost its super-oniony bite. Remove from heat.
  3. Layer all the ingredients into an extremely large mixing bowl. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Cover salad and refrigerate at least one hour, or dive in if you're impatient like me!
Britt's Balsamic Vinaigrette

The Stuff:
  • 1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 2 T. spicy or honey dijon mustard
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • generous shake of dried oregano
  • generous shake of dried basil
  • 1 clove garlic, or equivalent in jarred or powdered
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp. sugar or 1 tsp. honey (cut this in half if you are using honey mustard)
The Making:
  1. This one is tough. Combine all the ingredients together, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

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