Salad Scorn

ArugulaIf there’s one thing I loathe more than the word “dieting”, it’s salad.

Salads are usually a pain to make, if they’re interesting. (What’s uninteresting? “One of those mixed-up salads which men will eat with complete docility in restaurants, although they would probably start yelling if their wives tried to feed them one at home,” as Phil Marlowe observed. Smothered with bottled Ranch dressing, of course.) And eating a big salad makes me impatient. Like a trip to the dentist, I just want to get it over with, losing interest and my nerve about two-thirds of the way through the whole lousy experience.

I want to make salads that are as simple and as weird possible. Like a chopped “garbage” salad, with everything thrown into a bowl and mowed down with a pizza cutter. Brazilian potato salad with apples and olives. Shredded, raw butternut squash slaw with cranberries. Warm collards topped with toasted coconut chips, to which I am addicted. Do I need to say that all of these sport homemade dressing? Last night, salad was a handful of Romaine, grapefruit wedges, and peeled cucumber half-moons with a drizzle of olive oil. It really doesn’t have to be complicated.

Suzanne and I try to make a salad every day during the work week. (This translates into maybe, oh, two salads a week; we then switch to overstuffed liverwurst-and-onion “bombs”.) Recently, we’ve been lovin’ arugula, a favorite green because it’s easy to clean, requires no tearing or cutting, and has an interesting, peppery taste. With slivered pears, sliced shallots, and toasted walnuts, it’s been our go-to for a while.

Pears are kind of overlooked here in apple-centric New England. Comice and red Bartletts are great eating pears, but choose your favorite. How to tell if it’s ripe? Gently press around the stem at the top; it should have a little “give” if the pear is ready to eat.

Favorite Arugula Salad
(1 big or 2 side servings)

4 big fistfuls baby arugula
1 large, ripe, Comice or red Bartlett pear
1 shallot, thinly sliced
Small handful toasted walnuts
Olive oil, Sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper

Wash and dry the arugula – the drier, the better, so your dressing clings to the leaves. Place in a bowl.

Halve and core the pear; slice into thin wedges. Add to the bowl, along with the shallots and walnuts. Season with salad and pepper.

Drizzle with a little olive oil and add a splash of vinegar. Don’t overdress! Serve immediately.

Our Famous Grain and Nut Salad

Quinoa is the current darling of the grain world. It’s the only grain that’s also a complete protein so vegetarians like it (although it is not protein-dense, making it a healthy grain option but not a protein substitute) . Gluten-free eaters love it, too. We’ve been using it for years and really love it in this salad of ours which is rich in all kinds of good things. We’ve been toting this mixture to events forever; it’s a good introduction to quinoa and people always love it. (Except for one person who I saw discreetly dispose of it and then swigging a can of Coke. Oh, well.) Of course, if you put fresh blueberries in anything, people tend to go nuts. Read more

Favorite Cookbook Recipe: Maple Lemon Cream

March is here and the sap is going to start running in New England.

However: have you checked out the price of maple syrup lately? Ack! I’ve stopped baking with it; a cup of maple syrup per recipe? Ka-ching! Now, I use it sparingly, usually in beverages, sauces, and dressings. And I prefer to cook with Grade B syrup; Grade A maple syrup is beautiful, but thin and not as mapley-tasting as the B-grade; I save the good stuff for waffles.

Which brings me to a favorite cookbook recipe. A few years ago, I spent a weekend at Trout Point Lodge in Nova Scotia – a beautiful place, with great meals and wine, oyster-gathering, and some cooking classes. Their cookbook, The Trout Point Lodge Cookbook: Creole Cuisine from New Orleans to Nova Scotia, was a gift to participants. I gave it a quick look on the ferry ride back to Maine and put it aside. Read more

American Panzanella Salad with Grilled Peaches

American Panzanella Salad with Grilled Peaches
(4 servings)

1/4 Cup white wine vinegar
1/4 Cup honey
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint or basil
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1 Tablespoons olive oil
4 large ripe peaches, halved and pitted
4 Roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 large shallot, cut into 8 wedges
8” square day-old cornbread, cut into 12 pieces
10-15 fresh basil leaves, sliced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a sheet with foil.

Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.

Arrange cornbread cubes in a single layer on one baking sheet. Toast for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to a large bowl. Remove the foil from the baking sheet and discard.

Toss the peaches, tomatoes, and shallots with olive oil until coated. Arrange on the same baking sheet, cut side down. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Let cool, then slice peaches and tomatoes into quarters. Transfer to the bowl with the cornbread.

Just before serving, drizzle the cornbread mixture with vinaigrette and basil. Toss gently and serve.

How the Mint Salad Happened

(Posted by Maile.) It was time for another fabulous Greek cooking class with Chef Cristina Kallias here at Culinary Underground School for Home Cooks. Cristina’s classes always delight the senses, making the most of simple but elegant ingredients.

Chef Lori was typing up Cristina’s class materials. Among them was a recipe for fig salad, but fresh figs are not in season at this time of year. What to use instead?

Cristina recommended avocados. Lori went to several stores and found only rock hard fruit. On the other hand, there were huge, fragrant bouquets of fresh mint in the markets. So Fresh Fig Salad evolved into Fresh Avocado Salad and finally became Fresh Mint Salad.

This kind of process is at the heart of Culinary Underground’s philosophy. Use fresh, seasonal ingredients (local, if possible). Be flexible and creative: let what’s good at the market dictate your dishes. When you think about it, going shopping becomes an adventure of surprise and discovery. Betcha never thought about food shopping that way!

Fresh Mint Salad
(4-6 servings)

1/2 Cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 Cup honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

One bunch fresh mint
1 cucumber, chopped
1 juicy tomato, chopped
1/4 Cup chopped red onion
1/4 to 1/2 Cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 Cup walnuts, chopped
Crumbled feta (optional)

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a bowl and chill until serving. Wash and dry mint leaves. Trim off stems. Chop cucumber, tomato, and onion. Set aside.

Dry-sauté pine nuts and walnuts in small skillet over LOW heat just until fragrant. Be careful to not burn them. To assemble salad for each serving: layer mint leaves on plate and add a layer of the remaining ingredients on top. Drizzle with some chilled dressing and serve.