Thursday, May 12, 2011

Salad Season


Love 'em.

You know how kids are notorious salad-haters? When I was a kid, a special treat was when I got to drink the juice at the bottom of a bowl of sauteed spinach. Of course, I had to eat the spinach to get to the bottom of the bowl.

A whole bowl of spinach. I think my blood might run green.

And it hasn't slacked off in recent years. For all my talk of baked goods and fine French cheeses (and let's not forget those), I could not do without salads. And I mean all kinds. Everything from a simple spinach salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil to a wilted swiss chard salad with garlicky croutons and dried cherries. If it's cold, involves veggies, and has a dressing, I'm in.

Which is why summer is so great, culinarily speaking, for someone like me. I mean, who doesn't at least like summer? I don't think you have to like the humidity or the mosquitoes, but what's not to like about long days, cold drinks on the front porch, swimming holes, red (and green and yellow and orange...) ripe tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and more crookneck squash than you could possibly eat?

Not to mention the all-important summer vacation. Even if you just get to spend a couple days at home, revel in that. Wake up late, eat pancakes for breakfast (with whipped cream), read frivolous novels, watch silly movies, go on long walks, light lots of candles and turn off all the lights, never heat up the stove during the hot part of the day, stick your bare toes in every body of water you come to. Be alive. Be a human being, for heaven's sake.

And eat salad. Lots.

There's really no need to turn on your stove for most of the summer. Of course, you'll have to when you want fruit cobblers, crumbles, crisps and pandowdies...or pancakes with blueberries...or galettes. But all those other times? Cold food. You can do a lot with cold food.

Before I head into full-on salad season, I like to stock up on a few things. Pouring processed, mass-produced olive oil on a fresh green salad is downright insulting. I always have a bottle of really fine olive oil around. You use it sparingly and only as a garnish, never heated. Drizzled on a salad or on a finished soup, over cooked pasta served simply with some ricotta and fresh herbs, or on the quintessential tomato-mozzarella salad. A bottle of high-quality olive oil is a fine thing. Look for olive oil that has a slightly green tint. If you have the opportunity to taste before you buy, I highly encourage that. Olive oils have a wide range of flavors, from fruity to spicy. I happen to know that Whole Foods is very good about letting customers try things before they buy them. Don’t be afraid to ask.

I also love having a good balsamic vinegar on the shelf. Between the olive oil and the vinegar, you have the potential to make a very simple but strikingly delicious salad on very short notice.

The first salad I made is a grated carrot salad, or carottes rapées. I ate it often and in large quantities when I was in France. It was readily available in every supermarket and at these little shops, sort of like delis but without the focus on cured meats, where you could buy everything from salads to quiche and coq au vin. Fast food the French way.

Usually the French make it with lemon juice, salad oil (the French seem to favor flavorless oils for salads), and maybe some chives. Very simple and refreshing. But I love to make a thing my own, and so I made some alterations, but the essence is the same.

If you have a food processor, making this salad is like magic. If not, a little elbow grease will get you to the same result, if a bit slower.

Grated Carrot Salad with Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 4

Grate with a food processor or using the large holes of a box grater:

8 medium carrots

Place in a serving bowl. Add:

½ cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Juice of 2 small lemons

2 teaspoons agave nectar

Handful of dill, chopped

1 scallion, thinly sliced

(1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard—Maille is


Salt and pepper to taste

Stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

The next salad is slightly more exotic. It’s inspired by a Molly Wizenberg (author of the Orangette blog) recipe, but I’ve made some serious alterations. Her version is great too—chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, parmesan. Very easy and satisfying. I happen to love Middle Eastern spices though. I think I could put cumin on everything. If the pomegranate molasses stumps you, no need to fret. It can be found at any Indian, Middle Eastern, or large Asian grocery store, and in more hippie-dippy towns it might show up at your run of the mill grocery store. It’s sweet and sour and really gives this salad the kick in the pants it needs to be incredible. If you can’t find it, use a little lemon juice and a squirt of agave nectar or honey. It won’t be the same flavor, but it’ll work.

Garbanzo Bean Salad

Serves 2 hungry people, or 4 less-hungry people

Drain and rinse well:

1 can garbanzo beans

In a small skillet, heat over medium heat:

1 tablespoon safflower oil

Add and toast until fragrant:

¼ teaspoon cumin seeds

¼ teaspoon mustard seeds

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Combine the beans and toasted seeds in a bowl and add:

¼ cup loosely-packed cilantro, finely chopped

½ a large English-style cucumber, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

A knob (1/2 the size of your thumb) fresh

ginger, minced

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

Salt and pepper to taste

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