I love making smoothies. I love how there aren't any hard and fast 'rules' per se, and...best of all, there's no recipe needed! It's just my style! I never liked store bought smoothies that much, either because there were chips of ice in there, or they just didn't have enough flavor. (Exception: the NuVibe smoothie with banana, honey, chocolate and peanut butter. Amazing!) And just recently, Justin declared my smoothies to be better than purchased ones! HOORAY! (It was at that point I admitted that I'd always thought mine were better, too...although I'm very picky about most things involving food.) Here are the most important elements, in my opinion, of an excellent smoothie. I don't think I have any specific structure though...you just put in what sounds good together, with some exceptions. Oh, and I'm not talking ice cream/chocolate smoothies here...those are shakes and malts, and in a TOTALLY different category. :) I still make those, but they aren't what I'm talking about here.
To me, a smoothie inhabits that sweet spot between Healthy and Tasty. In fact, it can be both Healthy and Tasty, which is always what I go for! I make smoothies for meals, usually breakfast a couple times a week, and occasionally for a light dinner. My aim is to get healthy stuff in us, and have a nice breakfast we can enjoy together. Put the right stuff in there, and you'll be full all morning. I'm usually pretty hungry well before lunchtime, but these keep me full.
The most important thing when you are making your smoothies: DO NOT USE ANY ICE! A lack of ice may sound antithetical to the very concept of a smoothie, but it's the most important! Ice=water. (I guess you knew that.) It melts and then your smoothie is watered down. Also, ice has no flavor, which is the worst thing I can think to put in anything I make.
In lieu of ice, the main ingredient in all my smoothies is frozen fruit. (Not so with 99% of purchased smoothies!) Having frozen fruit available makes the process super slick! So the first step is to always have fruit in the freezer. Whenever you get a load of the stuff, put some in the freezer, cut up a bit if necessary. Bananas, freshly cut pineapple, strawberries, peaches...they go in baggies and containers (bananas are peeled first and broken in half). I also sometimes buy precut, prefrozen fruit in bags for a fast option. Thus, a good amount of your ingredients are frozen, so you won't need to use a tasteless load of frozen water in your smoothie. Which is just...wrong.
If you're not making your smoothie mostly out of fruit, you'll want to freeze other stuff like milk or yogurt, probably in ice cube form, to use in lieu of water. Just make sure you've frozen the main component and you should be good.
(It's my opinion that not all the smoothie makins' should be frozen solid, though. You're supposed to be able to drink the smoothie, without a spoon if necessary. If I can hand it to Justin like they hand you a Blizzard at DQ, and hold it upside down for a few seconds, it's just a little...much. To each her own, but apart from the fruit, I don't use any other frozen stuff.)
Almost all of my smoothies contain plain yogurt, either purchased or homemade. (In general, flavored yogurts, even the supposedly healthy ones, contain all sorts of additives, so check the labels and make sure you're not eating a load of sugar, high fructose corn syrup and aspartame.) I usually put about a cup or a little more, for two small-meal-sized drinks. Or skip the dairy...it's not actually necessary. But yogurt lends a great base consistency when it's not frozen, and I like the flavor.
Sweeteners? Sometimes. I only ever use honey, and even then just to balance out the tang of the yogurt (and to help cover the taste of other ingredients to be announced shortly). You may not need it, but other 'flavors' listed below might also double as sweeteners (like maple syrup). Or you may prefer sweetened yogurt. You can also rely on other naturally sweet ingredients like fruit juices. In any case, you don't need much.
I always want some texture in my smoothies too (something that most purchased ones are pathetically lacking). I always add a few spoonfuls of ground flax for texture, and because flax is so danged healthy. (As far as I know, the flax seeds have to be ground up to be of any healthful benefit, so I just buy them that way.) Often I'll add a handful of oats too...although I've kind of stopped doing that because they can get a wee bit soggy. Nuts are a great addition, especially sliced almonds or chopped pecans. (Whole almonds probably won't get chopped too well.) Sometimes, back in the day when I bought that kind of stuff, I'd throw a NutriGrain bar in there. Or Grape Nuts. Granola is a great option, as is any cereal that won't get too soggy too fast. I always suggest something grainy, to add texture and help fill you up, and there are lots of options.
Now you can have tons o' fun with any other flavors you like. Cinnamon is one of my favorites. You could use coconut cream/shredded coconut, craisins/raisins, cardamom, peanut/almond butter, vanilla extract, applesauce, maple syrup, Nutella, instant coffee, lemon or lime juice, cocoa powder, jam or jelly, pure green tea powder (been dying to try that one), almond milk, other fruit juices, even a scoop of ice cream. Or add a gourmet note with a sprig (or dash) of basil, mint, lavender, lemon verbena, or thyme. Just play off the flavors in the main ingredients and be creative!
We're almost done! Next is Stuff I Won't Taste But That's Good For Me. I have recently stumbled upon the idea of putting healthy green leafy things in our smoothies...like chard, spinach or kale. I have only ever tried using kale (I keep meaning to use some of the chard growing on the porch), but let me tell you...you can't taste it at all, and obviously, the whole point is that it's SUPER healthy. If you aren't getting at least one dose of dark green stuff a day, this is a good way to do it! I put 2-4 torn up leaves in there, with the big ribs removed (they just taste funky to me), and tada, we're eating leafy greens for breakfast. When I use kale, I use it with blueberries or other dark things, to help disguise the greenness. I think spinach, being brighter and more watery, adds more of a green coloring, so if you are feeding people who won't eat healthy colors, it may help to disguise it.
The moral of this story: smoothies are a great disguise for stuff you might not eat raw (or at all) on its own! You can also use fruits that are past their prime or not looking so hot, like bruised strawberries, smushed bananas, or peaches that have gone mealy. Look through your kitchen, and while being discerning (I don't suggest nachos or asparagus), think outside the smoothie box.
Last thing: you'll probably want to use a splash of liquid to even out the frozen stuff. Maybe a half cup or a cup, depending on how much other stuff you've got in there. I usually use some kind of fruit juice, whatever's in the fridge...or else a little milk. (You could use water too, but it has no taste. Your call. :) I put the liquid in last because if it sits too long with the frozen ingredients, it'll also freeze, which is so not the point of it being there. So I dump it in right before I put the lid on. It trickles down and helps everything blend together well.
To blend, I always use the 'ice chopping' setting for a few seconds to get everything chopped, then pulse at the highest level (puree on my blender) for a while til everything is REALLY blended. It's not rocket science, but I've found it's always best to blend a little longer than I think I need to.
A quick recap: no ice, frozen fruit, yogurt, honey, texture, flavors, Stuff I Won't Taste But That's Good For Me, liquid, blend. There ya be!
And just for the record, Justin knows our smoothies have green stuff in them, and he still thinks mine beat out all the competition. :)
Do you make "green smoothies"? What else do you put in your smoothies?