Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Salad Season

Salads galore! Draft 2, salad chapter. I'll have to add a salsa recipe recipe later, after tomato season starts.

So tired, must sleep now. . .

Salads: Greens, Salsas, and Marinades

It’s hard to pin down exactly what a salad is. A “salad” can be leafy greens, raw or cooked vegetables, or even cold cooked meats in a dressing. About the only thing that salads have in common is that they are served cold. (And even this isn’t true all the time.)

This section includes the obvious leafy greens, and also the less obvious category of salsa (because what is a salsa, if not a finely-chopped salad?) and antipasto, which is vegetables, cheeses, and deli meats served cold.

Leafy Green Salads (Quick side dish, or make in advance)

Any leafy green that tastes good raw is fare game for a green salad. As well as lettuce (of which there are several kinds) this can include young, tender leaves from green plants that are usually cooked, such as kale. (For recipes on cooked greens, see recipe #). Greens that are particularly bitter alone, such as celery greens, are good when added to a salad that is mostly bland lettuce. Some fresh herbs, such as basil, work nicely tossed in with salad greens.

Pre-washed salad greens are available, but expensive, and sometimes the quality of them is poor. It is much more economical to buy a large bowl with a tight-fitting lid, or better yet, a salad spinner. Washed and torn-up greens can be stored in the refrigerator, ready to eat, for a week or more when sealed up tightly in such a container.

Salad greens should be stiff (not limp) and green, with no yellow or brown on the leaves. Some greens, such as romaine lettuce, have a tough rib in the middle of each leaf that you may want to exclude from your salad. If you don’t use the ribs in salad, you can chop them finely and include them in balls, patties, and loaves (recipe #). But do note that freezing any salad greens will change their texture, making them unsuitable for some dishes. Don’t try to make a salad from frozen salad greens - yuck!

Washing greens can be a hassle. I suggest that you first tear the leaves (with your clean hands) into bite-sized pieces, right into your salad spinner or large bowl. Then fill the bowl with cold tap water. Stir the leaves, again, with your hand - and then using your hand, push the leaves to one side while you pour the water down the sink. (Or if using a salad spinner, lift the basket from the water.

As you pour out the water, look for grit at the bottom. If grit is present, rinse the greens again. Repeat until no more grit comes out of the greens.

Once the leaves are clean, either spin them to dry, or (if you don’t have a salad spinner) pick up double handfuls of leaves to shake excess water out into the sink. Then blot the salad with two or three clean, dry dish towels, stirring the leaves to bring wet ones to the surface. Then seal up the lettuce in its bowl, and refrigerate until needed.

If a salad spinner was not used, additional water may drip to the bottom of the bowl during storage. Pour this out before serving.

Other Salad Vegetables

Some vegetables are well suited to be chopped in advance and stored in the same container as your salad greens. Others will turn mushy, or turn brown, or make the lettuce unpalatable. The following raw veggies and fruits work well when chopped and added to the salad in advance, or stored in their own air-tight containers:

Carrot (scrub with a veggie scrub-brush, or peel, and then chop)
Celery (wash and chop)
Frozen peas (just add them when they are frozen)
Pea pods (break off the stem and peel away the “string”, if necessary. Taste one to see if they need such treatment.)
Jicama (peel and chop)
Cabbage (rinse the exterior of the head, discard ugly outer leaves if necessary, lop off a chunk, and chop)
Grapes (wash and add whole)
Bell pepper (wash and chop, discarding the seeds and stem)
Kohlrabi root (wash, peel, and chop)
Strawberries (wash, remove leaves, and chop)
Broccoli or cauliflower, raw (wash and chop. The stem is tasty, too!)
Onion (peel and chop)

The following are things that are wonderful in salad, but best if added when the salad is about to be eaten:

Tomato (tomatoes lose flavor in the refrigerator)
Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries (they might get squished if kept all week with the tougher salad components)
Apple, pear (it oxidizes)

Meats, Cheeses, and Eggs in Salads

There are no rules when it comes to adding meats and cheeses to salads, except one: unless you have experience making sushi, use only fully-cooked meats and hard-boiled eggs! (See recipes # and #) Leftover cooked meats of any sort can be a lovely addition to a salad, turning a simple pile of greens into a hearty meal.

Basic Oil-and-Vinegar Salad Dressing

The “vinaigrette” is the most basic and versatile of salad dressings. A basic vinaigrette consists of about three parts oil, to one part vinegar. Additional spices can be added to it, as can additional liquids. Lemon or lime juice can be used instead of vinegar. All of these things can be beaten together in a bowl using a whisk, or you can put the ingredients into a jar with a lid, to shake it up; or the oil and vinegar (if used without spices) can be drizzled separately onto the salad.

You can use almost any of the spice mixes in section # to add flavor to an oil-and-vinegar salad dressing. You could also add mashed berries, strong grated or crumbled cheese (such as parmesan or blue cheese), minced onion or garlic, or any other interesting flavor that you want to experiment with.

Olive oil is the best choice of oil for salad dressings, as far as flavor goes. However, olive oil becomes a solid when refrigerated. Cooking oils, such as corn, soy, cottonseed, canola, and grapeseed, don’t become solid when refrigerated, but are almost flavorless, making them uninteresting in salads. If you want to store your dressing in the refrigerator for a few days, either you have to wait for your refrigerated olive-oil dressing to come back up to room temperature, or use a boring cooking oil. Or, you can try a flavored oil. Sesame and tree nut oils are highly flavorful, and should be used carefully (such as in combination with a cooking oil) so as not to overpower your salad. Peanut oil is flavorful but not dangerously so.

The different types of vinegars add different flavors. Apple cider vinegar is quite tart, and may need a bit of sugar to sweeten it up. White vinegar is more typically used for cleaning than for cooking, but it can add a nice zing to a dressing. Balsamic vinegar is quite sweet, and plays well with fruits such as berries and tomatoes. Other vinegars include red wine vinegar and rice wine vinegar.

Treat home-made oil and vinegar dressing like any other home-made food, and discard it after five days in the refrigerator.

The following makes a passable Italian-style dressing:

¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup cooking oil
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp of the Italian spice mix (recipe #), or ½ tsp combined of any of the spices in that mix
1/8 tsp black pepper

Tuna Salad, Egg Salad, Chicken Salad (quick meal)
Serves two.

Tuna salad makes a great sandwich filler or salad topper. Tuna salad is made by mixing canned tuna with minced vegetables and mayonnaise. Chopped hard-boiled egg or chopped cooked chicken can be used in place of the tuna to make egg salad or chicken salad.

1 small can of tuna (or about a cup of chopped cooked chicken (recipe #) , or 2 or 3 hardboiled eggs, chopped (recipe #) )
1 cup or so of any combination of the following: chopped celery, onion, apple, sweet or dill pickle, cucumber, walnuts, pecans.
About ½ cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
Pepper to taste
(optional) other herbs or spices, such as powdered garlic, dill, parsley, cayenne pepper, or curry powder.

Drain the tuna by squeezing it with the lid of the can. Then mix in the vegetables, and spoon in mayonnaise to taste. Season with pepper and optional herbs or spices. Serve over salad greens (recipe #) or on toast (recipe #) .

Russian Beet Salad (quick side dish)

This slaw is a glorious hot pink color, has a nice garlicky flavor, and just a little crunch.

1 can of beets, or about 1 ½ cups cooked fresh beets, cut small
½ cup mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, minced, or 1 tsp dried garlic
½ cup chopped or smashed walnuts or pecans
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) raisins, or chopped prunes
(optional) 1 tsp brown or white sugar, or honey

If using fresh beets, peel, slice, and boil for five or ten minutes, until a fork can pierce them. Dunk the cooked beet slices into cold water to stop them from cooking further, and then chop them into fine bits, or grate them using the largest holes of a cheese grater. Add just enough mayonnaise to coat the beets. Stir in the remaining ingredients, and serve!

Coleslaw (quick side dish)

There are many possible variants on coleslaw. This is a basic recipe that can easily be added to or changed. Coleslaw is particularly good with pulled pork.

Coleslaw can also be made with broccoli instead of cabbage.

¼ head of green or red cabbage, shredded, OR one crown of broccoli, sliced thin
1 tsp sugar
1 grated carrot
Mayonnaise or salad dressing to taste
Salt and pepper to taste.
(optionals) vinegar, milk, mustard, raisins, grated cheese; chopped apple, bell pepper, pineapple, walnuts, onion

Cut the core from the cabbage quarter, and then slice as thinly as you can manage. Mix the dressing and then stir everything together. Serve at once.

Roasted Vegetables, or “Antipasto”

Antipasti is a wonderful cold dish for hot summer weather. Basically, it is a plate full of cold roasted vegetables, deli meats, and cheeses. Olive oil and lemon juice make an excellent dressing for this salad. Here are some suggestions for items to include on an antipasti platter:

Roasted red peppers (broil them until the skin blackens, then remove the skin under running water, and discard the skin, stalk, and seeds)
Canned artichoke hearts
Roasted zucchini or summer squash (cook them under the broiler until soft, turning once or twice)

Picnic Marinade

There are no rules to this sort of salad - basically, just dice up any leftover cold meats, cheeses, and cooked or raw vegetables that you think would go well together, put them in a Tupperware box, and douse them with an oil-and-vinegar dressing (recipe #). Antipasto (recipe #) ingredients work very well as a picnic marinade. Give the box a shake, and then take it with you on a picnic, along with a few forks. You can eat it right out of the box!

Salsa and Bruscetta

A salsa is just a finely-chopped salad with a spicy dressing. By the same token, bruscetta (or more accurately, the topping which goes on bruscetta) is really just a salsa with an olive oil dressing instead of hot pepper.

Salsa can be primarily tomato, but it can also be corn. Or, for that matter, it can be made out of peaches, or mango, or apple. There really aren’t any rules.

Salsa can be used to dip tortilla chips in, of course, but it can also be served over salad greens, over meat, on toast, or eaten with a spoon. Toss some salsa with some cold cooked grains (recipe #) and you’ve just invented a whole new salad. It’s up to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment