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Posts Tagged ‘salads’

I’m a tomato snob. If it’s not home-grown, I won’t eat it. That means March is kind of a tough month–I crave tomatoes; I crave gorgeous summer salads with ripe, juicy tomatoes and that perfect acid-sweet balance that a great tomato provides. So in pursuit of a sweet and tangy substitute for perfect summer tomatoes–and maybe a little gory color too–I rummaged through my local farmers market this morning and came home with blood oranges, fennel and avocados. Oh, and some pretty red leaf lettuce too.

Blood oranges for tang and color, fennel for sweetness and crunch make a satisfying late-winter salad.

Blood oranges for tang and color, fennel for sweetness and crunch–together they make a satisfying late-winter salad.

One of the growers had Moro oranges, the darkest red of all blood oranges; they were small and fragrant. I peeled and sliced two of them and juiced a third one, slivered a bulb of fennel (just the white part), and peeled and sliced a nice ripe Haas avocado. I thought it needed a fairly delicate dressing, and luckily I remembered that someone had given me a bottle of Vilux hazelnut oil as a hostess gift in December. It’s a lovely, buttery oil, delicate and delicious, so I made a simple vinaigrette.

Slivered fennel and Moro blood oranges

Slivered fennel and Moro blood oranges

Hazelnut and Citrus Dressing
1/2 cup hazelnut oil
1/4 cup citrus juice (I used the juice of one Moro orange and 1 Bearss lime)
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together, taste and adjust the seasoning. If you like a sharper dressing, add a little more lime juice. Wash the lettuce and tear it into bite-size pieces. Spread the lettuce on a platter, then alternate slices of oranges and slices of avocado atop it, sprinkle the fennel slivers over all and drizzle the dressing over it. The result is pretty and inviting–and yummy.

It’s not ripe ‘Japanese Black Trifele’ tomatoes fresh from the garden, but it’s a darned good salad.

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Our friend Tony Chong contributes this article. Tony mans a mean barbecue and makes a curry so hot, grown men weep and his wife flees the kitchen–and his famous cucumber salad is delicious with both options.   

I was never much of a cucumber fan growing up, so it is rather ironic that a salad based on cucumbers should become one of the most well-received and requested dishes I’ve ever made. But what’s not to like? The combination of tang and sweet with a touch of savory, mixed with the zesty crunch of the cucumbers, makes it a wonderfully light and refreshing counterpoint to just about any main course you can imagine.

 

Interestingly enough, a cucumber salad was not what I intended to make when I started out. I was originally trying to create a good tomato, red onion and cucumber salad, emphasis on the tomatoes and onions. While the various results were satisfactory, they never quite hit the full mark. The onions proved too strong for some people and the tomatoes tended to disappoint both in flavor and in texture. It quickly became clear that the one element that held up throughout all the variations were the cucumbers.  So why not just do a good-parts version?

 

Inspiration was drawn from the marinated cucumbers adorning the house salad at Clancy’s Crab Broiler seafood restaurant inGlendale,CA. Of all the cucumbers I had tasted, those were the best. With that in mind, the quest was on to find the perfect combination of supplements for the featured ingredient. It took several tries, but the final results proved not only delicious, but allowed the cucumber to become the central feature of the dish, not a mere ornament to a standard lettuce-based salad.

 

While regular cucumbers will work, the salad is best made with extra-crispy Persians, which are the long, skinny, thin-skinned variant that show up in some local farmers markets.  Happily Trader Joe’s carries them as well. The wrapped English hot-house cucumbers will work fine, too, but it is really the Persians you want.

 

With that said, the ingredients are:

 

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced fine
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped fine
  • 12 small cucumbers, peeled and sliced thin
  • 10-12 oz of seasoned rice vinegar (although garlic or plain will work fine) – enough to cover
  • A dash or two or Lawry’s Savor Salt
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • Sugar to taste (more than you would think, but just this side of pucker)

 

Mix garlic, celery and cucumbers in a large serving bowl. Add Savor Salt, vinegar and oregano and stir. Add sugar slowly and taste; stop when you no longer pucker up! There should be just enough vinegar to cover cucumbers when they are pressed down (will create additional fluid as they marinate).  Let stand in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. Serve chilled. Salad will last up to a week in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

 

And there you go; a little taste of spring that can be had year-round – at least in places that carry all the ingredients.  By the way, they also make great cucumber tea sandwiches!

 

For this and other fun recipes, including some by regular host Laurie Perry, buy the Invenature Eats cookbook at: http://www.lulu.com/shop/tina-chong-and-and-friends/invenature-eats/paperback/product-6538060.html  Available in both spiral-bound and electronic versions.

–Tony Chong

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Our nephew Sam is a professional chef who trained at the New England Culinary Institute and has worked at fine restaurants around the country, including McCrady’s in Charleston and Wilshire in Los Angeles. Some months ago he hinted broadly that he would like to contribute to this blog. We immediately took him up on that hint. And then we waited…and waited. For the family Fourth of July potluck, he brought a delicious potato salad, and before I let him touch the black bottom cups, I made him promise to send us the recipe.

Guess what? He came through–and here he demonstrates that professional chefs use shortcuts and mixes, just like mere home cooks.

Sam’s Super Ranch Potato Salad
5 pounds red bliss potatoes cut into 1/4-inch rounds
8 hardboiled eggs, sliced
1 red onion, small dice
2 stalks celery, small dice
1 bunch green onions, cut fine, including white parts
2 bunches parsley, fine chiffonade
1 pound bacon, diced small and rendered
2 packets Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix, buttermilk variety*
2 cups mayonnaise
2 cups buttermilk
red wine vinegar to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the potatoes in a large pot of very well salted water; this is your only chance to pump those bland potatoes full of flavor, so make sure you do it.

When the potatoes are a little past fork tender (break one up and taste it to make sure the texture is where you want it), drain the water and spread the potatoes on a sheet pan. Place in the fridge to chill. If you mix the salad while the potatoes are still warm, you’ll end up with mashed potato salad. Gross.

In the meantime, place the eggs in cold water in a saucepan and bring it up to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid and let the eggs sit for 11 minutes. Cool the eggs enough that you don’t burn your fingers, then peel them. If you peel a hard-cooked egg while it’s still warm, the membrane hasn’t yet had a chance to reattach to the egg, so it will peel very easily. Slice the eggs.

Mix the ranch dressing per the package instructions. (Please note, I’ve worked for some of the best chefs in the country–guys who are James Beard Award winners, on the Food Network, etc.–and they have had “ranch” dressing on their menus. None of which was anywhere near as good as making your own from the Hidden Valley package. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. Whatever you do, DO NOT USE THE BOTTLED dressing–I’ll find you and take it away!)

Gently toss your ingredients together

When the potatoes are cool, gently, very gently, fold in all the ingredients. Take care doing this. There are a lot of different textures going on that you’ve worked hard to create, so don’t go messing it up by mixing too quickly. Season with salt and black pepper–yes, you’ll need more salt–and red wine vinegar to taste. You’ll need that acid to cut through the rich flavors of the salad and to not bog down your taste buds. Enjoy.

Sam Perry

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By Mel

Laurie usually makes her own salad dressing, and she buys salad ingredients at a local farmer’s market where the selection is always fresh and interesting. I enjoy following her around as she makes her selections — a mysterious activity, like watching a sorceress choose ingredients for her spells. Many of the items she buys for salad include greens that 1) I had never heard of before we met and 2) look as if somebody picked them from among the weeds in an empty lot.

One of Laurie's weird salads. Pretty and, yes, good--but where's the iceberg lettuce?

Many of the green rags of leafy things seem to be related to the hot thistles that Eeyore eats in the Winnie the Pooh books. Other leaves have a milder flavor but may still have an unusual texture — unusual to me, anyway.

Which is not to say I don’t enjoy Laurie’s salads. I’ve gotten used to them over time and often, particularly at the end of a hot summer day, even look forward to them. It’s just that I was brought up eating salads made mostly with iceberg lettuce and dressed with a viscous orange fluid labeled “French dressing” that came straight from a bottle.

Laurie has nothing but contempt for iceberg lettuce, and it rarely graces our table. According to her, it is without flavor or nutritional value or any other interesting attribute. I miss it sometimes, but I find I can satisfy my jones at the mid-range restaurants where Laurie and I occasionally have a meal. At these places a handful of shredded carrots and a few dry croutons serve to enhance the bowl of chopped greens they optimistically call salad; the greens are usually the iceberg of my youth. I enjoy these mid-range salads as exercises in nostalgia, but the truth is, after eating Laurie’s version of a salad, I usually find them pretty dull.

Sometimes a restaurant that has pretensions to being slightly higher than mid-range will perk up a thick wedge of iceberg lettuce with a cup or two of blue cheese or Thousand Island dressing, and then sprinkle cheese or bacon bits — in the really classy places you sometimes get both — over the whole mélange. Such a salad must be carved with a knife and fork, which can be fun.

Eating Laurie’s food is always a wonderful experience, and it is often educational as well. This is certainly the case with her salads. Though I do sometimes wish she would bend her mighty culinary imagination to seeing what she could do with the lowly iceberg.

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