Sunday, April 13, 2008

Salad scares me. I'm working on it.

Salads give me pause.

The very thought produces trepidation, the "uh oh" sentiment more commonly associated with yeast or pairing wine. I'd rather bring homemade bread or a bottle or two to a potluck any day.
I read in some book that Alice Waters has an indisputable gift for composing salads, whatever critics may say of her other cooking skills. Composing salads. When salads are compared to a sonata, how do you expect me to not feel intimated?

I think it's the fact that there are so many options. There are an infinite number of ingredients in my kitchen alone that could be conducive to salads. Greens, sun dried tomatoes, nuts, honey, canned beans? Pick a shelf, any shelf, and I'm sure I'll find something that can be added to a salad. With so much choice and so little guidance, how to you turn that cacophony of ingredients into a composed salad? And let's not even talk about dressings.

I do have an ace in my back pocket: the salad that my Dad makes every day. Without fail, after the main course and before the desert (if any), my parents serve a green tossed salad with a classic vinaigrette (olive oil/balsamic vinegar/garlic/mustard). Dependable as time. Sometimes there would be unexpected additions like sunflower seeds, but otherwise it is lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and green/red/or yellow peppers (The salad pictured to the left was the one served at my Mom's birthday dinner last Tuesday). Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring. In West Africa, Switzerland, the Caribbean, and in the U.S. That salad is part being home for me. The very first day of my parents' week-long visit, Dad realized that my kitchen lacks a cruet for salad dressing and we promptly drove to Crate and Barrel to remedy the situation. I now am the proud owner of a cruet.

Which means I need to make salad.

Uh oh.

This morning, I took D to the Dupont Farmer's Market for the first time. (Yes, we picked up morels so that he could experience last week's success. He's never had morels either!). It was far more exciting than last week: they had new potatoes and spring garlic and very very tender radishes, and the variety of greens is just blossoming. One stand (to the left of Cibola Meats, for those who also frequent the market) even had watercress. Okay. Time to suck it up and make a salad. I couldn't just walk past that watercress.

Once we'd hiked home, I dug through my recipe clippings folder. Most of the salads I'd been attracted to were pretty basic: greens and soft cheese. Okay. That's doable. We still had some leftover Keswick Creamery Quark from last week's Farmer's Market trip. Breathe. Cut up some of those delicious radishes (did I mention that I hate radishes? They are always so woody, but the samples offered at the Market made me rethink my prejudices). How about some Mint? That's spring-like. And pine nuts & raisins are my trusty standbys when texture is needed. (I can't tell you how often D makes fun of me for that. "Hey honey, do you think this chocolate cake needs some pine nuts and raisins?").

The salad, much to my relief, was fabulous. The moral of this story is that you can't go far wrong when throwing together Farmer's Market discoveries.

Actually, the dressing was the weakest link. It just didn't taste like much, which was sad. Did it not have enough vinegar? Or is it because I'm used to mustard and raw garlic in my vinaigrette? I'm including it because I wouldn't trust my own salad recommendations at this stage, judge for yourself!

April Farmer's Market Salad
Oh, what did we throw in?
1/4 lb. Watercress
1 cup Quark, crumbled (any extremely soft white cheese should work. Ricotta?)
8 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup mint leaves, torn
1/2 cup dill, minced.
handful of raisins.
handful of pine nuts.

Toss with dressing. Serves two.

Food & Wine Dressing (unknown date, unknown author)
1/4 cup + 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
2 Tbs salted roasted almonds, coarsely chopped.

In a blender, blend all of the above. Toss 1/2 of the dressing with salad (more if you like lots of dressing on your salad) and serve immediately with Lots of salt and pepper.


Johanna said...

I've been more comfortable with salads since I have been avoiding lettuce! I had hoped you might have a photo of your cruet as I am not quite sure what they are - maybe in another post

Kate said...

Here's my trick for a perfect salad:
*Some form of green (spinach, romaine, mixed baby)
*Some form of cheese (blue, goat, cheddar, swiss, feta....)
*Some form of fruit (strawberry, pear, raspberry, apple, orange...)
*Some form of nut (almond, walnut, pecan, pinenut)

And you just can't go wrong!