In addition to National Ice Cream Month, July happens to be National Picnic Month, and the kind folks at Giant Eagle Market District contacted me to help them celebrate.* They asked me to develop a picnic recipe that featured a Creta Farms ingredient, a new line of heart-healthy packaged meats Giant Eagle stores carry, such as sausages, hot dogs, and bologna. The catch? The whole recipe had to be heart healthy as well.
What makes Creta Farms’ meats different is that they somehow extract the saturated fat you normally find in animal products and replace it with heart-healthy olive oil. So they’re not low fat per se but just contain better fat. You’re still getting all the flavor fat provides without the unhealthy saturated fats. In addition to the smoked sausage the recipe below features, we also tried the brand’s kielbasa and bologna. Although these foods are not normally in my diet, I thought they were pretty good for packaged meats, and I felt good about them being heart healthy.
Potato salad is a traditional picnic side dish, but with all that mayonnaise in the classic creamy variety, it also contains saturated fat, which, according to the American Heart Association, raises cholesterol levels in the blood. Oil-based German potato salad dressings, however, replace mayonnaise with extra-virgin olive oil. Olives and their oil contain monounsaturated fat, which, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods, reduces the risk of heart disease by decreasing blood pressure, decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol, and improving HDL (good) cholesterol. They also contain a broad range of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, which not only help with heart disease but also decrease risk of cancer and other diseases as well.
In this recipe, I’ve also replaced traditional potatoes with sweet potatoes. Now, there’s nothing wrong with white potatoes, especially if you use smaller “new” potatoes and leave their thinner skin intact (the skin is a great source of fiber, which lowers cholesterol). White potatoes contain vitamin B6, which helps maintain overall heart health, and a newly discovered compound called kukoamine, which lowers blood pressure. On the other hand, sweet potatoes contain the same amount of cholesterol-lowering fiber as white potatoes and also have phytonutrients that help keep the blood thin and prevent arterial clotting. Sweet potatoes are also a significant source of the antioxidant beta-carotene (vitamin A) and can help to regulate blood sugar.
So either kind of potato is really very heart healthy, but it’s a fun, unexpected change to serve a sweet potato salad. Plus the milder, sweeter flavor of the sweet potato works very well with the smoky, savory sausage and rich, pungent blue cheese. Yes, the cheese does add a slight amount of saturated fat to this dish, but because of its strong flavor, you only need a little, which keeps the saturated fat to a minimum. Plus, it makes you feel satisfied and not deprived, knowing you can still eat delicious food on a heart-healthy diet.
Sweet Potato Salad With Smoked Sausage and Blue Cheese
1 ½ lbs sweet potatoes (about two large), peeled and diced into 1 inch pieces
2 links of Creta Farms smoked sausages or other smoked sausage, such as andouille
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
Place sweet potato cubes in a saucepan and cover with water. Add salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook until they can be easily pierced with a fork (about 5 minutes). Drain potatoes and keep warm.
Meanwhile, cook the sausage links as desired (grilling is preferred). Let them rest a few minutes to allow the meat to reabsorb the juices, then slice each sausage in half lengthwise and then crosswise into half moons. Set aside and keep warm.
Take the scallions and separate the white and light green parts (discard the tougher, darker green parts). Slice the light green parts on the bias and set aside. Mince the white parts and place in a bowl. To that bowl add the red wine vinegar and mustard and stir well. Slowly add the olive oil, stirring well until the mixture is creamy and emulsified.
Combine the cooked sweet potatoes, sliced sausages, and light green scallions in a bowl. Pour the dressing over and gently mix to coat. Add the crumbled blue cheese and toss gently. Serve immediately while still slightly warm, or refrigerate until ready to serve. This salad is best served the same day it’s made.
*Disclaimer: I received a Market District gift card to purchase the ingredients to develop and test this recipe. Giant Eagle is also making a donation to the American Heart Association because of my participation.