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A&E >  Food

Dead ‘salad’ perfect

By Laura Crooks The Spokesman-Review

“A simple green salad can be a triumph.” That’s what the editors of Food Network Kitchens Cookbook wrote. And indeed they’re right, especially when the greens come from the fresh early harvest of the local farmers’ market season. But whatever you do, just don’t drown those glorious greens in thick, heavy dressings.

The flavor of the season’s early greens is something you want a dressing to complement, not dominate, said Tim Pellow, a farmer with Tolstoy Farms, a cooperative farming community near Davenport. Tolstoy sells a wide variety of lettuces, greens and other produce at the Spokane Farmers Market.

Pellow and others from area farmers’ markets agree that the best – and perhaps simplest – way to enjoy early greens is with a light, freshly made vinaigrette. It can be as plain as a little vinegar mixed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Or it can be enhanced with fresh herbs, spices and fruits.

That’s the beauty of vinaigrette — it easily adapts to the different characteristics of the greens you’re using.

For example, if you’re starting with a bowl of a sweet and smooth butterhead lettuce, such as bibb or Boston, you’ll want to steer clear of a extra bold or pungent dressings that would overpower the delicate buttery (hence the name) flavor of the lettuce.

But if you’ve got a spring or salad mix – some of which include a dozen or more different kinds of greens from mild to assertive – bold may be just right.

That said, however, there are few rules to matching dressings and salads. Think of salads as works of art – individual and personal. You can be simplistic, sticking with one kind of lettuce and varying the salad by changing what you toss with it. Or you can be more complex, mixing mild and peppery lettuces and greens and upping the ante on the dressing.

“I like to mix dark greens with light greens,” Pellow said. He also likes to toss in a speckled variety of romaine to give the salad an interesting visual appeal.

Diane Green, who sells organic produce at the Sandpoint Farmers’ Market, said she likes to vary her salads by using five to seven different kinds of fresh baby lettuces. Green, who owns GreenTree Naturals with her husband and rotates growing 37 different varieties of greens, said most greens are interchangeable in recipes. She just reminds people that some have stronger flavors than others.

The April/May 2005 edition of Eating Well magazine captured the different personalities of common lettuces and greens by sorting them into five flavor categories ranging from “The Docile Fellows” (butterhead lettuces) to “The Bar-Room-Brawl Set” (strong-flavored greens such as arugula, radicchio and Belgian endive). In between the extremes and increasing in flavor intensity are iceberg, red leaf lettuce, romaine, baby spinach, green leaf, curly endive, frisée and watercress.

While many of these varieties are now available in grocery stores, making a point to buy greens at a local farmers’ market will yield fresher salads.

“At the market, you can sell a lot more tender product,” Pellow said. Chances are the greens were picked the day before (and sometimes the morning of) market day whereas greens at supermarkets often have had to travel for at least few days to get there.

He encourages market shoppers to try new varieties. And, “If you have questions, talk to the people who grow it and are selling it. They usually know a lot about the varieties they have,” he said.

Shopping early will give you a chance at the freshest greens and more variety.

Green said in an e-mail response to a question about selecting and storing greens, to look for leaves that have fresh, dark colors and are not wilted. Steer clear of the greens that are soft, yellowed or dried out.

“Since greens are mostly water, it is difficult to revive them,” she said. If your greens do get limp by the time you get them home, soak them in cold tap water for 10 minutes and they should spring back.

Don’t expect to keep greens for very long. Even properly stored in the refrigerator, they last only a few days.

“I’ve found and I’ve heard that the best thing is to rinse it good, pat the leaves dry with paper towels then wrap the leaves in paper towels and put them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper,” said Shawn Schmidt, produce manager at Huckleberry’s Natural Market in Spokane.

Pellow added, “When you take some out to eat, look through the bag to see if any is starting to wilt. Look for bad spots and take them out because they will contaminate the rest.”

“As long as the greens are fresh and crisp, the salad is sure to be good,” Green said. She added that it is better to tear lettuce into bite-size pieces than to cut it because cutting discolors the edges.

Her last bit of advice: “Always wait to toss greens with salad dressing until just before serving.”

Inventing vinaigrettes

A good starting point for vinaigrette is a 1 to 3 ratio of acid to oil, but many people prefer more oil. Julia Child, for example in her cookbook “The Way to Cook” suggests using a 1 to 5 ratio. Combine the acid (vinegar, citrus juice) with herbs or spices that you’re using in a blender, a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, a salad cruet or a bowl with a whisk and shake or mix well. Slowly drizzle in the oil over the greens and continue shaking, blending or mixing. If you are using olive oil – the oil of choice for many vinaigrettes – be sure to use a good quality extra-virgin olive oil.

Next try different oils or vinegars. For example try:

“ Nut oils with fruity vinegars (hazelnut oil and raspberry vinegar; walnut oil and apple cider vinegar)

“ Citrus juices with assorted spices or herbs (lemon juice with dill or chives; orange and lime juice with cumin and cayenne)

“ Ethnic flavors (sesame oil with rice vinegar; lemon juice and tahini)

Once you have your acid/oil base figured out consider adding minced shallot, garlic, fresh herbs or ground spices that complement. For a creamy vinaigrette (for sturdier greens such as romaine), add yogurt, sour cream or mayonnaise.

Skip the shaking and mixing

If you are going with the most basic vinaigrette, Child suggests another way to dress the salad in “The Way to Cook.”

“Rather than making a dressing separately, start by tossing the greens in their serving bowl with the oil – which you can do well in advance. Make the flavoring in a small separate bowl and toss a good portion of it into the salad just before serving, then taste a dressed left analytically, and toss in more flavoring, salt, and pepper as needed. I like this system for a plain tossed salad.”

Paul Freeman who runs The Grill at the Moscow Farmers’ Market offered up this rough recipe for a tasty dressing. His bottom line advice: Have fun with it.

Combine lots of raspberries, a few Mandarin orange segments, vinegar, sugar or honey, salt and coarse cracked pepper, some red pepper flakes, a little dry mustard and some fresh herbs if you wish (basil, mint, for example).

“Shake, whip, stir till you can’t stand it anymore, taste and adjust above ingredients until you think it’s right,” he said. Add some chopped nuts to your greens right before you dress them. Dressing stores in the refrigerator for a day or two (without the nuts).”

Diane’s Vinaigrette

From Diane Green, GreenTree Naturals in Sandpoint

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon of your favorite fresh herbs chopped, such as basil, cilantro, Italian parsley (I like all three!)

Mash garlic and salt together. Stir in vinegar and mustard. Gradually beat in oil. Grind in pepper and stir in herbs.

Note: You can also make lemon vinaigrette by using lemon juice instead of vinegar

Yield: About 2/3 cup (enough for a salad that serves 10 to 12)

Approximate nutrition per 1-tablespoon serving: 116 calories, 12.6 grams fat (1.77 grams saturated, 97 percent fat calories), no protein, less than 1 gram carbohydrate, no cholesterol, no fiber, 62 milligrams sodium.

Spring Strawberry Fling

From Chef Peter Tobin, Inland Northwest Culinary Academy

3 cups fresh farmers’ market greens (2 cups fresh baby spinach tossed with 1 cup bitter greens such as arugula or chicory, or any combination of greens)

3/4 cup fresh button mushrooms, thinly sliced

Creamy Strawberry Peppercorn Dressing (makes about 1 cup)

1 pint strawberries, washed and sliced, divided

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 teaspoons green peppercorns (see note)

Honey, to taste

Salt, to taste

Wash, dry and chill the spinach and bitter greens. Slice mushrooms, set aside.

Place half the strawberries in a food processor along with yogurt, vinegar, orange juice and peppercorns; puree until smooth. Sweeten to your taste with honey and season with a bit of salt.

Toss the greens with the remaining strawberries, mushrooms and desired amount of dressing. You can add other ingredients such as almonds or dried fruits, if you wish.

Note: Green peppercorns are available in cans in some grocery stores. If you can’t find green peppercorns, substitute half the amount with crushed black peppercorns.

Yield: 2 large or 4 side salads

Approximate nutrition per serving (based on 4 servings with 1 tablespoon dressing each): 30 calories, less than 1 gram fat (13 percent fat calories), 1.5 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrate, less than 1 milligram cholesterol, 1.6 grams dietary fiber, 74 milligrams sodium.

Raspberry-Merlot Dressing

From “Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks,” by David Joachim.

5 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup merlot or other fruity red wine

1/2 pint fresh or frozen dry-packed raspberries

1 sliced shallot

2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Yield: About 1 1/4 cups

Approximate nutrition per 1-tablespoon serving: 197 calories, 19 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated, 87 percent fat calories), 2 grams protein, 5.6 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 2.24 grams dietary fiber, 80 milligrams sodium

Spinach Salad with Grilled Red Onion and Tahini Vinaigrette

From, originally published Bon Appetit 1996

For the vinaigrette:

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)

2 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard

1 teaspoon honey

1 small garlic clove, minced

3/4 cup vegetable oil

For the salad:

2 large red onions

12 cups (packed) baby spinach, trimmed

10 large radicchio leaves

To make vinaigrette, combine all ingredients except oil in blender and blend well. Gradually blend in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make salad, cut onions lengthwise into 1/2 -inch-thick wedges, leaving root ends intact. Place onions in 15-by-10-inch glass baking dish. Pour 1 cup vinaigrette over onions, coating evenly. Let marinate 3 hours. Chill remaining dressing. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill onions.)

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat) or preheat broiler. Sprinkle onions with salt and pepper. Grill or broil onions until golden turning occasionally, about 12 minutes. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Place spinach in large bowl. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Fill radicchio leaves with spinach. Top with grilled onions (cut root end off first, if desired.). Pass remaining dressing separately.

Yield: 10 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 197 calories, 19 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated, 87 percent fat calories), 2 grams protein, 5.6 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 2.24 grams dietary fiber, 80 milligrams sodium

Fresh Whole Leaf Cilantro Salad

From Genesee Valley Daoist Hermitage, sellers at the Moscow Farmers’ Market

This salad is refreshing and cleansing for a spring diet.

1 large bunch fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

Soy sauce, to taste

Toss cilantro with remaining ingredients until evenly distributed.

Yield: About 3/4 cup

Approximate nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate due to recipe variables.

Curly Endive with Bacon and Garlic Dressing

From “The Way to Cook” by Julia Child

2 heads of curly endive

3 or 4 strips of thick-sliced bacon

1 large clove garlic

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

1 tablespoon virgin olive oil

Wash and dry the endive, using the more tender leaves near the center if you have enough to spare, and turn it into a salad bowl; cover with damp paper towels and refrigerate until assembling time. Sauté the bacon until lightly brown and crisp, crumble it into a small bowl, and set aside. Pour the bacon fat into a small bowl, wipe out the frying pan, and return 1 tablespoon of clear bacon fat to it. Puree the garlic, mash to a fine paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and set aside.

Just before serving, pour the oil into the bacon fat, blend in the mashed garlic, and warm over moderate heat – but do not let the garlic brown. Pour in the wine vinegar, bring to a boil, and pour over the salad, turning and tossing to blend, and adding several grinds of pepper as you do so. Toss in half of the crumbled bacon, sprinkle on the rest and serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 135 calories, 11.3 grams fat (3.6 grams saturated, 75 percent fat calories), 3.5 grams protein, 5.9 grams carbohydrate, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 5.3 grams dietary fiber, 245 milligrams sodium.

Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Adapted from “Chevy’s and Rio Bravo Fresh Mex Cookbook,” (Ten Speed Press).

This robust vinaigrette goes well with a green salad topped with grilled chicken or fish.

1/2 cup roasted, peeled, stemmed, seeded and chopped red bell peppers

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

2 tablespoons chopped onion

2 tablespoons chopped tomato

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients, except the oil, in a blender or food processor, and blend until very smooth. Slowly add the oil, in a thin stream, while the processor is running and blend, until all of the oil is incorporated and the vinaigrette is completely emulsified. Taste and add additional salt, if necessary.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Approximate nutrition per 1-tablespoon serving: 44 calories, 4.7 grams fat (less than 1 gram saturated, 96 percent fat calories), less than 1 gram protein, less than 1 gram carbohydrate, no cholesterol, no fiber, 114 milligrams sodium.

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