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Join the Clean Plate Club with Whole Wheat Italian Bread Salad

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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

According to registered dietitian Diane Welland, there's no better way to take care of yourself and your family than by putting healthful, nutritious, clean food on the table.

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Clean food? Yes. Clean food is food that is free of chemicals, additives and preservatives. It's food that is fresh and natural and minimally processed, if at all.

Welland is so committed to this lifestyle of eating and living in a way that maximizes your energy and optimizes your health, that she wrote "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating Clean."

The thought of eliminating refined, processed convenience foods from daily meal plans and replacing them with whole, fresh and natural foods seems like an overwhelming endeavor, as well as time consuming. Because, of course, fresh foods take some time to prepare.

Welland acknowledges the fact that it's not always easy to eat clean. "Incorporate this healthful approach to eating by taking small, doable steps," explains Welland. "It can be as simple as making a switch from white bread to whole grain bread. Choose water to quench your thirst rather than soda or some other sweetened beverage. Have fresh fruits and vegetables available for snacks."

The author knows we're not idiots. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating Clean" gives Welland, the expert, an opportunity to share information in an easy, concise way with those who want to learn more about clean eating. She shares tips on how to give your pantry and refrigerator an eating-clean makeover, how to eat clean when dining out, what to look for when reading ingredient labels and simple, not-too-difficult-to-put-into-action steps to eating clean.

Welland doesn't stop with just telling us how to eat clean. She offers more than 140 clean-food recipes that can help you go from breakfast to dessert using the clean eating approach to meals.

Welland's Whole Wheat Italian Bread Salad is fashioned after Panzanella salad, a traditional Italian dish originally created to use up bread that was getting a little stale. After eating through one batch of the salad, I found myself going to the store to buy another loaf of bread to make more Bread Salad. I'm hooked on this healthful and nutritious clean meal.

Whole Wheat Italian Bread Salad is best this time of year when basil and tomatoes are at their peak. I must confess, though, that my creation of this salad was not totally clean. You see, I'm not fond of soggy bread. I took care of that by tossing the small chunks of bread with some olive oil and sliced garlic and toasting them in the oven. I offered the chunks of toasted bread on the side for diners to add themselves. I've also discovered many olive- and feta-challenged people over the last several years. At my house, these ingredients also get served on the side. I've eaten the salad with feta and olives and without. I must say, both ways are totally delicious.

Whole Wheat Italian Bread Salad is a convenient dish to tote to a picnic. It's easy to pack for a lunch at work or school. I even ate it for breakfast one day. Really - it's that good. It's a salad that is easy to prepare. And, it's a simple step toward a clean-eating life.

Whole Wheat Italian Bread Salad

5 ounces day-old whole wheat bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 5 slices of bread about 1/2-inch thick)

1 pound medium tomatoes (3 to 4 medium tomatoes), cored, seeded and diced

1 large roasted red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 cup cooked white beans

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons kalamata olives, finely chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped

1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 ounce feta cheese

In a large bowl, toss whole wheat bread, tomatoes, red pepper, white beans, garlic and kalamata olives. Let sit for 15 minutes so flavors can blend.

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, basil, vinegar, lemon juice and black pepper. Pour over bread salad and gently mix together. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Serve. Yield: 4 servings. From "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating Clean," by Diane A. Welland, M.S., R.D. Alpha Books. 2009.

Each serving has: 265 calories, 12 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 11 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate, 7 g sugars, 6 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 300 mg sodium.

Variation: Aside from bread and tomatoes, this salad can be made with just about anything. Try varying the beans (chickpeas work well) or excluding them altogether. As for vegetables, try carrots, celery, cucumber, red onion or whatever you have on hand. You might even want to use flavored bread such as sun-dried tomato or garlic whole wheat bread.

Tips from the cook

--Although the recipe calls for 1 cup of cooked white beans, I used a whole 15-ounce can of cannellini beans that I rinsed and drained well before adding to the salad.

--To toast the bread chunks, toss them with 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and 1 clove of garlic sliced thin. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until toasted, about 10 to 15 minutes. These croutons are also good on any green salad or sprinkled over soup.

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