Remember that point when salad became something you had to choke down with dinner each night because it was good for you? That was when you fell in love with salad dressings: Ranch, Thousand Island and Italian started a habit that lead to more sophisticated dressings like jars of Marie’s Blue Cheese, Judie’s Poppyseed Dressing (and popovers!) and Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette.
These dressings were all good, but it was like doctors treating the symptom while missing the disease. We were covering up for the increasingly tasteless vegetables we were bringing home from the grocery store. No more. Welcome to 52 weeks of holistic healing for your daily meal.
In my entry for a simple vinaigrette, I mention that it is the most asked for recipe I serve in my home, and the variations are without end. Starting this week I am going to blog 52 weeks of recipes that will take the salad from a must eat back to the vaunted want-to-eat status it deserves.
This is the last time you go to the grocery store, pick up a bag of tasteless Romaine hearts and slather them in thick Ranch or Blue Cheese to stop the pain. Today we start with fresh ingredients, make our own dressings and dress our ingredients lightly. Your perfectly dressed salad should glisten lightly with dressing. When you are done serving there should be almost no dressing in the bottom of the bowl.
To good taste and good health (and the occasional wedge of iceberg slathered in Marie’s rich blue cheese).
White Peach and Nectarine Salad with Mesclun Greens
The honey helps bring out the sweetness in the fruit. White peaches and nectarines taste sweeter than their yellow cousins because of lower acidity.
- 1 white nectarine, thinly sliced
- 1 white peach, thinly sliced
- 4 -6 cups mesclun greens – two big handfuls or so
- 1/4 cup peach vinegar*
- 1 tbs chopped tarragon
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 tbs honey
- 1/2 cup mild grassy olive oil like Koroneiko*
*Peach vinegar and Koroneiko olive oil are now available online from Sapore Oil and Vinegar in DC. If you want some quick substitutions to toss this together tonight, use a light white wine vinegar with a good quality olive oil.
- Whisk together vinegar, tarragon, shallot and honey with a pinch of salt and crack or three of pepper.
- Mix the fruit and greens in a large bowl.
- Whisk the oil into the dressing in a thin stream until it gets thick and creamy.
- Taste your dressing with leaf of the greens. Correct seasoning and lightly dress your salad.
Ah, the nostalgic cucumber.
They always remind me of my childhood. Crunching through them, wet and sun-warmed right from the garden. Cold and crisp with dill and sour cream in my Mom’s salad. Moosewood’s cold cucumber soup. Mom’s gazpacho, Mom’s salad tossed with rice wine, salt, pepper and sugar, my Babci’s pickles.
This simple salad plays of their cool sweetness with fruity sweetness and a little heat. If you are serving the salad right away, just slice them in half rounds, toss them with the dressing and eat, but if you are going to hold the salad for a bit in the fridge or freezer, then remove the seeds before slicing the cuckes into thin crescents. The seeds hold much of the moisture in the cukes and this is an easy way to keep your salad from turning to soup.
How do you seed a cucumber? Easy! First peel it, cut off the ends, and then cut it in half lengthwise. Now scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon (the one from your flatware drawer, not the measuring spoon).
Finally, if you are holding the salad, then remember that it will release some moisture, diluting your dressing. Check the seasoning again right before serving.
Tropical Cucumber Salad
- 2-3 medium cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced, about 3 cups
- 1 tbs chopped mint
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 2 tbs Tropical Spice Vinegar*
- 1/3 cup peanut oil
*If you or your family prefer less spicy food, try a lightly acidic, sweet vinegar like Champagne Mimosa or rice wine.
- Combine mint, shallot, sugar, Tropical Spice Vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl.
- Whisk in peanut oil in a thin stream. Dressing will become creamy.
- Dress cucumbers lightly, reserving extra dressing.
- Let salad rest for 5-10 minutes for flavors to develop. Check seasoning and add salt, pepper or additional dressing as needed.
*The cucumber will release some water while you let this rest. Season to taste right before serving. For a drier salad, lightly salt the cucumbers, drain in a colander for 15 minutes and pat dry.
I feel like I should be sitting in a confessional, leaning in close, talking directly to the camera.
“I didn’t used to like tomatoes,” I would say in a hushed tone. “For years I thought raw tomatoes were gross!” Perhaps this revelation is so shocking that I should ask to be silhouetted with my voice modulated.
It’s true. As a child I hated raw tomatoes. I loved Brussels Sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Give me artichokes and onions, just about anything Mom put on the dinner table, but I grimaced each year when she asked me to try one bite of a ripe tomato, fresh picked as we stood in her garden.
Nine years ago that started to change and today I love raw tomatoes. I chalk it up to a wiser palate. This past week I decided to venerate the first of this summer’s tomatoes, picked fresh under the hot sun. Two thick slices of beefsteak-type tomatoes didn’t need anything more than salt and pepper, but I went ahead and added a simple balsamic vinaigrette made with fresh basil and garlic scape pesto, fragrant from pounding in the mortar. I fell in love with tomatoes all over again. Then I called my Mom.
Tomato Salad With Pesto Vinaigrette
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or 2 tbs minced garlic scapes
- 1.5 cups thinly sliced basil
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tbs Arbosana Olive Oil, or other high-quality, light, grassy olive oil
- 2 tbs minced shallot
- 3 tbs pesto
- 2-3 tbs Aged Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 cup Arbrosana Olive Oil, or other high-quality, light, grassy olive oil
- Using mortar and pestle, pound garlic or scapes with 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt. Then pound in basil, followed by pine nuts, cheese and oil. Season to taste with pepper and additional salt.
- Make dressing: whisk together shallot, pesto and vinegar.
- Whisk in oil in a thin stream. You may not need all the oil. Start with 1/2 cup and taste as you go.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed. Taste the dressing with a piece of tomato and correct the balance of oil , vinegar and pesto as needed.
- Serve over thick slices of the freshest tomatoes you can find! Top with ribbons of fresh basil.
With each new summer cookout, looms the threat that someone is going to show up with those clear plastic containers from the deli counter of potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw. Now, rumor has it that these salads actually contain potatoes, macaroni and cabbage, but the protective coating of mayonnaise obscures any possible proof.
Okay, that was a bit of hyperbole, but most summer cookouts abound with rich, grilled meats and sauces, toasted buns and baskets of chips and dip. What I want from my salad is something light and bright to balance the plate, and a gloopy heap of mayonnaise just doesn’t cut it. Enter the “French” potato salad.
Like may other American “French” delicacies like fries, toast and dressing, I’m not sure how french this is, but I think they would approve. Boiled potatoes are tossed, still warm, in a sharp, buttery vinaigrette, with garlic or shallots and fresh herbs. They soak up the dressing and releasing the flavorful oils from the greens; exactly what you want sitting next to your burger, hanger steak or chicken thighs, complete with flawless grill marks.
This is a recipe I served at Eastern Market recently, but experiment throughout the summer. Toss with halved cherry tomatoes and basil, use fresh tasting tarragon and shallots, baby arugula or minced red peppers. But please, I’ll take my potato salad without mayonnaise. and I like my burgers rare.
French Potato Salad with Mint and Garlic Scapes
- 4 cups small potatoes
- 3 tbs mint
- 1/4 cup finely chopped garlic scapes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa Vinegar*
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup Koroneiko Olive Oil*
*More magical ingredients from Sapore Oil and Vinegar. Champagne or white wine vinegar can replace the Champagne Mimosa. The Koroneiko Olive Oil is Greek. Mild and grassy. Substitute another high-quality olive oil.
- Boil potatoes in salted water until still firm but can be easily pierced through to the center with the tip of a knife. Drain potatoes.
- Meanwhile, mince garlic and mash it into a paste with coarse sea salt. Whisk with Champagne Mimosa Vinegar. Season with pepper. Set aside.
- Mix mint and garlic scapes in a salad bowl.
- Cut warm potatoes in 1” pieces – halved or quartered – and toss with mint and garlic scapes. The heat will release oils in the mint.
- Whisk oil into vinegar mixture in a steady stream until creamy. Toss with potatoes. Dress lightly so not to overpower the other flavors.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional mint.