Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Assembling Dinner: Salads
So, let's build a better salad.
Step #1: Choose your greens.
Step #2: Choose your mix-ins.
Other interesting mix-in ideas:
Pomegranate seeds (I can buy the seeds by themselves at my farmer's market and at my grocery store)
Beets (I roast them, but, beginners, try canned!)
Citrus sections (clementines, grapefruits, oranges, etc.)
Dried fruit (cranberries, apricots, raisins)
Avocados (great mixed with the grapefuit sections!)
Meats (leftover chicken, turkey, beef, or pork, or chicken from a grocery-store roasted chicken)
Salmon -- smoked or canned
Roasted potatoes or other veggies
Shavings of Pecorino Romano or Parmegiano Reggiano
Nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts)
One other mix-in idea that I have to mention, but that steps outside of my usual sweet + savory formula, is the mixed-herb salad. Chop a variety of fresh herbs -- basil, parsley, chives, tarragon, etc. -- and toss them with your greens. So, so good.
One note: With the exception of the mixed herbs, don't add your mix-ins to your salad until AFTER you dress the greens.
Step #3: Choose your dressing.
I have three basic dressings that I use for nearly every salad. As noted above, I salt my greens directly, so you won't see "salt and pepper" on the ingredient lists for these dressings. Feel free to add your salt and pepper to the dressings, instead, if you like. Also, I mix all my dressings in a little glass jar with a tightly fitting, screwtop lid. If you don't have a jar, you could whisk the dressings together in a small bowl. (But find yourself a little jar! Really, it's quicker and, if you have leftover dressing, you can store it right in the jar you mixed it in.)
Basic Vinaigrette (adapted from Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home): Finely chop some garlic until you have about 1 tsp. Add 1 TBSP Dijon mustard, 2 TBSP red wine vinegar, and 1/2 c olive oil. Shake it up. Taste and add more acid (vinegar) or oil, as you like. Store in fridge up to 2 weeks -- just shake to re-blend before using. If garlic isn't your thing, try grating a bit of shallot or onion. (I use more than 1 tsp. when I use a shallot.) Also, if you are really pressed for time, just skip the garlic/shallot. It's still good.
Lemon-Oil Vinaigrette (adapted from Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home): If vinegar is a little too much acid for you, try this more delicate lemon juice-based dressing. Mince or grate some shallots until you have about 1 TBSP. Add 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 2 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 1/2 cup olive oil. Shake until emulsified. Taste.
Walnut-Oil Vinaigrette (from the back of a bottle of walnut oil!): 4 TBSP walnut oil, 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp Dijon. Shake. Serve with salads in which walnuts are a "savory" ingredient. If the dressing tastes too strongly "nutty" to you, try it with half walnut oil and half canola oil. I've also made this with hazelnut oil and it was great. It's a nice change of pace from regular vinaigrettes.
Add the dressing to your greens in small amounts -- start with just a TBSP or two. Toss it gently with tongs. Taste a leaf and add more dressing if needed. Ideally, there should never be a pool of dressing at the bottom of your salad bowl. The greens should just be glistening, lightly covered with dressing.
*Extra Credit: Take Your Salad On a World Tour.
When you're ready to venture beyond the sweet/savory formula, pick your favorite type of ethnic food and try to construct a salad out of the basic flavors of that cuisine. A few examples:
Japanese: (adapted from Rachel Ray, 30-Minute Get Real Meals) The real star here is the dressing, a ginger-soy vinaigrette: juice of 1 lime, generous 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 TBSP tamari (or soy sauce), 1 tsp ginger (bottled or grated fresh). This is fabulous just on plain baby spinach. If you have warm grilled chicken or portabella mushrooms, and a few TBSP of toasted sesame seeds, add any or all of them. (Warm chicken or mushrooms will wilt the spinach a bit, and it's delicious! Also, toasted sesame seeds are available in the Asian foods aisle.)
Greek: (adapted from Rachel Ray, 30-Minute Get Real Meals) This is the classic greek salad: chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta cheese. No lettuce! Dress with the juice of 1 lemon, a drop or two of hot sauce, 4 tsp olive oil and sea salt. Want to take it up a notch? Add red onion, kalamata olives, and/or a few peperoncini. Top with chicken or maybe even grilled shrimp or sauteed scallops. If you want to serve it over greens, go with romaine. Note: wait til summer for this one! The tomatoes are the main attraction here, and they won't be worth it until summer.
Italian: (adapted from Rachel Ray, 30-Minute Get Real Meals) Everyone loves an antipasto salad at a pizzeria, right? Well, it makes a great meal on its own, too. Romaine lettuce, artichoke hearts, bottled roasted red bell peppers, peperoncini, kalamata (or other good quality olives), Genoa salami, provolone cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes. Dress greens with about 1 TBSP red wine vinegar and about 2 TBSP olive oil. Top with fresh basil.
quesadillas I discussed last week. Romaine or even shredded iceberg, black beans (or kidney or pinto), avocado, shredded Mexican-blend cheese, fresh cilantro, a little lime juice, and/or tomatoes. Use your favorite salsa for dressing. If you are ready for a little more cooking, serve with roasted corn added in. As you can see from the photo, I have a bit of an obsession with the roasted corn . . .