Let's Get It Started

Winter salads seem to be all the rave this time of year. I cannot open a magazine or a website without a challenge to prepare this or that amazing winter salad. I gather we are being encouraged to eke out the last weeks of those hearty vegetables inherent to the cold and short days. I love winter vegetables and am usually a touch disappointed once they are out of season. This said, one door closes and another opens introducing yet one more season of eternal promise in the kitchen.

This past weekend, we had friends for dinner. A hearty Belgian inspired beef stew was served as the main course. In addition to the butter braised carrots decorated with plucked thyme leaves, roasted garlicky rosemary potatoes and crusty Ciabatta bread served warm from the oven, I wanted to offset it all with something fresh, crunchy and different. The salad recipe that follows fit the bill and delivered. I enjoyed it the day after for lunch and later for a snack. I emailed my mother and said the next time you serve a 6 lb tenderloin during one of your al fresco Wiesbaden barbecues, please pair it with this. I sent the recipe to another friend with the subject entitled: get on this, must try. I am all for recipes worth sharing, especially ones this grand. Note, you can feed an army with this one so if you are only two, I would half it unless you are down with leftovers for Africa. We were.

I am a lover of salads. I eat them for lunch almost every day. A few nights a week I serve them with or sometimes even for dinner. Never a dull moment. Not to toot my own horn but I make a mean salad. My mom was clearly onto something when during my youth I was always asked to please prepare a salad for dinner. It was a nuisance at the time but start them young, right? I like to keep things fresh in the lettuce department. I am a fan of romaine, spinach, arugula and kale but not in that order. I am not wild about a spring mix. I think it lacks consistency and pizzazz in general. Toppings are easy as I always start with finely chopped carrots, Persian or English cucumbers, celery and radishes. Fresh herbs including flat leaf parsley, basil, chives, tarragon and cilantro always make a cameo but not necessarily all at once. I am very into chopped scallions these days; I use the whites as well as the greens. They give nice zing and bite to the dish. Now here is where we get busy. You have to have texture and this is almost always achieved by nuts and I like the raw variant. Sunflower seeds, pine nuts, almonds, walnuts or cashews. Pumpkin seeds are outstanding too. Ditto hazelnuts or pistachios. A tablespoon or two shall do. Throw them in the oven for a bit of toasting and bring it on.

A can of Cento tuna aside, I usually don’t have protein in the form of meat at lunch so I like to add beans. Well not entirely true. If I have roasted a chicken, pulled chicken breast is on top. Grilled shrimp are also lovely. For one person, a half a cup of beans is plenty. Note if you do like the Cento tuna, the oil in which it is packed loves lettuce leaves along with a bit of fresh squeezed lemon juice or a generous splash of a vinegar of your choice. As for beans, I won’t turn my nose up at black, kidney, cannellini, soy or limas. Black eyed peas are gorgeous on salads too. You can roast garbanzos in the oven with a dash of paprika until crunchy and scatter them on top of your salad – voila, croutons! Lentils are always a home run addition too. Green, black, brown or red, any one of them will do. Salads benefit from roasted vegetables as well, my favorites of which are beets, fennel, butternut squash, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussel sprouts. The latter of which is also delicious shredded raw.  Do you have any ripe avocados on hand? Peel, scoop and drop them in. A spectacular way by which to get your healthy fats. Grains are also marvelous. How about brown rice, forbidden rice, amaranth, farro, quinoa or millet. Or even a protein punch with a boiled egg.

If you can stand cheeses, the sky is the limit. Greek feta, goat’s milk chevre, aged blue, a shaving from a hard cheese like Pecorino or Parmesan. Do you like aged cheddar? Come on down. If you want the sweet and savory contrast, add some golden raisins braised on the stove in white wine vinegar. Buy some pomegranates and pluck the juicy seeds. Chopped apples, juicy pears, grapefruit and other citrus fruits make lovely guest appearances. Watermelon matches beautifully with a salty cheese and chopped basil. Add some orzo and make it a meal. Grill a peach, nectarine or pineapple and add it. While on the topic of the grill, cook some cabbage, romaine, onions and leeks that will shape your meal. Fry up some bacon, drain the excess oil on a towel and crumble with your hands for a salty bite. Do you like martinis? Throw in some king sized olives. Your grocer should have a section with a comprehensive selection. Establish what you like best and keep them coming. Buy a Mandolin and get creative with the ways in which you cut your vegetables. Zucchini noodles, squash ribbons. Did I hear cole slaw?

Salad dressings are a cinch to make on your own. I can almost guarantee that once you start experimenting with your own potions at home, you will never buy store bought again. Sesame oil with garlic and ground mustard is phenomenal. Right now, I am thinking about balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, chopped chives and olive oil. A dollop of pesto would be remarkable here too. Rosemary, Dijon and tarragon vinegar will change your life. A decent Balsamic vinegar will carry you a long way. Garlic, tahini, hot water and lemon juice yields a beautiful, creamy interpretation. I have a Green Goddess dressing that is made with avocados, cream, olive oil and a medley of fresh herbs and I can say with conviction that it will stop you in your tracks. I will post it one of these soon days. Conventional salads can get a bad rap but in my book, they always take on an adventurous life of their own. Once you start to build a masterpiece, you won’t stop. The possibilities are endless. Am I missing something? How do you build your salads?

Cooked and Raw Winter Salad
Adapted from Saveur 
Recipe by: The Canal House's Christopher Hirsheimer

Winter’s Bounty

6 slices of bacon – chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
½ cup of pine nuts
2 shallots – finely chopped
1 16 oz package of frozen lima beans
1 16 oz package of frozen peas
1 cup of mint – chopped
1 cup of parsley – chopped
½ cup of finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino
5 scallions – chopped
1 cup of watercress – optional
1 head of Bibb lettuce – leaves torn – spinach or kale would be fabulous too
1 large piece of fennel – chop but please keep the fronds off to themselves
The juice of 2 – 3 lemons
1 tsp red pepper flakes

You Can Do It

1. Cook bacon in a skillet on medium high heat ensuring that you do not burn it. Once the bacon is nice and cooked, transfer it to a paper towel so as to soak up the excess oil. Add your shallots and pine nuts to the pan and cook on medium heat until the shallots are translucent. This will not take long. Transfer to a bowl.

2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the lima beans and peas for approximately one minute, drain and transfer to a large bowl, just the two of them. Let this sit for about 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Now you want to add everything to the bowl containing the lima beans and peas. Throw in the bacon, shallots, pine nuts, mint, parsley, parmesan, scallions, watercress, Bibb lettuce, chopped fennel, the juice of the lemons, a couple of generous pinches of kosher salt and the red pepper flakes.

4. Now add ¼ cup of olive oil. Give everything a big mix and taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly. Once you are ready to put this gorgeous dish on the table for all to ogle at, sprinkle the fronds over the top and if you are feeling up to it, a bit more of the Parmesan.

No comments:

Post a Comment