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The breakfast salad

(post, Cindy Burke)

My always-curious six-year-old daughter and I were talking about good eating yesterday. She asked, "If I wanted to live for a long, long time, what would be the best food to eat?"
I told her that she could eat nothing but fish and vegetables and still live a long and healthy life. 

"But mom, what would I eat for breakfast?" 

Vegetables, of course. "Oh no, Mom, I'm not ready for that every morning." 

Unlike my little pancake lover, I do eat vegetables for breakfast almost every morning during the summer. When I wake up and the sun is already hot, I love the mild crunch and silky textures of a breakfast salad. But, I wondered, am I the only one, or are there others out there who enjoy a veggie breakfast?

A quick Google of "vegetables for breakfast" revealed two distinct camps. 

[%image reference-image width=400 float=right caption="Salad for breakfast."] 

Most people will eat a few vegetables if, and only if, they are mixed with eggs — say, a few mushrooms or fried peppers wrapped in a cheese omelet. (And don't forget the side of hash browns — but the bad news is, if you're trying to eat several servings of vegetables each day, potatoes don't count.)

I also read a few passionate epistles from veggie lovers who insisted that they would happily steam up a pound of broccoli, mix in a chopped papaya with a drizzle of honey, and chow it down for breakfast.

I couldn't even face the smell of steamed broccoli in the morning, let alone a bowl of it for breakfast. But I have found that there are some vegetables that work very well for breakfast, especially in the summer when produce is so fresh and plentiful. And since I try to eat a minimum of five servings of vegetables every day, eating veggies for breakfast gives me two or more servings while the day is still young.

One of my favorite summer breakfasts is salad. In the summer months, when the local cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers are plentiful and popping with flavor, I happily eat this for breakfast almost every summer morning. 

My breakfast salad is composed of cubes of cucumber, pepper, and ripe tomato, topped with ribbons of soft summer greens and finished with a soft-boiled egg and freshly cracked pepper. The vegetables need to be from the farmers' market or your own garden — ripe, fresh, and high quality. The supermarket will do if you have no better choice, but the flavors in this salad should sing "summertime." 

Over the past four years, I've made this breakfast salad for people who don't even like breakfast, for children (including my own picky eater), and for family members who only like to eat toast or muffins in the morning. Every person who has tried the breakfast salad has enjoyed it. I hope you'll give it a try this summer.

The beauty of the breakfast salad is that most of the dish can be prepared one or two days ahead, refrigerated, and pulled out in the morning. The following recipe makes enough for two salads.

In the evening, select a firm cucumber and peel away the skin. Cut it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon. Now, cut the cucumber lengthwise into eight equal strips and then cut it into medium dice. Place the diced cucumber into your bowls. 

Cut one large bell pepper (any color) into a similar-size dice and add it to the bowls. Now dice two ripe summer tomatoes or, if it's early in the summer, substitute a handful of halved cherry tomatoes, and scoop them into your bowls. 

Now is the time to add a sprinkle of salt to the vegetables if you like. I add a glug (about a tablespoon) of flaxseed oil to each bowl, but olive oil is also a good choice to moisten the vegetables and add a little fat. Then a drizzle of mild rice-wine vinegar, not too much — remember, this is for breakfast. Toss the diced vegetables with a spoon. 

Next, add a handful of greens torn into bite-sized pieces — purslane is a summer favorite of mine, as is watercress or peppercress. Miner's lettuce or lamb's quarters are both tasty additions sometimes found at the farmers' market. Shredded lettuce leaves are also good. Do not toss the greens with the vegetables yet, because the oil and vinegar will wilt the leaves. 

On top, I crumble a little soft goat cheese. I am partial to the Port Madison goat cheese from my local goat farm. It smells as mild and milky as a newborn baby's breath, so it's perfect for morning. Any chèvre will taste good, as would a whole-milk ricotta.

Finally, I sprinkle a tablespoon of roasted sunflower seeds over everything. Then I refrigerate the salad overnight so it's ready when I wake up in the morning. 

In the morning, I take a salad out of the fridge while I make my morning tea. I bring a small pot of water to a boil and drop one large farm-fresh egg into the water. I like my soft-boiled eggs to have cooked whites and slightly goopy yolks, so I set the timer for eight minutes. When the egg is cooked, drain the hot water and peel away the shell under cool running water. 

Plop the egg on top of the salad, cut it in half with your fork so the yolk can ooze out a little, and add a grind of black pepper. Then toss it all together and enjoy.
The texture of the soft egg and goat cheese mixed with the crisp summer vegetables is so good. Try it yourself and see if you don't reconsider the idea of vegetables for breakfast.

reference-image, l