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Try some sunshine for supper tonight

Burst of Sunshine Salad can become a complete meal in no time with the addition of seafood, beans or cooked meat. Photo by Sue Doeden1 / 2
Burst of Sunshine Salad features Napa cabbage, oranges, limes, red pepper and avocado. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 2

"What's for supper tonight?" It's a question my husband frequently poses to me during an afternoon phone call from his office. Occasionally, the answer he hears on his end of the phone is, "I'm not really sure."

The other day I suggested we eat the leftover Moroccan Chickpea and Sweet Potato Tagine that I'd packed into the refrigerator. Usually the one I can count on to eat up any portions of meals from the recent past still hanging around in the refrigerator, my husband responded with a negative, "I'm all tagined out." Poor guy.

You're probably thinking that, as a food columnist, I would always be ready with a response to that challenging question about thoughts for an evening meal. But on days when there are no enticing leftovers in the refrigerator, nothing simmering in the slow-cooker, meat frozen solid in the freezer, without a plan and not even a box of cereal in the pantry, I wish I had a personal chef coming over to start cooking.

It is times like this, when the thought of supper is especially perplexing, that I often turn to salad. Typically, I would not label February as a month to make a satisfying meal of a fresh salad. But after just a few days of milder temperatures, I was in the mood for something a little lighter than the hot comfort foods that had been getting me through the winter.

Burst of Sunshine Salad is a combination of creamy, crunchy, sweet and juicy along with a little bit of tang. Best of all, the flavors are very compatible with cooked meat or seafood.

Sweet, juicy segments of orange and creamy slices of avocado combine with dark green spinach leaves and pale green strips of Napa cabbage. If you've never used Napa cabbage, you're in for a real treat. Sometimes referred to as Chinese cabbage, it grows in an elongated, compact head with oblong light green, crinkly leaves. The flavor of Napa cabbage is slightly sweeter and milder than regular green cabbage. By thinly slicing the leaves crosswise, delicate strips are formed. Napa cabbage is a light and delicious addition to any green salad.

Nearly everyone can stand to increase their fruit intake, especially this time of year. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends we eat about four ½-cup servings of fruit each day. Now, when citrus fruit is in season, it's any easy add-in to a leafy salad. Avocados, as well as olive oil in the vinaigrette, offer monounsaturated fatty acids, the good kind of fat that studies show can help improve blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease.

Burst of Sunshine Salad can become a complete meal in no time with the addition of seafood, beans or cooked meat. Canned tuna is a convenient add-in. With warmer days in the near future, try serving the salad with slices of pork tenderloin hot off the grill.

What's for supper tonight? I've got it. A burst of sunshine in a salad.

Burst of Sunshine Salad

For Vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon sweet curry powder

2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

For Salad:

3 navel oranges

5 ounces baby spinach (about 6 cups leaves)

4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage

1 red bell pepper, cut lengthwise into thin strips

1/2 cup dried cranberries

2 firm ripe avocados

1/2 cup roasted and salted cashews, chopped

Make the vinaigrette by whisking together juices, mustard, curry powder, poppy seeds, salt and pepper. Add olive oil in a stream, whisking until emulsified.

Cut peel, including white pith, from oranges with a sharp knife. Cut segments away from membrane. Toss spinach, cabbage, bell pepper and dried cranberries in a large bowl with about 1/4 cup vinaigrette. Halve, pit and peel avocados, then cut into 1/4-inch slices.

Transfer tossed salad to a platter. Arrange avocado slices and orange segments over the salad. Sprinkle with chopped cashews. Offer remaining vinaigrette in a small pitcher on the table. 6 to 8 servings.

Tips from the cook

--To make this salad a meal, add canned tuna, any kind of cooked beans, cooked shrimp or any kind of cooked meat.

--Save any remaining vinaigrette in a jar in the refrigerator. It keeps well and is a nice addition to tuna salad, chicken salad or deviled eggs.

--If you're making this salad for two, toss just enough of the ingredients together in the proportions you choose.