Debby Maugans, food writer based in Asheville, North Carolina, and author of Small Batch Baking, Small Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers and Farmer and Chef Asheville.
Those good-for-you bugs in your gut need lunch. So we made them a salad.
It features six foods rich in exactly the kinds of soluble fiber—prebiotics—that support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Your stomach can’t digest the fiber, so it heads down to your intestines, where healthy gut bacteria have a feast.
Some of these salad ingredients are familiar (onions, garlic, beans, peas). Others, perhaps less so (sunchokes, jicama, chicory greens). We’ll explain more about the less familiar ones below…and give you kitchen tips with dozens of cooking ideas so you can eat all six of these gut-healthy foods often.
Right now, though, let’s make a salad. Your gut will like it…and we’re pretty sure you will like it, too.
Prebiotic Power Salad
Dressing: Mince the garlic together with the salt on a cutting board, then flatten into a paste with the side of chef’s knife. Scrape the paste into a salad bowl and add the vinegar, mustard, honey, and thyme, then whisk to blend. Add the olive oil, and whisk until emulsified.
Peel the jicama and sunchokes, then cut them into thin matchsticks and drop them into the bowl of salad dressing. Add the peas, onion, escarole and radicchio and toss well. Makes 6 ½ cups or 4 to 6 servings.
Note: This salad can be prepared up to six hours ahead. Just toss together all ingredients except the escarole and radicchio and refrigerate. When ready to serve, add the escarole and radicchio and toss again.
The chicory family of greens includes endive, escarole, frisée and radicchio.
There’s also wild chicory, a tallish plant with dandelion-like leaves and pretty, pale blue flowers. If you have access to wild chicory growing away from pollutants—that is, not on the side of the road—give it a try.
How to use: Chicories are popular in salads, but because of their bitter, spicy flavor, they’re often blended with milder leaf lettuces. They’re also good cooked on their own, as you would other greens.
Jicama is a root that looks a bit like a turnip, with a thick, tough skin and a mild-tasting, crisp interior. Jicama is very low in calories and high in fiber—one cup provides about 50 calories and six grams of fiber.
How to use: Jicama can be eaten raw or in sweet or savory combinations. Try it sliced and seasoned with lemon or lime juice, salt and ground chili powder…cut into long strips or cubed and added to crudité platters…or in green or fruit salads. Diced jicama adds crisp texture to homemade tomato or fruit salsas. Or make a refreshing slaw with thin julienne strips of jicama mixed with red onion, cilantro and sliced cabbage, tossed with a sesame-ginger dressing.
Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes)
Sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes are the tuberous roots of a species of sunflower—and in spite of their name, they have no connection to either Jerusalem or artichokes. The tubers look like large, bumpy gingerroot and have an edible peel. They have a taste that is slightly nutty and savory, like a cross between a potato and an artichoke.
Choose smooth, firm chokes with a minimum of bumps. Store them, cleaned and dried, in a sealed plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for one to three weeks. If you cut them, sprinkle them with lemon juice to keep the exposed surfaces from turning brown.
How to use: Enjoy sunchokes raw, thinly sliced, in salads…or steamed, fried, boiled, or roasted like potatoes. To prepare, cut off any smaller bumpy areas, then leave the skin or peel with a vegetable peeler.
Note: Sunchokes cook more quickly than potatoes—watch them closely so they don’t turn to mush. Peeled sunchokes are a flavorful addition to stews, vegetable soups and roasted meat dishes in place of potatoes—just remember to add them close to the end of cooking time. (Or take advantage of their “mushiness” to use as a soup thickener—two cups of peeled and cubed sunchokes for every two cups of liquid, added at the beginning of cooking.)