Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Salads

As I've explained before, I'm not comfortable with salads. Their apparent simplicity intimidates the daylights out of me. I just have no confidence that I can make it taste good -- ridiculous as that may seem. Which is why I was very surprised when I realised I had a craving for one a few days ago. But instead of simply throwing a bunch of greens together and drizzling it with a quick vinaigrette, I had to go and make a project out of it. Tsk. Just like me. I can't just eat something. I have to go and think about it. Higher education at work here, people.

Not that this is a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. I probably should have more greens in my diet anyway, if USDA's new nutrition chart is anything to go by... Tangent: was anyone else completely dumbfounded that they didn't think to use a pie chart in the first place? And their recommendations are still difficult to interpret, since they evidently can't even center the design accurately. Moral of the story: if you need a statistics degree to figure out how to eat, USDA's doing it wrong.

Return from tangent: furthermore, that's the exact kind of meal that you would want to have during summer. Fresh, crisp greens with an acid tang; anything else would add to the lethargy you already experience from the heat. Now, personally, I don't think that a salad by itself it enough to constitute an entire meal. A potato salad or a chicken salad, sure. But just a salad? Isn't that kinda... limited?

A question to be explored at a later date. In order to satisfy my craving and food preferences, I uncovered these two recipes, which have temporarily turned the Salad to an accessible summer meal for me.

Chicken Cherry Salad
Obviously, the best way to make a salad more meaty is to add, well, meat. (Duh.) But this one goes a step further by also adding croutons and cherries. Vegetables, protein, starch, fruit -- boom! Full nutritional value in a single dish. I'm waiting for the government to pat me on the head like a good little drone.

Facetiousness aside, I did continue eating this for several days in a row, jealously hiding it from my roommates. It's not as crisp as I expected (maybe I didn't toast the bread fast enough?), but that didn't bother me. In fact, that would have distracted me from the soft texture of the cherries and chicken. The vinaigrette gives everything a pleasant bite (in nice contrast to the cherries' sweetness), especially if you let it all soak it in for a few minutes.

For the Chicken:
  • 6 (2,1/4 lbs) skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper
For the Salad:
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tbs Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbs dill, chopped
  • 2 Tbs honey
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 thick slices rustic bread, crusts removed, torn into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 lb fresh cherries, stemmed, pitted, and lightly crushed
  • 3 heads butter lettuce, cored and turned into pieces
  • 4 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbs chopped chives
Preheat the oven to 475, and heat oil in a large cast-iron or heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Nestle chicken in skillet, skin side down, and cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-high; continue cooking skin side down, occasionally rearranging chicken thighs and rotating pan to evenly distribute heat, until fat renders and skin is golden brown, about 12min.

Transfer skillet to oven and cook 13min more. Flip chicken; continue cooking until skin crisps and meat is cooked through, about 5min longer. Transfer to a plate; reserve the fat.

Whisk together the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, dill, honey, and garlic together in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir; set aside. Remove the crispy chicken skin and tear into pieces. Do the same with the chicken meat; discard the bones.

Heat the chicken fat over medium heat. Add bread to skillet and toast, turning frequently, until golden and crisp, about 2min. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper while still hot.

Place chicken meat in a large bowl. Add cherries, lettuce, radishes, and chives and drizzle with vinaigrette; toss to coat. Divide salad among plates and garnish with croutons and chicken skin.

Celery, Grape, and Mushroom Salad
Another good way to add meatiness to a dish (minus the meat)? Mushrooms! This is a doubly good recipe for summer because it calls for a grill -- not only for the mushrooms, mind you, but for the grapes as well. What an awesome way to add smokiness to an otherwise fresh and nutty dish! At least, so I imagine. I don't have a grill, so I rely on my broiler. It still tastes excellent, but I will definitely have to make it again when I have earned that essential step on the path to adulthood. NB: if you happen to have unlocked this life achievement already, please make this in its original form and tell me what it's like!

Also, if you want to prove yourself a dork, place the oyster mushrooms on your face and pretend that you're Cthulu.

(...yes, I do such things.)

  • 2 Tbs white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs olive oil (plus more for brushing)
  • 1/4 cup almond oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup celery leaves
  • 1/4 cup salted roasted almonds, chopped
  • 1 lb king oyster mushrooms, sliced lengthwise 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 cups (12oz) green grapes
  • 2 heads butter lettuce, leaves separated
  • 2 cups very thinly sliced celery
In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar with the lemon juice, celery seeds, mustard and half of the garlic. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the almond oil until emulsified. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.

In a food processor, combine the remaining garlic with the parsley, celery leaves and almonds and pulse until finely chopped. Add another 1/4 cup of the olive oil and puree to a chunky paste. Season the pesto with salt and pepper.

Light a grill (or heat your broiler). Brush the mushrooms with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat, turning once, until tender and browned, about 5min. In a bowl, toss the grapes with the remaining 1 Tbs of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat until the skins begin to blacken in spots, about 3min; line the grill with perforated foil if the grapes will fall through. Transfer the grapes and mushrooms to a large bowl and toss with the pesto.

Arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter and drizzle with half of the dressing. Spoon the mushroom-and-grape salad onto the lettuce. Toss the celery with the remaining dressing, spoon it on top and serve.

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